On December 7, the Armenian nation will commemorate the passing of another year since the 1988 6.8 Richter scale Spitak earthquake. Thirty years ago, this tragic incident killed over an estimated 25,000 people in Armenia where thousands of families were destroyed in a single moment. The horrific impact of the injured citizens reached in the high thousands. Thirty years later, Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia and its surroundings are still rebuilding.
It must be understood that the devastation of physical loss of life and injuries is still endured by many as mental anguish still continues over this tragedy. Families lost loved ones, their homes and most valued possessions. A generation witnessed the destruction of hospitals, cultural and historical monuments, public buildings and industrial complexes, but they had a willingness to carry on. The aforementioned challenges, along with the tumultuous political environment that culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the war for the liberation of Artsakh, created a shortfall of resources across Armenia. Although great strides toward modernization have been made throughout Armenia, Gyumri is still rebuilding.
Armenians are a resilient people, and the survivors from Gyumri are the embodiment of this resilience. As we have seen across Armenia’s vivid history and culture, the People’s spirit always endures and thrives no matter what type of challenge is faced. It is this same unshakeable resilience and spirit that is motivating the youth to rebuild.
Perhaps the most unfortunate legacy of the earthquake is that it defined a generation of Armenians by the pain of the past. But this is changing. Gyumri has since developed a technology center, a flourishing art scene and has turned back into a cultural hub. Gyumri is growing, and “We Are Gyumri” Campaign is excited to play a small part in that growth.
In 2014, the Armenian Youth Federation, in collaboration with the Armenian Cultural Foundation joined forces and expanded the “We Are Gyumri” initiative, with the goal of collaborating with their counterparts in Armenia to work toward redefining the future of the city. The “We Are Gyumri” concept was born several years prior to 2014 during a meeting held by Armenian Youth Federation Orange County “Ashod Yergat” Chapter where a chapter resolution was voted on and passed to assist Gyumri.
Initially, “We Are Gyumri” began by collecting funds for the complete renovation of a youth center in the heart of the city. The renovations were financed through generous support from the diasporan community, most notably Mr. & Mrs. Hacob and Mina Shirvanian. The newly renovated Shirvanian Youth Center in Gyumri opened in 2016 and provides daily programming to youth. Activities include lessons in basic English, history, music, arts and crafts, computers and IT, dance, chess, and sports. New programs are continuously added.
In 2015, the “We Are Gyumri” Mina Shirvanian Scholarship Fund was launched to continue the successes seen in the Shirvanian Youth Center. The scholarship provides full-tuition assistance to students pursuing higher education in the Shirak Marz. It is renewable for each year of the students’ education, ensuring that financial resources are not a concern as they pursue their dreams. To date, the “We Are Gyumri” Mina Shirvanian Scholarship Fund has supported the education of twenty-two bright scholars, and a new class of recipients will be added in 2019. Each scholarship recipient volunteers one hundred hours every year at the Shirvanian Youth Center.
The campaign’s ultimate goal is to impact the life of every child who visits the Youth Center and every young person whose education is funded through the scholarship. The “We Are Gyumri” initiative owes its success to the collaboration that takes place between Armenians in Armenia and abroad. Nation-building does not happen overnight. While rebuilding has been slow in Gyumri, and has a long way to go, “We Are Gyumri” aims to support and empower the younger generations, who are motivated and excited to take the future of their country into their own hands.
The mission of the “We Are Gyumri” Campaign is to create a positive and lasting impact on youth in Gyumri, Armenia. The campaign restructured and renovated the Shirvanian Youth Center in Gyumri, Armenia that had been destroyed during the 1988 Spitak earthquake. Further, a year-round functional program was created at the center to teach youth in Gyumri everyday skills, to provide them with the essentials they need for a brighter future, and to serve as a bridge between youth in Gyumri and their peers in the Diaspora. As another component of the campaign, the “We Are Gyumri” Mina Shirvanian Scholarship Fund is intended for residents of the Shirak Province to pursue their undergraduate education in their native region.