NEWLY-RISEN concerns about Russia's future should not obscure the tragedy taking place in another independent nation of the former Soviet Union.
Americans would be dumbfounded if they were aware that their Congress has mandated a legal bias against Azerbaijan and in favor of Armenian aggression condemned by the United Nations Security Council. This tilt against the Azeris' struggle to maintain their homeland comes at the same time when the United States supports the seeking of oil contracts in Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea oil fields and opposes Serb aggression in Bosnia.
In pursuit of a ``Greater Armenia,'' Armenian ultranationalists have conquered one-fourth of the Republic of Azerbaijan and driven 1.1 million Azeris from 700 towns and villages that have been laid waste. At the same time, not an inch of Armenian territory has been attacked or sought by Azerbaijan during six years of conflict totally within the territory of secular, multiethnic Azerbaijan, which strictly observes the rights of more than 70 ethnic groups - including Russians, Armenians and Jews.
On Oct. 23, 1993, a month-long cease-fire was violated by Armenian troops which, with artillery support from the territory of Armenia, forced another 60,000 Azeri refugees to flee. The 17,000 death toll rises daily as half a million new refugees are exposed to the freezing Transcaucasus winter without adequate food and shelter.
On Nov. 12 the UN Security Council condemned the continuing Armenian aggression and called for ``unilateral withdrawal of occupying forces.''
On Nov. 20, as the Armenian offensive continued, US Deputy Secretary of Energy William White met in the Azeri capital of Baku with Azerbaijan's elected President Gaidar Aliyev concerning the participation of the Amoco, Unocal, Pennzoil, and McDermott oil companies in a possible $7 billion oil-production contract involving other Western firms and Russia's Lukoil.
Urgently needed now are:
* Vigorous efforts by the Clinton administration to convince Armenia to halt the senseless killing, looting, and burning; to resume the aborted cease-fire; and to negotiate in good faith.
* Additional emergency assistance from the UN, the US, and other donor countries. The $8.4 million, six-month UN World Food Program effort announced Nov. 18 and the existing US government assistance through nongovernmental organizations will not begin to cover the needs.
* Application by President Clinton against Armenia of an appropriations bill for fiscal year 1994 covering the 1992 Freedom Support Act, which denies US aid to ``any government of the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union - which directs any action in violation of the territorial integrity or national sovereignty of other New Independent States.''
* A formal presidential determination to allow direct aid to Azerbaijan through the Freedom Support Act ``to stabilize democratic forms of government and foster economic growth,'' thus ending the congressional prohibition against aid to Azerbaijan, the only country so treated among all of the former Soviet republics.
Some Americans, including Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona, are recognizing that continuation of the ban on aid to Azerbaijan is not appropriate to the circumstances. Ambassador at Large Strobe Talbott testified before Congress that ``the restriction under the Freedom Support Act does, indeed, hamper our foreign policy objectives.''
The Freedom Support Act mandates that no government-to-government US aid may go to Azerbaijan as long as there are ``blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh'' - a predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan recognized by the international community as Azerbaijani territory since the 1919 Versailles Conference.
Clearly the terms ``blockade'' and ``offensive uses of force'' do not apply to Azerbaijan in this one-sided conflict. Azerbaijan, understandably, has ceased normal commercial trade with Armenia - including petroleum sales - because of the brutal acts of Armenian ultranationalists; for example, 200,000 ethnic Azeris have been deported from Armenia, and the entire 60,000-member Azeri community has been exiled from Nagorno-Karabakh.
No ``blockade'' exists, as Armenians forcibly have extended the territory under their control lying between Nagorno-Karabakh and the frontiers with Armenia and Iran. Armenia itself is not ``blockaded,'' as it shares frontiers with Turkey, Georgia, and Iran as well as Azerbaijan.
It is time for principled and self-interested fairness on the part of the US in this disastrous conflict. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.