On that day, a devastating earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter Scale, took place at 11:41 (local time), with the epicenter in the country’s north.
Some of those who survived the December 7, 1988 earthquake in Spitak, Gumri (then Leninakan), Vanadzor (then Kirovakan) and elsewhere in Armenia as well as the generations that came after the earthquake to live in makeshift housing feel embarrassed today not only because their vital problems have not been solved, but also because the very date of the disaster, once colored in black in the nation’s calendar, is being forgotten.
More than 25,000 people died and thousands were injured and became homeless.
The economic damage of Armenia amounted to 13 billion rubles. The commission headed by Nikolai Ryzhkov, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, arrived in Armenia on the next day of the earthquake. They performed a great job with care and many efforts to assist the people and eliminate the consequences of the tragedy. The Armenian people received the aid with gratitude, awarding Ryzhkov with decoration of the National Hero of Armenia on December 6, 2008.
More than 113 countries and 7 international organizations aided Armenia.
Hundreds of rescuers and doctors arrived in the Republic of Armenia. All the republics of the USSR started to transport medication, medical equipment, construction equipment, tents, food etc. to Armenia.
The Armenians of the Diaspora united from the first hours of the earthquake to provide assistance to their compatriots, creating many organizations for that aim. Many of them; doctors, psychologists, constructors, architects stayed in Armenia to personally participate in rescue and restoration works.
Ian Gillan, rock legend, lead singer and lyricist for Deep Purple, and his musician colleagues also had their contribution to the elimination of the consequences of the devastating quake. They participated in the charity action Rock Aid Armenia. The British rock stars recorded Smoke on the Water and released “Earthquake Album” in 1989. All the proceeds raised were provided to Armenia which had been affected by the Spitak quake.
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.
According to Yevgenia Atayan, the head of the Department of Housing Policy and Communal Infrastructure of the Ministry of Urban Development, problems connected with homeless families in the earthquake area will be solved within a year.
“Since 2008, out of the 5,363 families recognized as beneficiaries of the program, 4,398 have seen their housing problems solved. The housing problems of the remaining 965 families are expected to be solved before the end of 2016.
The Ministry of Urban Development will thus complete the disaster zone housing program,” Atayan said at a press conference on December 4.
But according Vahan Tumasyan, who heads the Shirak Center NGO, today in Gumri alone there are 2,700 families who live in makeshift housing. Of them, only a thousand are included in the waiting lists of state assistance programs as beneficiaries.
The discrepancy between official and unofficial figures is due to the fact that over years families originally included in assistance programs have grown larger as new generations created families of their own. In many cases when the original beneficiary family got a home, some of its members had to remain in temporary shelters for objective reasons.
Officially, however, they ceased to be considered “homeless” and beneficiaries of state assistance programs.
Receiving Gumri Mayor Samvel Balasanyan in Yerevan on Friday, December 4, President Serge Sargisian acknowledged the problem. “According to the Ministry of Urban Development, Gumri has approximately 250 families who were affected by the earthquake and need homes. I am very well aware that the number of people who need housing in Gumri is larger, but there are such people throughout Armenia. Tens of thousands of citizens need housing in Armenia today. These problems will, no doubt, be solved in due course,” he said.
Still, many in Gumri remain skeptical about government pledges. Many are also angered by the decision of the city authorities to have a New Year tree installed in the main square before December 7, which remains a mournful day for people in the earthquake-affected areas as well as for many across Armenia.
(Public Radio of Armenia, Armenpress and ArmeniaNow contributed to this report.)