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Thousands of Armenians Stay On in Baku Despite Azerbaijani Gangs : Ethnic strife: About 18,000 have been evacuated this month, but those staying behind cling to a fading hope.

January 27, 1990|MASHA HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Despite the attacks on Armenians living in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, thousands of them are still there although they seldom venture out of doors for fear of being spotted by gangs roaming the streets, an Armenian official said Friday.

Many of them, according to Armenians who have fled the violence as refugees, are living on hope--hope that eventually the situation will improve.

Some have a deep emotional attachment to the hillside city overlooking the Caspian Sea, even though scores of Armenians have been killed or beaten and robbed there in the last two weeks. They are described as reluctant to leave their friends and homes as long as they think there is a chance that things will get better.

Igor Donyetsk, 24, who had arrived in Moscow from Baku less than a day earlier, told a reporter Friday:

"I finally asked myself how much longer could I live like this? Two days? Three days? No, it would take much longer. There is no end in sight. Besides, I heard there was a group of Azerbaijanis after me. It was time to go. But I left behind several friends who are not yet ready to give up."

Baku has been under Soviet army control for a week, since tanks and troops burst through barricades that the Azerbaijanis had thrown up around the city. Before that, starting on Jan. 13, Azerbaijani militants had carried out a series of attacks against Armenians, killing at least 72, according to official figures, and beating and robbing countless others.

About 18,000 Armenians have been evacuated from Baku this month, leaving about 15,000 others behind in the city of 1.8 million people, according to Eduard Aikazyan, chief of the Armenian mission, which represents the republic's interests in Moscow.

"The Armenians who remain are being threatened, and some are being beaten and robbed even now," Aikazyan said in an interview at the mission, which is crowded with several hundred refugees. "The presence of the Soviet troops seems to have put an end to organized pogroms, but spontaneous attacks are continuing."

Foreign journalists have not been allowed into the Azerbaijani republic since the trouble started, preventing independent confirmation of the charges made on both sides.

Contact with the remaining Armenians in Baku is difficult, for most have gone underground. Aikazyan said many of them have had no opportunity to buy train or airplane tickets. The boats that for a time carried refugees from Baku to the Soviet Turkmen republic, across the Caspian Sea, apparently are no longer operating.

"During the day, it is a dead city," refugee Donyetsk said. "There are no buses, no mail, no newspapers, no factories operating. At night there is shooting."

Other refugees said Soviet troops have dropped leaflets urging calm.

"Most of the Armenians still there stay indoors all the time because they are afraid," said Leila Stepanova, 45, who was making sandwiches for a niece and a nephew in a corner of a second-floor room at the mission. "We waited to leave because we kept hoping for better, but now some of the Azerbaijanis who have helped Armenians hide are being threatened themselves. So, I packed two pairs of shoes and two dresses, and we left."

Furusa Kostandova, 37, whose 18-month-old son was sleeping with his head in her lap, said she, too, had waited to leave because she hoped things would get better.

"Besides," she went on, "everything we own is in Baku. But the outrages continued, even with the army there. We had no choice."

She said she was still looking for two of her children, one 9 and the other 10, who were evacuated several days before she left.

The refugees confirmed reports by Azerbaijanis that the people attacking Armenians are, for the most part, bitter Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia. These people, reportedly fearing retribution after an earlier outbreak of violence between the two ethnic groups, fled to Baku in February, 1988, and have lived since then in poverty, many of them without jobs.

Sadina Shahbayana, 17, who left Baku on Thursday night dressed in her best clothes and jewelry, said: "There are many good Azerbaijanis. I have many Azerbaijani friends, and it was very hard to go."

She said groups of 30 to 40 Azerbaijanis were wandering through the city attacking Armenians. Her family felt immune from the violence for some time, she said, because although her mother is Armenian, her father is Azerbaijani.

"But then we got a threatening telephone call," she said. "They said they knew my mother was Armenian, so my parents said we had to leave. I'm afraid right now, but I definitely want to go back some day. It's my home, my motherland."

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