Armenia's Extremity

A PIPELINE blown up by Azerbaijani rebels in Georgia put suffering Armenia back in the news - the gas line was Yerevan's last link to outside energy. Temporary ties have been restored. But Armenia, already lacking food and fuel, cut off from the outside world, blackmailed by her neighbors, and going through a period of utter despair, could have faced the rest of this sub-zero winter with no heat or electricity.

Armenia has been blockaded for five years and the fight with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh goes on. While not on a par with Bosnia in the scales of absolute chaos, Armenia is on its knees and ought to be helped. Last week the prime minister and his Cabinet resigned, leaving President Levon Ter-Petrosyan to form a new government. Since Armenia has not moved from an inefficient Soviet system of bureaucratic ministries, the new government may be no better than the old.

This extremity, however, can lead to a comprehensive solution. His country's plight gives President Ter-Petrosyan a reason to compromise on demands in Karabakh. Ter-Petrosyan himself - scholarly and experienced - is one of the few leaders left in Yerevan who is capable of conducting serious negotiations on foreign policy. Nearly everyone agrees. He should be dealt with now, while he is still in office.

Turkey will be a key player, as it is with more and more conflicts in Asia Minor and the Gulf. The history between the two states is sensitive to say the least. That is why Turkish Prime Minister Demirel's decision last week to allow shipments of aid and energy to Armenia took courage. (Turkey is still committed to rebuilding the Azeri military.)

The West must do three things:

* Urge Turkey to make aid routes permanent.

* Present a solution for Karabakh. A quid pro quo ensuring minority rights is a start.

* Establish regular food aid to Armenia.

After 70 years of Soviet rule and 150 of Russian, Armenians need time to establish their autonomy.

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