Armenia’s national Seismic Defense Service on Monday sought to calm public fears about powerful weekend earthquakes in neighboring Iran that killed at least 250 people and injured 1,800 others.
The director of the government agency, Hrachya Petrosian, dismissed rumors that a similarly strong earthquake will hit Armenia soon.
“The epicenter of the [Iranian] earthquake was quite close to Armenia’s territory: approximately 60-65 kilometers from our nearest border,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Naturally, that fact worries us. But we have no clear and direct indications that a strong earthquake is expected in our territory as well.”
The magnitude 6.3 and 6.4 quakes struck northwestern Iran on Saturday, reportedly damaging more than 100 local villages. The tremors were also felt in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province bordering Iran as well as other regions, including the capital Yerevan.
Thousands of people rushed out of their homes, fearing devastating aftershocks. The panic also fuelled the rumors that Armenia will be hit by a similar calamity in the coming days.
“It is a natural and understandable reaction when people, feeling tremors, leave their apartments for open space,” said Petrosian. “One can understand people. This is what people do almost everywhere. The rules of conduct during earthquake also require that.”
There were similar scenes in Yerevan and other parts of the country following an even more powerful quake in that killed hundreds of people in eastern Turkey in October last year.
Armenia has for centuries been prone to powerful earthquakes due to its proximity to major fault lines. One such calamity killed some 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of others homeless in 1988.
The latest Iranian quakes also led to a brief shutdown of operations on a 5.7-kilometer cable car line in Syunik leading to the medieval Armenian monastery of Tatev. “The main purpose of the 15-minute break was to check the aerial tramway’s operating systems,” Tigran Ghazarian, the cable car director, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The inspections showed that they are in excellent condition.”
It was also announced on Monday that the Armenian government offered to send rescue teams to Iran immediately after the disaster. According to Sergei Azarian, head of the Armenian Rescue Service, the Iranian side did not ask for such assistance.