Remembering the 1988 Earthquake in Armenia

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Armenian Assembly of America Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Armenian Assembly of America
(Assembly) remembers the thousands of lives lost and villages destroyed 27
years ago after a devastating earthquake struck Armenia. Even though time has
passed since the disaster, families in Armenia are still suffering from the
earthquake’s impact. The Assembly asks all Armenians to pause, reflect, and
remember the victims and survivors of the devastating earthquake that claimed
the lives of so many, and the major humanitarian effort that followed.

On December
7, 1988 a massive earthquake, registering 6.9 on the Richter Scale, struck
northern Armenia without warning, affecting hundreds of towns and villages. At
least 25,000 people were killed, an estimated 50,000 injured, and 1 in 7 left
homeless. According to a December 8, 1988 story in The Washington Post,
Soviet spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov told reporters that there was “considerable
loss of life” and that an entire village “almost disappeared from the face of
the earth.”

“Sometimes
we feel as though even the heavens are against us,” said Larissa
Margachyan, a woman whose children were killed when a nursery school in Spitak
collapsed, reported The Washington Post
on December 19, 1988
.

The town of
Spitak, which had a large influx of refugees from Nagorno Karabakh in the weeks
prior, was at the epicenter of the earthquake and was reported to be “utterly
destroyed.” Foreign rescue workers estimate that as few as 6 percent of
Spitak’s 20,000 residents survived.

“Where
should we go?” asked Karlen Mikoyan from Spitak while his eyes filled with
tears, The Washington Post reported
on December 18, 1988
. “I have no money, no food. I’m just going to live
here, in this broken-down bus.”

Other cities
heavily affected included Leninakan (renamed Gyumri), the second largest city
in Armenia, and Kirovakan (renamed Vanadzor). The quake caused severe damage to
schools, kindergartens, hospitals, and other vital buildings in the area.
Factories halted normal production in order to create more coffins as the death
count kept adding up. Many news agencies wrote about the devastating stories of
children and their families lost in the earthquake.

“Amayak
Ogosyan was in the fields tending his sheep and cows when he felt the earth
slide under his feet. In a matter of three minutes, the roof of his house caved
in, killing his wife. The local school collapsed, killing his son and
daughter,” wrote The Washington Post on
December 18, 1988. “In the cold mountain night, Ogosyan stands near the
demolished school and says that of the more than 500 children and teachers
there, ‘only 20 or 25, no more, survived. I think they were all in the eighth
grade.’”

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The 1988
earthquake was historic for many reasons and the lessons are still being
learned. None of that compares to the human toll on the Armenian people who
lost so much. Every Armenian around the world felt their pain and remembers
where he or she was on that date and in the aftermath. As we have in the past,
the Armenian Assembly thanks all the countries, organizations, and individuals
who rose to the occasion to help so generously. Our condolences remain with
those who lost loved ones and have struggled so much during the recovery.

Established
in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based
nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of
Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501©(3) tax-exempt
membership organization.

Photo
Caption 1: A man in sitting by his home in Spitak, Armenia after it was
destroyed from the 1988 earthquake (AFP).

About Armenian Assembly of America

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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