After 30 years -=- Gyumri Spitak -=-
Posted 08 December 2017 - 11:04 AM
Art class had just begun in our newly constructed School No. 9 in Leninakan. Our fifth grade class was on the first floor. Mr. Aydinyan was revealing the secrets of drawing an apple. With trembling hands we began sketching the three apples hugging one another that had been set upon a pedestal. I was in the second last seat of the row nearest the window. Seated at a distance of about 9-10 meters away from the pedestal, the details of the apples were not distinguishable, although it seemed that the shape of the first apple was coming together on my paper.
The minutes were reluctantly moving forward and the delicious appearance of the apples had diverted our attention elsewhere. There was still one more class to go before the end of the school day, but the bleak fog outside the window didn’t have a particularly welcoming feel and we weren’t even thinking of leaving for home.
The fog looked different that day, it was gloomy, mysterious. I don’t remember ever seeing that kind of insidious fog in Leninakan, and never would again.
The noise and deafening shaking at 11:41 a.m. would not have averted our attention had one of those apples not tumbled to the ground. Many of the students stood up stunned, with the expectation of an explanation by Mr. Ardinyan. A few, without permission, ran out of the classroom, which for some reason startled me. For about 10 seconds, I couldn’t make a decision - to run out to the hall with the other students, wait for instructions by the teacher, or continue to wait to understand what was happening. The building continued to shake with indescribable speed and frequency. I realized that in a blink of an eye, a queue had formed near the door, which transformed into a throng and then subsided. I too, barely, overcoming the challenge of the swaying floor with drunken-like steps hurried to overcome the distance of seven-eight school desks to get to the door and join my classmates in the hallway. A few steps short of reaching the other side of the threshold, I remembered I had forgotten my gradebook. Leaving the classroom and more so going home without it did not seem to be a good idea. I had a special reason to be boastful that day, since only two hours before I had gotten an excellent grade in math. It would have given my mother special joy to see it. The thought of making her happy made me stop and return to my desk, overcoming the distance of the same severn-eight desks, which took another eight-ten seconds of my time. I was near my desk. The escalating tremors had tossed my drawing book on the floor and my coloring pencils were nowhere to be seen.
At that moment, the back wall of the classroom started to slowly collapse and a hole of about a meter in diameter appeared. Since we were on the ground floor, I could see the windows of the neighboring house in the distance. The hole was growing larger quickly and was ready to swallow everything and everyone. At this point I was already firmly holding on to my brown backpack which had my gradebook with my perfect score in math marked in red ink, which made me consider crawling out of the hole. The piercing sound coming from the tremors would not stop, it had even deafened the screams of the students, the noise of everything falling out of the classroom shelves and the sound of breaking glass. A moment later, the idea of going out through the unidentified cavity in the wall dissipated, especially since no one was going out that way. It was again time to try and make a run for the door. I threw one last glance at my desk and then the door; three large steps got me to a space between two desks and just as I was instinctually flexing my muscles in preparation for a fourth step, I felt an indescribable blow to my head and everything ended… maybe started...
I’m no more… I’m in darkness… I no longer breathe… I see nothing… I’m dead… I don’t know how much time had passed when I felt that my eyelids were moving and I realized that I can also move my head, and then my hands. It was gravely silent, a tomb like darkness, no sound, no movement, only non-existence and the weight of the slowly descending dust. I understand nothing: Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? What is happening to me? The first sound to pierce my ear following these indescribable moments was a single cough, then two, three, six, seven. The dust had engulfed us in a final attempt to suffocate everything. One of the coughs was not that of a ten year old, it was Mr. Aydinyan’s stifling cough. I’m not sure why, but I was happy. Whether it was because I had survived and found myself on the fixed chair of a school desk, or because in this meter and a half in diameter tubular shelter of mine, I had ended up close to some of my friends and my teacher. They were next to me, I could feel their breath, heaving, uneasy movements and silence.
