In his speech, Sargisian said, “It’s hard to express with words the pain and sorrow we felt. The blind disaster destroyed our cities and villages, took the lives of thousands of people, left hundreds of thousands without shelter. For many years the northern part of our country was called the ‘disaster area.’ On these days we recall the memory of our brothers and sisters who fell victims of the tragedy, we extend words of condolences and encouragement to all those who witnessed those December days of 1988, whose relatives and friends were killed by the horrible tragedy.
“It’s a double disaster, when you bear the tragedy alone. However, from the very first day of the devastating earthquake our people felt the spirit of warmth of human soul and friendship. The world joined our pain.
“Today it’s our duty to extend words of gratitude to everyone, the rescuers and constructors, the pilots and statesmen, those who brought water and bread, those who sent blankets and tents. People were visiting Armenia to support us, to say words of encouragement, to inspire hope and faith, and simply to share our pain and not leave us alone. Today we say thanks to everyone.”
The tragedy of Spitak has been remembered not only in Armenia, but also in other countries of the former Soviet Union and well beyond that had made a collective effort to respond to the tragedy of the Armenian people 20 years ago.
President Sargisian awarded Armenia’s Ananya Shirakatsi medals to several Russian citizens for their considerable contribution in the rehabilitation efforts.
He also cited “the will of the people of Armenia” to sign a decree to confer the title of Armenia’s National Hero on former USSR Prime Minister Nikolay Ryzhkov for his “weighty personal contribution to the organization of rehabilitation works after the earthquake.”
Sargisian thanked the awardees not only for their efforts on post-earthquake rehabilitation, but also for their “moral support and humane, warm attitude shown to our people during those cruel days.”
In his acceptance speech, Ryzhkov, currently a member of the Russian parliament’s upper chamber, said he was humbled by the appraisal of his services.
“I am proud to have been next to the Armenian people during those hard days and I am very moved that my work has deserved such a high appraisal,” Ryzhkov said.
Delegations from more than two dozen countries, including prominent public figures and intellectuals were in Armenia to participate in the events marking the 20th anniversary of the earthquake.