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
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. …