MOSCOW — In a move unprecedented in the Soviet Union, Azerbaijanis have attacked an 80-mile stretch of fence along their border with Iran. According to a local Communist Party official contacted in the autonomous republic of Nakhichevan, a part of Azerbaijan separated from the rest of the republic by a swath of Armenia, crowds of Nakichevanis have been tearing down the barbed-wire fences set inland on their territory along the Arax River.
``We are insulted by these fences which are illegal,'' said the official, who would not reveal his name. ``We want to liquidate the border zone and reclaim the 20,000 hectares [50,000 acres] of land for agriculture. We want a border of friendship.''
Azerbaijanis feel a closeness to their Iranian neighbors, whom they call ``northern Azerbaijanis,'' because they share the same religion, Shiite Islam, and language.
The official said local councils and the leadership of the republic had petitioned Moscow earlier to consider the border question but got no reply. So, the official said, people took the matter into their own hands.
Moscow's negative attitude toward the border action, reflected in reports by the news agency Tass, is another example of how central Communist authorities disagree with local Communists, who are apparently following the will of the people.
Violence has sprung up in other parts of Azerbaijan recently. On Dec. 30, angry crowds forced Communist Party leaders in the city of Dzhalilabad to flee. The crowds reportedly felt local officials had too much power.
And in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, an attack on a convoy of buses left one person dead.