A moment of silence was observed to mark the tragedy's anniversary.

Armenia Marks 30th Anniversary Of Tragic Earthquake

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan chaired a special meeting of his cabinet in Gyumri on Friday, December 7, as Armenia marked the 30th anniversary of a catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of others homeless.

Pashinyan also led an official commemoration ceremony in Armenia’s second largest city, laying a wreath at a local memorial to the victims of the earthquake.

“The greatest damage caused by the disaster was probably the devastations that occurred in people’s souls,” he said at the ceremony. The recent regime change in the country and reforms promised by its new government should help to “restore the people’s hopes, confidence and optimism,” he added.

The magnitude 6.8 quake struck northwestern parts of what was then a Soviet republic of 3.5 million residents on the morning of December 7, 1988. Its epicenter was near Spitak, a small town razed to the ground. Gyumri (known as Leninakan then) was also hit hard.

The huge death toll was widely blamed on substandard construction exposed by the calamity. It turned out that many apartment blocks and houses in what many Armenians still refer to as a “disaster zone” were built in violation of seismic safety standards.

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International aid poured into Soviet Armenia immediately after the earthquake. The Soviet government also allowed Western rescue teams and other relief workers into the earthquake zone. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev cut short a visit to New York to tour devastated towns and villages.

Moscow launched a large-scale housing reconstruction program in the area in the following months. The rebuilding efforts stalled, however, with the collapse of the Soviet Union followed by a sharp decline of the Armenian economy. Tens of thousands of families continued to huddle in the 1990s in metal or wooden shacks, commonly known as “domiks,” lacking basic amenities.

Spitak’s ruins

The protracted reconstruction of the economically depressed area was the main focus of Friday’s cabinet meeting dedicated to the earthquake anniversary. Avetik Eloyan, head of the government’s Urban Development Committee, told ministers that more than 4,800 families that lost their homes in 1988 received new houses or apartments from the state from 2008 through 2017.

Eloyan said that almost 500 other families other in Gyumri and other affected communities remain on a government waiting list of persons eligible for free housing. The government is committed to providing them with new homes by the end of 2020 at a combined cost of around 3.5 billion drams ($7.2 million), he said.

The official cautioned, though, that the figure needs to be reevaluated. “There are people who are really homeless but there are also those who received apartments but retained their shacks,” he explained. “So there are many issues that need to ascertained.”

Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanyan, who also attended the cabinet meeting, said in this regard that there are currently 2,856 “domiks” in the city and that many of their residents migrated to Gyumri after the earthquake. And 456 of these supposedly temporary shelters are now empty, added Balasanyan.

Pashinyan responded by telling the government to form a task force that will look into the housing situation and submit a detailed report to him within two months.

Spitak was leveled.

“We know that the consequences of the December 1988 earthquake have still not been eliminated but we don’t know the scale of work that is needed for [completing the reconstruction,]” said the prime minister. “Therefore, the task force should try to find the answer to this question as soon as possible.”

Stamp Created

A stamp that is dedicated to the 30th anniversary of Spitak Earthquake was canceled on December 7 in Gyumri.

The cancellation ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Transport, Communication and Information Technology Minister Hakob Arshakyan, Emergency Minister Feliks Tsolakyan.

Samvel Balasanyan, the city mayor, and Juan Pablo Gechidjian, HayPost Trust Management CEO, were present at the ceremony as well.

The stamp, with the face value of 230 drams, was printed by France’s Cartor printing house. The stamp author is Vahagn Mkrtchyan, a designer at HayPost.

Destroyed buildings, rescue efforts and the clock on the Independence Square, which shows the time of the first tremor, are depicted on the stamp.

Global Aid to Armenia

Immediately after the earthquake Armenians all over the world united and offered comprehensive support to the Motherland. “SOS Armenie,” “Aznavour for Armenia” and tens of other organizations were created. Many Diaspora Armenians rushed to Armenia, bringing food, clothes and medicine.

Many of them — doctors, psychologists, constructors, architects — stayed in Armenia and personally participated in the rescue works.

A number of countries of the world continued to support Armenia years after the earthquake. Italians built a whole dwelling district in Spitak, Norwegians built a hospital, which was named after great humanist F. Nansen.

The Armenian Church announced on December 6 it would donate 10 apartments to vulnerable families in Gyumri and Spitak.

From Kansas to Armenia

Armenians remember what they have lost and Armenians dream of the world that will honor those they lost, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer said while delivering remarks in Gyumri on the 30th anniversary of the 1988 devastating earthquake.

“We are humbled to represent the people of Kansas who by a twist of fate shared relationship with the amazing people of Armenia,” he said, adding that he had never dreamed that once he would return to the city of Gyumri as a Kansas governor, and would share this special day of resilience for Armenians.

“December 7 changed me forever. When I went to State Department to work and heard the news about the disaster, that morning we saw the photos of Gyumri, and how the buildings collapsed, and thousands of people were killed. I should never forget this,” he said.

Jeff Colyer recalled that they called President-elect Bush and described what happened.

“Bush said we should help. Although the Soviet Union has never accepted international assistance before, he felt it was important to help Armenia that time,” Colyer emphasized.

Seventy Americans headed to Armenia, and what they saw in the city was the scene that was difficult to imagine.

“It is one that I cannot describe but we saw something special: we met the most fantastic spirit in Armenia, the spirit of love, kindness and heroism. We met Armenians who were longing to overcome the tremendous disaster that came their way,” the governor noted. “Today when I meet Armenians around the world, I meet them as very special people with culture, science business and dignity. And here is the great lesson of 1988. When we arrived in Armenia, many of us thought that the best days were behind, and today we know that Armenia’s best days are ahead of us, and here is why. Memory may be fading from many people but Armenians remember, that is why you are special.

Armenia has touched me, my family my state and my country in a very special way. No matter what, Kansas and America will remain your friend.”

(Stories from News.am, Arka and Radio Liberty were used to compiled this report.)

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