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11th Soviet Republic Vows Independence

September 10, 1991|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The Muslim republic of Tadzhikistan declared independence Monday, wresting an 11th state from the shrinking Soviet Union and setting off another political conflict at the edge of the former Communist empire.

Ethnic clashes in the Caucasus intensified, with 13 deaths and 30 injuries reported from weekend fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis who have waged war for almost four years over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Political and ethnic turmoil has boiled up since the lid of Soviet unity was lifted last week with recognition of the three Baltic states and the erosion of central authority over the other 12 republics that constituted the Soviet Union.

In the Tadzhik capital of Dushanbe, about 5,000 protesters rallied outside as Parliament declared independence and laid claim to all Soviet property and valuables on its territory. The legislature in the cotton- and grain-growing state announced presidential elections for Oct. 27.

The demonstrators also demanded the resignation of President Kakhar Makhkamov, the banning of the republic's Communist Party and the right to resurrect the outlawed fundamentalist Islamic Party of Rebirth.

Under Makhkamov's leadership, Tadzhikistan had followed a conservative Communist path and showed little secessionist tendency before last month's attempted Kremlin coup. But the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union into its ethnic pieces has rekindled long-dormant religious and territorial aspirations in Tadzhikistan and the other Central Asian states at the southern Soviet border. Most of Tadzhikistan's 5 million people are Sunni Muslims.

Akbar Turdzhonzoda, the republic's Muslim leader, urged the protesters to remain calm. He said he has no plans to run for president and considers religion out of place in the field of politics.

Tadzhikistan's action Monday leaves only a handful of republics--Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Armenia--that have not formally announced their independence. But they, too, have declared themselves sovereign states and distanced themselves from the centralized Soviet government; Armenia plans a referendum shortly on independence.

With the accelerating disintegration of the old Soviet Union, the Congress of People's Deputies, the national Parliament, last week launched the country toward a loosely structured confederation.

In a series of constitutional amendments, it abolished most of the old governmental bodies and appointed a transitional government under President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and republic leaders.

Several republics--apparently including Tadzhikistan--have proclaimed their independence in the last two weeks to enter the proposed Union of Sovereign States on an equal footing and not dominated by the Russian Federation, which will be the confederation's largest member.

But the political turmoil has exacerbated tensions in the ethnically diverse extremes of Soviet territory, much of which was annexed by force as the Bolsheviks sought to expand their influence in the 1920s.

The Tass news agency reported brutal clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh between Muslim Azerbaijanis and Christian Armenians, including one death by strangulation and five Azerbaijanis killed by snipers who blew up a civilian bus.

The latest flare-up in the intractable dispute prompted Ayaz Mutalibov, Azerbaijan's president, to form a new Defense Ministry for the republic, which declared its independence Aug. 30.

Azerbaijan has also been the scene of recent political unrest, as pro-democracy activists in the republic of 7 million denounced Mutalibov's unchallenged reelection Sunday to the presidency as rigged.

Tensions are still running high also in neighboring Georgia, where republic national guard troops have been engaged in an armed standoff with security forces loyal to President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. He is accused of supporting the Aug. 19 Kremlin putsch, but his demands that Russia and the West recognize Georgia's independence have won the loyalty of Georgian nationalists.

A U.S. congressional delegation that visited Georgia over the weekend recommended against direct diplomatic ties between Washington and Tbilisi, saying the Georgian leadership would have to first show a stronger commitment to democracy and human rights.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) said he told Gamsakhurdia there would be no U.S. recognition "unless you clean up your act."

Georgia has also been engaged in a bloody ethnic conflict over South Ossetia, where the majority Muslims in the region--a population of more than 200,000--charge that they are repressed by the Christian Georgian minority.

Violent clashes in South Ossetia have spilled into North Ossetia, which is in the Russian Federation. That has prompted the largest Soviet republic to lash out at the Georgian leadership.

Russian Parliament members accused Gamsakhurdia's leadership of policies that "do not fit in civilized notions of the observance of human rights," the official Tass news agency reported.

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