MOSCOW, FEB. 28 -- This month's demonstrations in Yerevan were an Armenian version of Poland's Solidarity protests, with crowds more than 100,000 strong chanting and singing national anthems, according to a videotape of the events that reached the Soviet capital today.
The videotape, providing the first images of the demonstrations available in Moscow, rendered the feel of the protests vividly in a few scenes: speakers climbing up to the podium in Yerevan's opera square after dark, their way lit by torchlight, crowds thundering, "Karabakh, Karabakh," the name of the area in neighboring Azerbaijan that they are demanding be united with Armenia.
The tape, made by a Soviet visitor to the Armenian capital, was obtained by ABC Television and scheduled for broadcast by the network today. It was brought to Moscow one day after the organizers of the demonstration called a month-long suspension of the protest, following a meeting between Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev and two leading Armenian writers.
The streets of Yerevan were calm today, according to witnesses. The demonstrations, which began with a small crowd on Feb. 18 and ballooned to embrace hundreds of thousands, have now faded, they said.
However, protests reportedly are continuing in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to reports by Reuter, and a Soviet official acknowledged that two persons have been killed in the dispute there.
The organizers believe that Gorbachev will try to appease them, dissident sources in Yerevan said in a telephone interview. The protesters want Nagorno-Karabakh, a district inhabited mainly by ethnic Armenians, transferred from the neighboring republic of Azerbaijan to Armenia.
The organizers plan to meet March 25 to determine whether the issue has been addressed adequately, the dissidents said.
"The situation there is not so stable," Armenian dissident Sergei Grigoryants said today. "It isn't clear that Gorbachev made a guarantee that the area would be united with Armenia," added Grigoryants, who lives in Moscow but spent Friday and yesterday at the site of the protests in Yerevan.
The two fatalities in Nagorno-Karabakh were identifed by an official speaking to Radio Baku as 16-year-old Bakhtiar Uliyev and 23-year-old Ali Gadzhiyev, residents of the Agdamsky district of Azerbaijan.
"Several people suffered bruises, beatings and injuries that do not threaten their life and health," the official was quoted as telling radio listeners in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The comments suggested that the protests in Nagorno-Karabakh were more confrontational than those in Yerevan, where no injuries or serious incidents were reported.
According to the videotape shown privately in Moscow today, the scene in the streets of Yerevan was mostly good-humored. Protestors, streaming into the center of the city, carried posters bearing slogans: "Self-determination is not extremism" and "Karabakh -- the Armenians are with you." The local authorities did take precautionary measures to avoid incidents, however, including disarming Armenian soldiers and deploying large numbers of armed ethnic Russian soldiers in the streets. Soldiers from the internal Soviet Army were stationed with automatic weapons at the airport in Yerevan, Grigoryants said. He quoted airport workers as saying that 28 planeloads of soldiers had been flown in.
"It was not an entirely festive atmosphere," Grigoryants told journalists in a press conference today.