GUMRI (RFE/RL) — Officials insisted on Monday that the renewed reconstruction of regions devastated by the 1988 earthquake is going according to plan as Armenia marked the 21st anniversary of the calamity that killed 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of others homeless.
As always, the main commemoration ceremony took place in the northern city of Gumri, which is still bearing traces of the tragedy. President Serge Sargisian and other top officials laid flowers at a memorial to quake victims erected in the city’s central square. Archbishop Mikael Ajapahanian of Gumri and the surrounding Shirak region then held a prayer service in memory of the victims.
As he made his way to the memorial, Sargisian was mobbed by hundreds of local residents anxious to hand him letters describing their socioeconomic grievances and pleading for assistance from the state. The president did not stop to talk to them, leaving it to his bodyguards to collect the letters.
“I’m a mother of many children,” one woman said. “I came here to ask the president to help us buy firewood for the winter.” Another woman, a single mother, similarly hoped that the government will “help me a little.”
After the ceremony Sargisian visited the nearby town of Akhurian to inspect the ongoing construction of a sugar plant. He also inaugurated a newly-constructed gas distribution system in a local village.
Despite numerous government pledges and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, Shirak and other parts of northern Armenia hit by the earthquake have still not been completely rebuilt. According to government data, more than 7,000 families who lost their homes on December 7, 1998, still live in shacks and other temporary shelters.