Soviet Union The Armenian Challenge

Gorbachev tries to defuse ethnic clashes

The first official reports spoke of "rampage and violence" caused by "hooligans." As sensational rumors reverberated around the country, a Soviet government spokesman admitted to "certain injuries" and even "several" deaths in the southwestern city of Sumgait. The full extent of the carnage was only revealed at week's end, when an anchorman of the national television newscast Vremya read a four-paragraph TASS dispatch in a somber voice. "Criminal elements committed violent actions and engaged in robberies," he reported. "They killed 31 people, among them members of various nationalities, old men and women."

The rioting in Sumgait, an industrial center in the...

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