The official news agency Tass Friday expressed serious doubts over a story it ran about six men allegedly pulled from the rubble in Leninakan 35 days after the Armenian earthquake.
"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 categorically deny them," Tass said.Friday's urgent dispatch was headlined: "One Always Wants Miracles."
Tass reported Thursday that the six men had been rescued a day earlier from the basement of a wrecked nine-story apartment building after being trapped for five weeks following the Dec. 7 earthquake.
The chief source of information for the Tass account was Aikaz Akopyan, a 50-year-old electrician. Akopyan was quoted as saying he and the other men survived because the basement was used to store canned vegetables, smoked ham, stewed fruit and pickles.
Soviet television broadcast an interview Thursday night with Akopyan from his hospital bed, and the Communist Party daily Pravda and other Soviet newspapers printed his account of the ordeal and rescue. The story was widely reported in the United States.
But Tass said disturbing questions surfaced when Armenian reporters began to check into Akopyan's story.
"Why, for instance, a day after the miraculous salvation, was it possible to locate only Aikaz Akopyan in a Yerevan hospital?" Tass asked in the dispatch 24 hours after publication of the first report. "Where is the survivor's sister, who failed to appear at the hospital on Friday, though she promised to do so?"
Artem Shakhbazyan, a journalist with the state-owned Armenian news agency Armenpress, said in a telephone interview that agency reporters searched hospitals in Yerevan and the earthquake zone for the other five survivors Friday but failed to locate them.
Military authorities brought into Leninakan for the relief effort also knew nothing of the rescue related by Akopyan, he said. "There are doubts about all of this," Shakhbazyan said.
However, he said Akopyan was known to be a Leninakan resident and that four neighbors who visited him at Yerevan's Hospital No. 3 verified that his home had been destroyed by the quake and his wife and children killed.
"He maintains that what he said happened, just as he said it, that he was trapped for 35 days with five other people," the Armenpress reporter said. He said Akopyan was given a psychiatric examination Friday and found to be sane.