Some minutes later, when everything had calmed down, I asked who was near. I heard familiar and affectionate responses - it was Arthur, Zaruhi and the others. Mr. Aydinyan told us what had happened, but I could sense how he was barely speaking and it was becoming more and more difficult to understand what he was trying to say. When we asked him to speak louder, he answered that he could not speak any louder because he had a metal rod jammed through his chest. I asked my classmates, who had now become my co-inhabitants of the ruins, what injuries they had sustained. It turned out that all of them had serious injuries and fractures.
My back felt heavy, as did the right side of my head. I thought my back was seriously injured and when I ran my fingers through my dusty hair, I discovered that a small round bump had appeared. When I tried to move my back, I felt it easily detach from the seat indicating that nothing serious had happened. Laying down like that was no longer comfortable. I started feeling the ground with my hands, preparing to make myself comfortable on the floor and continue my conversation with my friends.
We started to talk more frequently, and the words and ideas that were exchanged that day are forever engraved in my memory. We first communicated our conviction that we were definitely going to be found and rescued. Of course it was difficult to know the source of our self-confidence. Probably it stemmed from the fact that at that age you have not yet had the time to reconcile with the inevitability of death. The glimpse of the idea of being rescued was enough to set us yelling in unison “Help, save us!” We screamed with no consideration for our vocal cords, we screamed will all our essence, in self-oblivion, non-stop for about half an hour, and since I was the least injured, I screamed the loudest. There was no response, no sound, no... we understood there was no use in calling for help, no one was going to help us...
The next idea that evolved into the most important discussion was about the “after.” We were convinced that after being rescued from our hellish shelter, we were going to be all alone in the city, that our parents were also dead and they would never know of our rescue. This last thought infected all of us and we started to cry with self-abandon, first silently and then more and more loudly. I was thinking that my parents were at work, that they would not have survived but my sister, who was at home with my grandmother, must have survived because the house was not a high-rise and it would not have collapsed. We made plans for our near and distant future, we were imagining the impossible, we were dreaming of being rescued and living.
… and all of a sudden, human voices: “Is anyone in there?” As if by the wave of a magic wand there was instantaneous silence … they had found us… and we started screaming with increased abandon, like lunatics and with manic frequency. All of a sudden, blows came down on the panel block hanging above us. Pieces of cement and dust started falling on us more and more intensely. I realized that I should use my pioneer’s necktie. Like the hero in an American Western, I tied it up around my mouth and nose to endure the massive wave of dust. I advised my classmates to follow my example; I don’t know if they did or not. We were sure that our salvation was directly behind the 25 cm of cement. They will eliminate that distance using iron tools and we would be saved. Suddenly I felt the panels move and our small shelter was under the threat of being crushed. Mr. Aydinyan barely uttered, “They are dismantling from the wrong place, it can collapse on us.” I don't know what inspired my confidence and driven by my teacher’s guiding instruction, I started yelling and urging the rescuers to start working from the schoolyard. I was convinced that they were trying to get to us from the street in front of the school but they needed to do it from the schoolyard.
… there was silence again and doubt set in among all of us. Did they hear us? Maybe we should not have given them instructions, maybe we should have stayed silent? Maybe they were not hearing us at all? Maybe the noise of the rescue efforts, the dust were mere illusions? The girls started sobbing and we slowly returned to our unfinished discussion and planning. I imagined seeing uprooted trees, survivors hanging from ropes being rescued by helicopters, pieces of broken windows everywhere on the streets at every step. We all fell silent again and there was no sound coming from any direction.
We could feel the time pass, we started guessing what time of day it might be. Some were insisting that it was 12:30, others said a couple of days had passed by already. Surrounded by uncertainty, a feeling of alarm was growing inside us all.
