Armenia's president accused Soviet troops Tuesday of waging "undeclared war" against his republic and said 23 people died when a village near neighboring Azerbaijan was razed.
President Levon Ter-Petrosian said at a news conference that Soviet and Azerbaijani troops seized three villages Tuesday and arrested more than 20 people, mostly Armenian policemen.Economist Silaret Berikian, who also attended the news conference, said some victims of the latest ethnic violence in the two southern republics had suffered atrocities, including scalping.
On Monday night, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev pledged to help settle the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
But he said that "political measures cannot be implemented when there are armed bandits" on both sides and warned that Soviet troops would continue to go "hamlet to hamlet" to enforce his order to disarm Armenians.
"Today the military operation is continuing in a larger way," Ter-Petrosian told reporters in the republic's parliament.
"From a legal point of view, the Soviet army and Interior Ministry have no right to carry out such actions unless there is a declaration of martial law. We are dealing with an act of pure aggression, an act of undeclared war against Armenia."
Ter-Petrosian said 23 people died when Soviet soldiers and Interior Ministry troops using helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery seized the village of Voskepar on Monday.
The Armenpress news agency said all homes were destroyed in the village, located in the Gorisky region 150 miles southeast of the Armenian capital, Yerevan.
Mainly Christian Armenia and mostly Muslim Azerbaijan have been feuding for centuries over land disputes as well as religious and cultural differences.
Hundreds have been killed in sporadic fighting that broke out in 1987 over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian area that has been under Azerbaijani rule for nearly 70 years.
Gorbachev said Monday that "Nagorno-Karabakh's autonomy should be fully restored" and that Azerbaijan should go along to reduce tensions.
The latest violence flared April 29 when Soviet troops based in Azerbaijan began disarming Armenian extremists and evacuated several hundred residents.
Armenia sent several hundred police to the border, with instructions to return fire "when we realized that no one in the Soviet army really had any intention of defending us," Antinian said.
In Moscow, the Supreme Soviet national legislature voted 261-8 Tuesday to reject a request by the Armenian legislature to convene an extraordinary session of the national parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies, to consider the conflict.