On December 7, 1988, at 11:41 a.m., time stood still for thousands of Armenians, and one of the saddest pages in the modern history of Armenia was recorded - a terrible earthquake that took tens of thousands of lives.
Even those who lived a hundred kilometers from the epicenter felt that something catastrophic was happening. However, in order to imagine the real scale of the disaster, one had to see Gyumri, Spitak and dozens of other settlements minutes after the tremors.
The area of the damage zone was 10,000 square kilometers, where 1 million inhabitants lived, 11 towns and 58 villages were destroyed, the number of affected towns was 21, and the number of villages - 342.
The history of Leninakan (Gyumri), the second city of the republic, a major cultural center, modern-day Gyumri, was forever divided into two parts, before the catastrophe and after it. There was almost nothing left of the once beautiful architectural handwriting, historical buildings, and the color of Gyumri. About 60% of the city had turned to stone and dust. 17,000 out of 230,000 people died in the earthquake.
In second place was Spitak, where 4,000 out of 18,500 people lost their lives. As the epicenter was near Spitak, in the village of Nalband, most of the population died.
The losses from the earthquake were really irreversible for Armenia. In addition to human lives, the earthquake left 50,000 people disabled. More than 500,000 people were left without shelter in one day. Only in Gyumry, the number of homeless families exceeded 22,000. It was then that the city was filled with so-called cottages, from which Gyumri has not got rid of until now.
According to the World Bank in 2017, the direct material losses amounted to $15-$20 billion, a huge figure for Armenia even in the current conditions.
The earthquake also factually destroyed or significantly damaged the economic potential, destroying 157 industrial enterprises, which employed 82,000 people. The earthquake damaged 17% of Armenia’s housing stock.
The situation in the cities in the first days of the earthquake was out of control, and it was like the footage of an apocalyptic movie. People tried to save or at least find the bodies of relatives at all costs, not believing in the end. A situation arose when finding a relative's body was considered a success.
The Spitak earthquake shook the whole world without exaggeration. Residents of nearby areas were the first to reach the disaster zone. Thousands of people spent days, often empty-handed, trying to pull everyone out of the rubble. More than 45,000 people were rescued from the rubble by the efforts of the population and rescuers.
On the second day, the population of the devastated cities was in dire need of food, water, warm clothes, and temporary shelter. Even if the apartment buildings were not damaged by the earthquake, the residents were still afraid to enter the building, preferring to spend the night in the open air.
Even a state with such Soviet potential was not ready for the consequences of an earthquake. For the first time since the end of World War II, the Soviet leader formally applied to the United States for humanitarian assistance.
Governments of 113 countries, organizations, individuals, as well as numerous international organizations reached out to Armenia to help.
Those who provided the most significant assistance to Armenia were awarded a special commemorative medal for nobility and mercy. The population of the disaster zone and the Armenian people in a short time had many relatives, four of whom represented the symbol of the merciful world: His Holiness Vazgen I, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers Nikolai Ryzhkov, Mother Teresa, French-Armenian singer-composer Charles Aznavour. Many streets, schools and hospitals in Armenia were named after them. His Holiness Vazgen I, Ryzhkov and Aznavour were later also awarded the highest title of National Hero of the Republic of Armenia.