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Armenians Who Fled Baku Tell of Atrocities

January 18, 1990|ESTHER SCHRADER and MASHA HAMILTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

YEREVAN, Soviet Union — Alexander Gulanerian heard the mob pounding down the hall seconds before his door was broken down and they stormed in, brandishing knives, broken bottles and lengths of pipe.

Gulanerian, an Armenian living in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, said the intruders, without uttering a word, began beating him. They slashed his neck and his feet and threw him out of a second-story window.

He woke up naked, amid corpses in a hospital's morgue, and lay there for two days, ignored by hospital personnel despite his cries for help. Instead, he said, he was forced out into the street, his feet still bleeding.

Soviet soldiers found him and put him aboard a ferry taking refugees away from the continuing ethnic violence in Baku.

Gulanerian, 42, now hospitalized in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, told his story Wednesday in a hoarse whisper. He considers himself fortunate to be alive, and he still has trouble comprehending what happened to him.

"There was nothing human in their faces," he said, describing his assailants, "just brutality. There were about 40 of them, I think, all Azerbaijanis. They were maybe 16 years old, but already they have lost any trace of humanity in their eyes."

As victims of the anti-Armenian attacks-- pogrom is the word Soviet authorities are using--arrive in Yerevan and other cities, a picture is emerging of raging mob violence and incomprehensible brutality.

The victims, bruised and battered and still fearful, tell with horror of seeing neighbors, friends--and members of their own families--beaten, raped and killed, even burned alive by Azerbaijanis in a storm of violence that erupted Saturday.

More than 40 Armenians have been killed in Baku, according to official reports, and the death toll could rise as more corpses are found by security forces attempting to restore order.

The violence broke out after a rally Saturday evening at which speakers reportedly called on Azerbaijanis to avenge the death of an Azerbaijani. The victim was attacked when he tried to oust an Armenian family from their apartment in Baku to make room for homeless Azerbaijanis who were refugees from Armenia.

Armenians, who have fled to Yerevan and Moscow and other places of safety, tell of mounting pressure on them over the past year to leave Baku, where 220,000 Armenians lived, and how they came to dread the possibility of a massacre.

In some cases, the ferocity of the attacks defied the victims' powers of description. They searched in vain for words to describe what happened to them.

Moments before the Azerbaijani mob came for Gulanerian, he saw them douse two men with gasoline and set them on fire in the street below. He was not surprised, he said, when the mob came for him.

"I had nowhere to go," he said, shutting his swollen eyes against the pain of the memory. "There was no time. We were there, waiting."

Sofia Babakhanian, a silver-haired grandmother of 68, recounted with anger how 12 Azerbaijani men, brandishing knives and clubs and screaming curses at all Armenians, burst into her apartment in Baku as she and her husband were watching television.

They broke her jaw, put a knife to her throat and tried to rape her. Her husband's head was shoved through a window pane. All the furniture in the apartment was smashed.

"They are animals," she said, sobbing. "For two years now, we have been living in fear, knowing that some day they would enter our homes and kill us. They want to annihilate all the Armenians."

After the men left, Sofia Babakhanian lay for two days on the floor of her apartment with her half-conscious husband. On Monday, the police came and took them away from Baku, where they were born and had lived all their lives.

Elvira Gasparan, 42, another of the refugees brought to Moscow, described how she had watched Azerbaijanis burn two Armenians alive. She said she saw the bodies of six others who had been knifed to death in a Baku railway station.

She was so shocked, she said, that she felt emptied of emotion.

"It was like I was dead, or covered with ice," she said, her face expressionless. "I'm still numb."

A gaunt, 75-year-old refugee in a bloodstained shirt, his right eye covered with a thick bandage, would not give a reporter in Moscow his full name, only Gregory M. He told of 40 men breaking into the three-room flat where he lived with his wife and dragging the couple out into the street.

"They flung my wife on the ground, and six of them began to beat her brutally, " he said, tears on his face. "Then my turn came. They hit me with a metal bar, and I blacked out. Hundreds of people were in the street, but nobody lifted a hand. They watched as though it were a performance."

He and his wife were left for dead, but Azerbaijanis passing by carried them to a car and drove them to a police station. He said the police refused to give them medical aid. "Just thank God you are alive," he quoted a police officer as saying.

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