Forgotten Armenia Unnoticed amid Bosnia and Somalia, Armenia's Need This Winter Is Acute. Can the West Do Anything? or Must Armenia Again Go It Alone?

Article excerpt

A YEAR after its recognition as a sovereign state, Armenia is home to a tragedy that calls into question both its statehood and the survival of its 3.5 million people.

The former Soviet Union's smallest republic is learning the hard way that independence can be a tenuous thing needing careful nurture and defense - especially in Armenia's tough neighborhood. Its plight raises basic questions for the Clinton administration and United States policy in the post-cold-war period.

In the capital of Yerevan it is a dark, freezing February. There is much suffering. The blockade of railroads, pipelines, and roads by neighboring Azerbaijan has for years deprived the country of 80 percent of its fuel, food, construction materials, and relief. Living at 20 percent capacity, the misery has recently been compounded by increased civil tensions in the former republic of Georgia - and in particular by the sabotage in one of its Azeri-populated regions of the last pipeline supplying Russian and Turkmenistani natural gas to Armenia.

For weeks, Yerevan's 1.3 million residents have braved sub-zero temperatures without gas or hot water, and with only an hour of electricity per day. Citizens are cutting the city's trees for fuel. Buses and trolleys run on minimal schedules. Garbage trucks don't pick up the weekly trash. Water purification systems are idle. Children are taking ill and dying; mothers are losing more infants at birth than ever before.

Industry has come to a halt. As of Feb. 1, all factories in Armenia were shut down. Schools and kindergartens are closed until spring. Most hospitals have been closed, but a few remain open on an emergency basis. Ambulances are in garages - out of gas.

Without immediate help, more than 30,000 people will die of exposure or starvation this winter, the government estimates.

Many of the casualties may come from among the 300,000 Armenian refugees evicted in the last five years from their homes in Azerbaijan and the Armenian-populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh - and from among the 500,000 still without permanent shelter in the shameful earthquake zone.

And this does not count the thousands of villagers, young and old, living in areas bordering Azerbaijan and in Karabakh's capital, Stepanakert.

They are daily targets for MIG- 25 air raids, cluster bombs, GRAD-type missiles, and other assorted instruments of destruction which form part of Azerbaijan's plan to blockade and bomb Armenia into submission and to conquer Karabakh and rid it of its Armenian majority and its elected government.

Armenia's disastrous situation is not just a matter of its difficult geopolitical situation - though that is a factor: The country is squeezed between hostile, oil-rich Azerbaijan to the east, collusive Turkey to the west, strife-ridden co-religionist Georgia in the north, and Islamic and neutral Iran to the south. …

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.