Armenian Quake Survivor’s Story May Be a Hoax, Soviet Media Admit
Both the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia and Tass press agency cast doubts today on reports that six people had been found buried alive in the devastated city of Leninakan 35 days after the Armenian earthquake.
Soviet television showed an interview Thursday night with 50-year-old electrician Aikaz Akopyan who, speaking from his hospital bed, told journalists that he and five companions had been pulled out of an apartment block basement the previous day.
Apart from Akopyan, however, none of the other “survivors” had been traced, Izvestia said, despite inquiries at all hospitals between Leninakan and the Armenian capital, Yerevan.
“We journalists find ourselves in a difficult situation. The experience of past days has taught us that there is a great, a very great, wish for a miracle,” Izvestia said.
It referred to reports last week that 17 people had been found alive 25 days after the disaster in the town of Spitak, which was flattened by the Dec. 7 earthquake. Those reports were later denied by relief workers and local officials.
The authors of the article said they visited the Leninakan street where the apartment block was located on the same day the six were said to have been pulled out.
“It was two in the afternoon, and the six were found in the morning. Where had they gone? Surely someone would have noticed them? Who saved them, after all?” they asked, adding that local officials knew nothing about the alleged incident.
Akopyan, heavily bearded and apparently unable to lift his head from the pillow, gave a graphic account of his experience. He related how he and his five alleged companions had survived by eating salted food and bottled fruit stored in the basement.
“It’s difficult to imagine that someone in such a severe state would be capable of lying,” Izvestia said. It quoted a doctor as saying that the man had clearly suffered a severe shock to his nervous system, although his memory appeared clear.
The doctor said Akopyan knew how he had come to be in the basement and talked about his work and his family, still apparently unaware that his wife and children had been killed in the earthquake.
Tass said it had based its story of the “Leninakan miracle” on a report by the Armenian news agency Armenpress. Journalists at Armenpress said they were checking the authenticity of the report and trying to find the missing five men.
Tass said the story had been corroborated by eyewitness accounts but did not identify the eyewitnesses. It said it was understandable that people wanted to believe in the miracle.
“Regrettably, we are unable so far to confirm with full certainty the authenticity of the reports made by our Armenian colleagues about the Leninakan miracle. Nor can we deny them.”