By Edmond Y. Azadian
If a talented writer had been commissioned to come up with a screenplay about a perfect disaster, perhaps he could not come up with a better scenario than the fate that befell Armenia in 1988. That year, a perfect trifecta struck — a crumbling Soviet Union and a raging war with Azerbaijan compounded by the earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter Scale in the dead of winter.
More than 300,000 Armenian refugees who had only recently escaped pogroms in Baku and Sumgait had to face yet another tragedy in Armenia following the earthquake.
For the last 100 years, Armenians have lamented about the forgotten genocide and for the last quarter century we added more to our miseries — the trauma of a forgotten earthquake. In the aftermath of the Genocide, Gumri, which was known as Alexandropol at the time — accepted hundreds and thousands of Armenian orphans, who later in 1926 had to experience a similar earthquake.
On December 7, 1988, the earthquake rocked the entire province of Shirak for 41 seconds, with the epicenter in the town of Spitak, leveling 80 percent of buildings and killing 25,000 people according to the official count, while other sources cited a higher number of casualties— 150,000 people dead or injured and more than 514,000 left homeless.
The earthquake also destroyed 40 percent of Armenia’s industrial infrastructure, from which the country has not fully recovered to this day.