Minutes and then hours seemed to be flying off the hands of the clock and I no longer recall the thoughts that came and went in those hours. The air was unbearable. We wait, we are hopeful that they know where we are, we imagine people standing outside trying to figure out how to rescue us. I was wondering where all those dear to me were, was it possible that I would never see them again, was it possible that they were all dead? Could it be that my parents would never hold and kiss me? Hungry and parched from thirst, we could feel that we no longer had the energy to talk, the suffocation, the dust in our nostrils and lungs was making breathing impossible. I felt I should try to stay awake and not give in to the temptation to sleep. Soon we all fell asleep. I don’t remember if I dreamt or not, probably not, because likely you don't dream within a dream.
We were suddenly surprised to hear a voice, “Hang on kids, only a little way to go, we are almost there.” We thought it was an illusion; we started comforting one another, saying we only thought that we heard it. Mr. Ardinyan, who probably was in too much pain to sleep, uttered the inconceivable. He explained that while we were asleep, a group of people had been trying to reach us by digging through the ruins. I thought he was simply comforting us or that he too was simply dreaming. In any case, even if this was a dream and a plausible rescue scenario, then it was substantial enough to disturb our sleep. We all started to yawn lazily and discuss the new rescue scenario.
A little later, we heard the sound of a hammer or another blunt object quite near, it recurred, escalated and became frequent enough to be believed. We could feel that the breath of rescue was nearing, we could feel the warmth of light nearing, we could feel an artificial light creeping in through the cracks. After noticing the first ray of light, we heard a hoarse voice, “Tell me your names.” Without waiting for one another we called out our names. A couple of minutes later the same voice asked another question: “Is there an Arman amongst you?” We yelled “No” in unison.
The question following the last “Yes” was different, “What is the name of your uncle?” I yelled, “I have two, Khoren and Hunan.”
The voices came closer, only a wooden bookcase separated us. We could feel the saw at work, cutting the bookcase in two. Soon after, I saw the face of the rescuer approaching us: A velvet bearded giant, around 40 years old. He was in a hurry but was simultaneously complaining in the Ararat dialect, about how useless the saw was and said, “And then they say this is a city of craftsmen, could not get a normal saw to cut this bookcase faster and be done with it.” I try to start a dialogue with the rescuer who was trying to bore into our ruinous shelter. “My grandpa is a craftsman, if my uncle is outside, tell him to go get a decent saw from our house,” I said in a hurry trying to at least be helpful to the giant moving the saw back and forth at an unimaginable speed. He did not answer, instead silently but with additional vigor continued his work. One more instant and the last barrier was removed.
“Hurry up, get out of here.”
The long awaited words were finally heard. Without rushing, all my friends went out through that small opening. When it was my turn, I dragged my brown school bag along, which was by my side the whole time. It would not fit through the opening intended for us, or maybe I had put it at a wrong angle. In any case I wasted some precious moments, which probably angered our saviour who urged me to leave my bag aside. I insisted that I needed it, he promised to get it for me later. He pulled me out and as I was being dragged by his awe inspiring hands and by the hands of those who were not far behind him, I noticed the lifeless bodies of some of my classmates. Death, only a couple of centimeters away from me, had done its deed and deprived at least two of my friends of their lives. When with the last push I was finally released, I saw the stars above.
It was night, dark and cold. Nevertheless, the cars and the bonfires of those gathered at the school yard illuminated the surroundings. It had barely sunk in that I had been rescued when my uncle embraced me tightly. He started to smile and lifted me up as he carried me down the ruins. I said two things, “Where are my mother and father?” and “I can go down on my own.” The first received a brief answer, that they were at the school yard, waiting for me and to the second, he said, “You can not walk,” thinking that I was heavily injured and couldn't feel my injuries. We got down from the enormous pile of ruins in a flash of a second. Soon I felt my parents’ tearful exclamations. Cutting through the queue of parents waiting for a miracle, they appeared in front of my uncle and I, and as if in disbelief (in what they were seeing), they started to feel me to see if anything was broken, embraced me tightly, and asked the same question a couple of times, “What did you break?” I uttered momentarily, “All is well.” My answer was like a long awaited password, they were overcome with smiles and carried me running out of the school yard in an instant.
