YEREVAN (Realist English). Exactly 34 years have passed since the tragic and most destructive earthquake in Armenia, which claimed more than 26 thousand human lives, the damage from which has not yet been fully restored.
On December 7, 1988, at 11:41 local time, tremors of up to seven points in 30 seconds shook the northern regions of Armenia, covering about 40% of its territory. The cities of Spitak, Leninakan (Gyumri), Kirovakan (Vanadzor) and Stepanavan were destroyed. In total, 21 cities, 350 villages were affected by the earthquake, 58 of which were destroyed to the ground, the publication Panorama.am recalls.
“The official statistics told us about more than 26 thousand dead. Other counts give figures over 100 thousand. At least 500 thousand people were left without a roof over their heads and were forced to huddle in tents, trailers and other temporary dwellings, warming themselves on the cold winter street with bonfires. More than 140 thousand people have become disabled. Seismographs recorded a wave that bypassed the planet Earth 2 times, and the force of the underground energy that broke out was many times greater than the power of the explosion of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” notes Candidate of Historical Sciences Hovhannes Minasyan.
On December 10, the third day after the disaster, Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, arrived in the earthquake area with his wife, interrupting a visit to the United States.
“Spitak has turned out to be much more terrible than Chernobyl! In Chernobyl, you got your dose and go further, because radiation is an invisible enemy. And here – torn bodies, groans under the ruins… Therefore, our main task was not only to help and pull out the living from the rubble, but also to bury the dead with dignity,” recalls Nikolai Tarakanov, one of the leaders of the earthquake relief works.
Many countries were helping Armenia in the search operations and in the elimination of consequences of the aftermath of the disaster. Rescue teams from many Western countries arrived to help the Soviet Union. Among them were 23 firefighters from the English county of Lancashire. Two members of that squad —Commander Paul Burns and firefighter Reggie (Reginald) Berry — returned to Spitak thirty years later.
“But hope dies last. There have been cases when people were extracted from under the rubble after twenty-four days… So you’re still hoping, and you’re pushing your people again, and again, and again in the hope that you’ll still find someone alive,” says Paul Burns, who previously worked on the earthquake in Italy in 1980.
“We were upset and depressed, – Berry admits. – There was some hope, yes, but… Nobody dreamed of digging up dead bodies, right?”.
The British especially remembered with what dignity behaved many of those Spitakians, whose loved ones they were dugging out of the ruins.
Several monuments have been erected in Gyumri to the brave rescuers and victims of the earthquake in Armenia. The most famous of them was opened on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.
In 1988, immediately after the earthquake in the city of Spitak, the National Hero of Armenia Charles Aznavour established a disaster relief fund in Paris, which was named “Aznavour for Armenia”. In 1993, a representation office of this organization was opened in Yerevan. After that, he visited Armenia many times with charity missions, within which he organized fundraising and concerts.
In 1989, Aznavour, together with the Armenian-born director Henri Verneuil, called on French artists to make a joint video. Ninety singers and actors recorded the song “For You, Armenia”, which sold a million copies.
“The historical Armenia — and this space is much larger than the Republic of Armenia — is geologically a very unstable region. Therefore, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and so on often occur there. The former Armenian capital of Ani was completely destroyed by an earthquake. And this has been repeated many times in the history of Armenia. Why is their fate so difficult?
This is probably why the Armenians are so mysterious, why they often ask questions about their destiny, vocation, and what it means to be an Armenian. When a person suffers, he asks himself serious questions. Only then does he really begin to reflect, to think. Therefore, there were wonderful writers, artists and philosophers in Armenia. Suffering, the Armenian people were forced to ask themselves such questions. One of the answers to this question is loyalty to God. Christian faith was not always the cause of their suffering, but there was always the force that helped them get out of the situation,” explains in an interview with Realist News Agency hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox Church John (in the world – Giovanni Guaita).
Armenian cities have been often destroyed by earthquakes. Thus, in 893 the city of Dvin was destroyed, and in 1139 aftershocks destroyed Gandzak, and in 1319 — Ani, which at the time of its heyday was called the city of 1001 churches. The capital of Eastern Armenia, the city of Yerevan, was destroyed twice by earthquakes in 1679 and in 1840.