MOSCOW -- His accurate reporting on continuing unrest in Armenia has made former political prisoner Sergei Grigoryants the most authoritative non-official source of information in Russia.
Grigoryants, 47, who is half-Armenian, emerged from the notorious Chistopol prison in 1987 with a pardon under Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalization. He was so full of hope for changes that he immediately founded a non-official political journal and named it Glasnost after the Soviet leader's openness policy.
The journal became a feisty watchdog over the official glasnost to ensure newspapers and government spokesmen live up to the officially proclaimed openness.
Government and Gigoryants ran neck-and-neck for a time, with the newspapers pouring out exposes on corruption and the unspeakable crimes of Josef Stalin and Grigoryants keeping pace despite working out of his apartment with his wife and two teenage children.
'We don't have days off, we don't have holidays, we hardly sleep,' Grigoryants said in a recent interview.
The first skimpy issue of Glasnost July 1987 was 50 typewritten pages. It has since grown to a twice-monthly production of 230 photocopied pages probing subjects the official news media still leave untouched -- nationalities, religion, alcoholism and the country's future.
'It is now the biggest Russian-language journal devoted to social and political problems,' he said. 'There is no other Russian-language journal like ours, either within the country or abroad.
'We know that in the highest reaches of the government, they are reading our magazine, and sometimes I see ... in speeches of Gorbachev a direct answer to our questions,' Grigoryants said.
When the government resorted to silence over the Christian Armenian ethnic disturbances and reprisal killings by Moslem Azerbaijanians, Grigoryants was the first to say there were deaths and provide numbers.
Tass, the government's official news agency, eventually revealed that 31 people 'of various nationalities' were killed in a rampage Feb. 28.
With foreign journalists barred from the volatile southern regions, Grigoryant's pronouncements became a conduit of information about the unrest.
'I will tell you frankly that we expected much from Gorbachev,' the short, wiry Grigoryants said. 'It is strange that in prison you get the impression that the changes that are happening outside are really far more than are actually occurring.'
Grigoryants was born in the Ukraine of a Russian mother and an Armenian father. He does not speak Aremenian and did not visit Armenia until Feb. 21.
The timing could not have been better.
Possibly the largest nationalist demonstration ever in the Soviet Union filled the main square of the Aremenian capital of Yerevan that day with more than 100,000 Armenians demanding the return of the Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan.
Grigoryants is now regarded as the inheritor of dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov's title as the authoritative non-official voice of the Soviet Union.
Unlike the world-renowned Sakharov, Grigoryants was tossed out of Moscow University in 1965 for having too many foreign friends and dealings.
While Sakharov was sent into internal exile, Grigoryants sat in Chistopol jail as a political prisoner from 1975 to 1980 for anti-Soviet activites and then four more years starting in 1983 on similar charges.
Last year Grigoryants and Lev Timofeyev, 51, another pardoned prisoner, co-founded the Press Club Glasnost but split up. Grigoryants wanted discussions with government officials. Timofeyev did not.