I started to bombard my parents with questions about what had really happened, about what had happened to each of our relatives. My father held me tight and looking into my eyes said two things, “It is five in the morning, you were under the ruins for more than 18 hours.” Not waiting for my response, he added, “When we were praying for your rescue at the schoolyard, I promised that if we find you, I’ll light 301 candles in Etchmiadzin.” I was too confused to understand what he meant.
On December 24, I learned that only 15 of my classmates had survived, most had died in the school hallway. The same day I went by the school and in a carefully piled up heap of belongings, I immediately noticed my brown backpack waiting for me. The next day, on December 25, we went to the Mother Cathedral of Etchmiadzin with my father. It took us an hour and a half to light the 301 candles he had vowed. I do not like to talk about the 7th of December, because it causes me pain, because despite ourselves, on the day of the earthquake, my friends and I ceased to be children. Death brushed by me that day, that day the lives of thousands were cut short, many fates drowned that day, everything turned upside down on that day, we ceased being what we used to be and our backs were broken, on that day tragedy set roots in Leninakan, that day… that day…
Posted 08 December 2017 - 11:06 AM
Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan joined the commemoration of the 29th anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck northern Armenia in 1988.
At 11:41 am, Karen Karapetyan laid flowers at the Memorial to Earthquake Victims in Gyumri church of St. Amenaprkich and attended the Divine Liturgy.
Addressing journalists, the Premier stressed that the Government has developed a comprehensive program for Gyumri and the quality of life will definitely change in this city.
”We need to work on a regular basis to make life change, and it will change in fact. The problems that Gyumri and our people are facing today shall be overcome: we just have to be optimistic and keep on working,” Karen Karapetyan said.
Posted 04 February 2018 - 11:44 AM
PanARMENIAN.Net - One of the most prominent businessmen and billionaires of the United States, Jon M. Huntsman, who was also known for his philanthropic activity focusing on areas of cancer research, programs at various universities, and aid to Armenia, died on Friday, February 2 aged 80.
The founder of Huntsman Corporation passed away peacefully, surrounded by family.
“He leaves an unparalleled legacy of good, from which generations will benefit,” his family said in a statement.
Huntsman served in 37th U.S. President Richard Nixon’s administration.
Later, the businessman opened the Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is engaged in the research of cancer and the search for medicines. Both his parents died of cancer, and he battled four forms of it himself.
Huntsman has greatly contributed to efforts to rebuild Armenia following the devastating earthquake of 1988. He and other family members have made 46 trips to Armenia over 25 years. During one such trip, Huntsman said: “I always have a feeling that God’s blessing rests with the Armenian people. I am glad and proud to be here in this great country.”
Huntsman Sr.’s stepped in to help, and his assistance continued in Armenia over the years. “From the ruins of devastation, they began to rebuild. It captured my heart … to where I said, ‘I have to help these people. I have to be part of it,’” Huntsman said in 2013.
Donations made by the Utah billionaire were used to build schools and hospitals,, apartment complexes, and a K-12 school in the city of Gyumri which .
His family also provides scholarships to bring Armenian students to the United States to study at Utah State University.
In 2018, Armenia is commemorating the 30th anniversary of the earthquake, which leveled the cities of Spitak and Gyumri, as well as about 60 villages, leaving at least 25,000 people dead, 100,000 wounded and 500,000 homeless.
Huntsman is survived by his wife Karen and by 8 children, including their son Jon Huntsman Jr., a former governor of Utah and current U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Son Peter Huntsman is CEO of Huntsman Corp.
Posted 08 November 2018 - 11:54 AM
PanARMENIAN.Net - The drama "Spitak" about the devastating earthquake that shook Armenia on December 7, 1988, will be screened in the United States, director Alexander Kottrevealed in an interview with TASS.
"Spitak" is Armenia's submission for the upcoming best foreign language film category at the Oscars.
