The legislature of Nagorno-Karabakh, a largely Armenian mountain enclave at the heart of a months-long ethnic dispute, voted today to secede from the republic of Azerbaijan and join Armenia, reporters in the area said.
Reporters for the radio station in Nagorno-Karabakh's main city, Stepanakert, read a statement by telephone saying the region's lawmakers had taken the bold step at a meeting today.
"The Soviet of People's Deputies of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region declares its secession from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic," the statement said.
It said the legislature had voted with only one abstention to secede and rename the region the Artsakh Autonomous Oblast of the neighboring republic of Armenia.
Legal Standing Unclear
The legal standing of the decision, which defies central authorities all the way up to Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev, is unclear.
The Soviet Constitution says any proposed territorial change must be approved by the republic affected. Azerbaijan's Parliament rejected Nagorno-Karabakh's earlier request to join Armenia on June 17.
Armenians, who are mainly Christian, consider Nagorno-Karabakh part of their ancient homeland, but it was incorporated into mostly Muslim Azerbaijan in 1923. The dispute erupted in strikes and street demonstrations by Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia itself starting in February.
Going Too Far
Gorbachev said at the Communist Party conference June 28 that it was time to widen the powers of the country's 15 union republics, the autonomous republics and other ethnic entities.
But he said some ethnic minorities are going too far.
"Some think that any questions--from the redrawing of borders to the establishment of opposition parties--can be resolved" through glasnost, or greater openness, Gorbachev said.
"The Central Committee believes such abuses of democratization run counter to the task of perestroika, contradict the people's interests," Gorbachev said. Perestroika is Gorbachev's wide-ranging program to restructure Soviet society.