The clock tower froze at 11:41 while children were at school, parents at work, and busy people were running errands. These individuals became the unsuspecting victims of a terrible disaster, one that devastated the historical city of Gyumri (then Leninakan) and stole the lives of an estimated 25,000 Armenians, injuring 15,000. With a reported magnitude of 6.9, followed by an aftershock of magnitude 5.8, the Gyumri Earthquake called for rapid international response.
To this day the 1988 earthquake has left a haunting presence over the city. Some buildings continue to lay in ruins, and the Armenian people continue to carry the pain of losing their families and homes.
December 7, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the Earthquake. Many reading this article cannot begin to imagine the amount of fear, chaos, and heartbreak experienced by the victims of the earthquake. Unlike most of her classmates in Dr. Sona Haroutyunian’s Spring 2013 course, who presented their memoir projects on the Armenian Genocide, student Roza Marabyan chose to share her mother’s personal experience of the earthquake. The following is an excerpt from her mother’s eye-witness account of what took place on December 7, 1988.
When the earthquake began, I was a little kid and I don’t remember all of the details. My parents told me that my brother and I were in kindergarten, my sister was in school, which was next to our house, and my father was at work.
My mother described the earthquake and her memory of that day.
“I was home alone around 11:41 local time and I felt that the ground started to shake. At first I didn’t want to believe that it was an earthquake. I thought it was just my imagination, yet the very next second furniture began to fall and I quickly ran outside. When I was outside, I saw that the city was covered in dust, buildings were shaking and collapsing, people were running in panic, and I listened to the cries and shouts of ‘help, help, help,’ coming from every direction. The first thought that came to my mind was ‘my children, I want to see them’ and I started running.
On my way to the school I saw a group of students with teachers who were standing outside and crying. I approached them and started looking for my older daughter, and on the other side I saw her. She was very scared and she was crying. After finding her we went to the kindergarten. In the yard I saw that nothing remained of the building and I shouted ‘No!,’ not allowing myself to believe that something happened to my children. The most painful part was seeing my son’s jacket under a big piece of stone. I fell down, closed my eyes, and felt numbness in my legs and body. I didn’t realize how loud I was crying.
In that moment, one of the kindergarten teachers came to me and said that my children were alive and that my husband had already picked them up. Hearing this, my daughter and I rushed home. On our way we saw that my daughter, son, and husband were looking for us. I cannot explain in words what I felt the moment I saw that everyone was alive. Many people went mad from losing their loved ones. Aside from the large amounts of deaths, many were left physically disabled. The whole city was in mourning.”