Weighing in on his chances to take an Oscar home, Kott said the very nomination from Armenia is already a big step.
The film, according to him, will be shown in Washington, Miami, Los Angeles and New York.
The feature film is based on real events and includes stories taken from eyewitness accounts.
In the movie, the director has intentionally left scenes of horror behind the camera, focusing on the experience of the characters instead.
Kott himself has described “Spitak” as ‘a requiem film’, in which he has attempted to convey "the panic, despair, courage and heroism" of those who tried to find their home and family despite everything.
Prior to shooting, the director decided that all the heroes will speak their native languages, so the film ended up featuring Armenian, Russian and French speeches.
Posted 07 December 2018 - 11:02 AM
BBC has aired a program devoted to the 30th anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Armenia, and which claimed around 20,000 lives.
The person featured in this report is Anahit Karapetyan, who was 15 years old when she had found herself under the debris of her school when this quake had hit.
Karapetyan said when she had wakened, she had seen that she and a classmate were under a concrete pile.
After a long while, Anahit had heard the voice of her mother calling to her.
She was rescued, but her classmate had died.
Anahit Karapetyan’s father and brother also had died under the debris.
Edited by Yervant1, 07 December 2018 - 11:02 AM.
Posted 07 December 2018 - 02:30 PM
Earthquake victims commemorated in Stepanakert
On the 30th anniversary of the Spitak earthquake, Artsakh Republic President Bako Sahakyan accompanied by top officials of the country visited the Stepanakert Memorial Complex and laid a wreath to the monument of innocent victims of the disaster.
Today Armenians remember the victims of the earthquake that hit 40% of the territory of Armenia - densely populated regions with 1 million people.
The cities of Spitak, Leninakan (now Gyumri), Kirovakan (now Vanadzor) and Stepanavan, as well as hundreds of villages were totally or partially destroyed. Twenty-five thousand people were killed, 500 thousand were left without shelter.
Posted 23 December 2018 - 10:52 AM
Posted 12 February 2019 - 12:15 PM
“Spitak” drama, which centers on the catastrophic earthquake that shook Armenia on 7 December 1988, won the top prize at the “17 Moments” Third International Film Festival named after famous Soviet Russian actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov held in Russia from 6 to 10 February.
Directed by Russian filmmaker Alexander Kott, the film also won awards for best director and best composer, TASS reported.
World-famous Armenian-American singer-songwriter Serj Tankian composed the score for the film.
The drama’s screenwriter is Marina Sochinskaya, cameraman – Pyotr Dukhovskoy, composer – Karen Margaryan, producers – Elena Glikman and Theresa Varzhapetyan.
A joint production of Armenia and Russia, the film tells the story of Gor, who left Armenia in search of a better life but now returns back after the earthquake in order to find his home and family. But it is too late. Everything is destroyed by the disaster, and he has to re-learn to love what he destroyed himself.
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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:55 AM
Rock legends Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and Rock Aid Armenia founder Jon Dee have arrived in Yerevan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Rock Aid Armenia charitable project. Ahead of the gala event scheduled for June 5, they talked to the press about future plans and recalled previous visits to Armenia.
Mediamax has collected several remarks from the press conference.
The visit to Spitak
Ian Gillan: I remember a lady holding a photo of a family of 28 people. It was her family, and she was the only survivor. I spoke with the Mayor of Spitak, and he told me that all the music had stopped: there was no music on the radio, in the church, and even the birds stopped singing. We thought that music could be symbolically a way of restarting life in the city. That is how we got involved with the music school renovation project. It became a symbol of new life in Armenia.
That night, after the concert, the guys in the dressing room asked me what happened, why I looked so bad. But I couldn’t explain. I just burst into tears because of the emotional impact it had on me. That is why I feel so personally involved in all projects related to Rock Aid Armenia. It has been a privilege for me.
