MOSCOW, FEB. 27 -- Armenian activists, responding to a second appeal for calm from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, called for a month-long suspension of street protests in the Armenian capital of of Yerevan today, according to Armenian dissident sources.
Gorbachev, who held a meeting in Moscow yesterday with two leaders of the protests, urged them to calm the demonstrators and promised to do what he could to respond to their concerns, according to one of the sources who maintains close contacts with the key organizers of the protests.
The two activists who met with Gorbachev were Armenian poet Silva Kaputikyan and writer Zori Babayan, the sources said. Both are popular figures in Armenia who had spoken before crowds in Yerevan during the street protests.
The two activists, returning to Yerevan today, had met with other leaders of the protests, and they decided to suspend the demonstrations for four weeks, the sources said.
But many protesters gathered in the streets of the Armenian capital anyway, the sources said by telephone, either because they were not informed about the suspension in the demonstrations or because they disagreed with it.
The street protests in Yerevan, which began on Feb. 18, were held to demand that Nagorno-Karabakh, a region comprised of Armenian Christians that is now a part of the largely Moslem neighboring republic of Azerbaijan, be joined with Armenia.
Leading Soviet officials have been quoted in the official media as saying they opposed the demands that Nagorno-Karabakh be united with Armenia.
In his talks with the Armenian activists, Gorbachev is said to have appealed to them for help in settling the demonstration and promised to resolve the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh satisfactorily.
The number of protesters, which by authoritative estimates peaked in the tens of thousands by midweek, dropped sharply today, witnesses said. But the streets in the center of Yerevan were nonetheless filled with demonstrators throughout the day, according to the two sources reached by telephone. Brainstorming sessions took place in various parts of Yerevan, they said.
Asked to describe the mood there, one said, "Everything is confused. Nobody knows what to do. Anyway, everything is peaceful now."
According to a report circulating in Armenia, the two Armenian activists flew to Moscow at Gorbachev's request yesterday and returned to Yerevan today, the sources said. During the meeting, Gorbachev reiterated a call for calm and reason that he had made in a letter read on Armenian radio and television yesterday, they added.
In a dispatch tonight, Reuter, quoting a Moscow dissident, said a decision had been made by activists in Yerevan to suspend the demonstrations until March 25 to see what progress has been made.
The meeting with Gorbachev could not be independently confirmed with Soviet officials, but Moscow radio announced tonight that the protesters had begun to disperse.
The original protests in Nagorno-Karabakh had resulted in some casualties, Vladimir Dolghikh, a nonvoting member of the ruling Politburo, indicated in an article in the Wednesday issue of the Armenian Communist Party daily, Kommunist. "The affair is Nagorno-Karabakh has gone as far as clashes between groups of Armenians and Azerbijanis, and there have been victims," Dolghikh was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
Dolghikh's comments, published in the magazine's issue that reached Moscow by mail today, were the first official report of deaths involved in the dispute.