By Edmond Y. Azadian
Many nations celebrate the glorious events of their history, Armenians tend to commemorate the more dismal pages of their past — the fall of the city of Ani to Seljuks, the Genocide, the earthquake and other chains of tragedy that form Armenian history. Ironically, one of the most exhilarating celebrations is the annual commemoration of the Vartanants War of 451 AD against the Persians; a story of a defeat, but one which Armenians consider it to be the triumph of spirit over a formidable, Godless enemy.
Thus, the stage is set to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Gumri earthquake, which took place in 1988, on December 7, at 11:41 a.m.
The 20th century has not been very charitable to the Armenians. Armenia was barely recovering from the devastation of the first Genocide of the century when in 1925 an earthquake hit Gumri. The city was then called Alexandrapol and had become a center of refugee camps. Alexandrapol was called the city of orphans, as hundreds of thousands of surviving children of the Genocide were gathered there under the care of international relief agencies. Despite the harsh conditions of early Soviet rule, it was a period of hope and reconstruction. The orphans who had survived the Genocide were hit once more by nature’s fury, exactly like the survivors of Baku and Sumgait pogroms who had sought refuge from Azerbaijan in Armenia, only to be hit by the 1988 earthquake.
Children who were born in 1988 are adults today, ready to form their own families, yet many of them are still condemned to live in wretched conditions of domiks (temporary shelters), after a quarter century. The epicenter of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake was near the village of Nalband. The nearby town of Spitak was completely razed. All in all, 342 villages were damaged, with 58 them completely destroyed. At the time it was reported that 25,000 people had perished, but many witnesses challenge that figure and place the real number as high as 50,000.
By 1989, 113 countries had provided relief to the tune of $500 million, while Azeris vandalized some relief trains.