30 years later
Ian Gillan: When faced with the power of nature, natural disasters, all we can do is build and repair. It has to be not just physical, but spiritual as well. Imagine a congregation in the church, uplifted by a good sermon. It’s the same with music in a way, and just being together though music is so powerful.
It is also encouraging to see the new generation creating. When I first visited the music school in Gyumri, there was snow inside and the teachers were valiantly trying to conduct their classes with broken instruments. They have normal, warm environment now, so yes, music is the restart. The birds are singing again.
Jon Dee: When I first started talking to the media about who we pulled together for “Smoke on the Water”, some people asked me why I was working with “rock dinosaurs”. “Does anyone listen to them anymore?” they said. And I said that these guys would outlast any pop star in 1990. Tony Iommi’s last Black Sabbath album is number one in America, and Ian and Tony still sell out big venues. It shows the timeless appeal of rock. In fact, the “Some on the Water” video will hit 10 million views on YouTube this month.
Armenians and Armenia
Ian Gillan: I was mostly impressed by the unity and integrity of the Armenian culture. Armenians are everywhere: New York, Beirut. People live their own lives, but they are still united, which is amazing; maybe you can compare them with English people (laughs-Mediamax).
Jon Dee: One thing that impressed me in communication with Armenians is how rich the Armenian culture is. Brian Eno was the one to introduce me to the Armenian music and tell me that I should listen to the performance of Djivan Gasparyan. “It will be one of the most powerful performances you have enjoyed,” he said. That is why we are so excited to release our “Mashtots” album. Rock Aid Armenia isn’t just fundraising; it is about uniting people and introducing them to the incredible Armenian culture.
Tony Iommi: Black Sabbath doesn’t plan any concert tours in the future, we may play some things in the process. My personal plan is living my life fully; one can perceive life from another perspective after 50 years of concert tours throughout the world.
Ian Gillan: I like roads, and I plan to travel in the coming 50 years, not necessarily on this planet. I will slow down the pace a bit, but traveling is my passion. We used to hold live performances even before recording in studio, and we will continue the same way. Certainly, I will have more time for recreation. What can be better than attracting new audiences and motivating them?
New initiatives of Rock Aid Armenia 30
Jon Dee: There aren’t any invitations left for the event today evening, which proves that Armenians attach importance to this event.
We will launch a new webpage next month, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of Metropolis Studios. The page will feature the cassettes and videos that haven’t been released so far. “Smoke on the Water” will be revived around the world, and the revenue will be used for acquisitions of new tools for Gyumri Music School.
We will also release a new CD, which will contain not only rock, but also Armenian music. In fact, we return to our roots, as the first album that our organization released was the recording of Djivan Gasparyan and Brian Eno in 1989.
We will release a joint album called Mashtots with Vahan Artsruni and Hasmik Baghdasaryan, which features Armenian spiritual music of the 5th century.
I call on Armenians to aquire this CD, as the whole revenue will be provided to Fund for Armenian Relief for acquiring tools for the music school.
The visit and celebration of the anniversary are organized by Mediamax Media Company and DoSomething (Australia). Co-founder of DoSomething Jon Dee initiated Rock Aid Armenia in 1989 to support Armenia after Spitak Earthquake. The sponsor of Rock Aid Armenia’s 30th anniversary celebrations and the rock stars’ visit is IDBank. Koor Wines is the partner of the event.
Photos by Emin Aristakesyan
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Posted 08 December 2019 - 07:53 AM
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited today Armenia’s province of Lori on the 31st anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that hit Armenia’s Gyumri and Spitak towns on December 7, 1988.
Armenia’s PM put a wreath at the monument dedicated to the memory of victims of the earthquake.
In Spitak Armenia’s PM paid tribute to the monuments of the victims of the earthquake.
The 10-magnitude earthquake hit Armenia on December 7, 1988 at 11.41 a.m. turning into ruins Armenian towns of Spitak, Leninakan (today’s Gyumri), Kirovakan, Stepanavan and over hundred villages.
More than 25 thousand people were killed, 500,000 remained without homes.
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