BY MARIA TITIZIAN
Every Armenian on the planet remembers the moment they heard the news.
On December 7, 1988 at exactly 11:41 AM the ground beneath our homeland shifted. When the earth stopped moving, 25,000 people were dead, tens of thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless as villages, towns and cities were devastated by an earthquake that was felt around the world.
The earthquake that rocked Soviet Armenia 25 years ago would come to symbolize many things. Cruel and unforgiving fate and destiny, destruction, collective pain and suffering, betrayal, bitterly cold winter nights, snow, darkness and death…but it also came to symbolize life.
I remember receiving the phone call from one of our community leaders early that December morning. You have to come to the community center, he said, there’s been a tragedy. I was there in minutes.
That was the beginning of weeks and weeks of mobilization, working around the clock to get much needed aid to Soviet Armenia. What we were able to collect, procure and ship was only a drop of what was so desperately needed. Whether what we sent was received in entirety or whether it made any difference in the lives of the survivors, we will never know. Like many other Armenian communities around the world, we did what we could with the resources we had at our disposal.
Today, 25 years later, we continue to battle the demons of nature, homeless families and failed leadership. For a vast majority of the Armenian nation, the 1988 Spitak earthquake is a scar that has yet to heal. And yet, while it was a time of death and destruction, it also came to symbolize faith and hope and the cycle of life.
During those long, exhausting days and weeks I spent with my counterparts at our community center in Toronto, I would get repeated calls from my mother, begging me to go home and rest. ‘It’s not the time,’ I would tell her, ‘we all need to be here.’ She was adamant, as was I. The more she insisted, the more I resisted. Now all these years later, I certainly understand her concern, not for my wellbeing but for the wellbeing of the child I was carrying – I was five months pregnant in December 1988.
I remember an older friend, devastated by the news trickling in that so many of our countrymen had perished, walking up to me and placing his hand on my tummy and thanking me for being there. The child growing inside my womb was a living testament that the cycle of life might just heal the loss of tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters in a faraway homeland we had never seen before.
Today, as I am watching the devastating images from the earthquake on every television station in Armenia, and as we commemorate that tragic moment in our recent history, I am pained and yet thankful. You see, while I was pregnant with my daughter 25 years ago, today, 25 years later, she too is pregnant, carrying a child that for our family symbolizes the growing of our little civilization, of the cycle of life.
Like many other Armenians around the globe, I often ask myself why it is that life is so cruel to our people. In the last century alone, we have suffered so much pain and loss. And then I look at my daughter, at the life growing inside of her, and I know, I just know that we were placed on this earth not only to suffer. We are present. We are here, living, breathing, dreaming, hoping and carrying on and trying to build a nation that has yet much to give to humanity.
As we mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters, as we try to console the survivors, the mothers and fathers who lost children, the children who were orphaned, the people who lost limbs and must now live with disabilities, the villages and livelihoods that were obliterated, we must also celebrate the life that endures, that continues to struggle, that continues to create.