It is truly humbling to realize that three decades have elapsed since the earthquake struck Armenia on December 7, 1988. It has been 30 years since large areas of Armenia were destroyed; 30 years since tens of thousands of our countrymen perished in the blink of an eye; 30 years since the life of the worldwide Armenian community was transformed, forever.
And it has also been 30 years since we witnessed that beautiful outpouring of goodwill from the world, directed towards our people in their hour of profound need.
The repercussions of that time were so great that they can hardly be enumerated. For the people of Armenia, it was a time of the deepest grief, when the external signs of death and destruction appeared inescapable.
For Armenians in our Diocese—and around the world—it was a time for decisive action, which drew us away from our long-held parochial divisions, and sharply focused our united hearts and minds on the greater cause of our homeland.
For all of us, that time was a beginning as much as an ending: a moment to discover a common purpose, and to embrace anew the faith that had given hope to the Armenian nation in earlier times of peril—a hope so powerfully symbolized in those images of our great Catholicos Vasken I consoling the people amidst the rubble: a father among his beloved children.
These are the lessons our Lord taught us through his holy cross, and his empty tomb; the lessons we embraced as a nation 17 centuries ago; the lessons we carried through the valley of the shadow of death in 1915.
In times of such catastrophe, the purposes of almighty God are deeply mysterious. But with hindsight, we can attest that all of us emerged from the earthquake and its aftermath changed. Armenia itself, once a Soviet republic, was reborn in freedom and independence. The bond between homeland and diaspora was strengthened, and travel to Armenia—once fraught with difficulty—became common and fluid.
A new generation of Armenians—in our homeland, here in America, and around the globe—was decisively shaped by both the tragedy of a catastrophe, and the blessing of so many helping hands in a time of need.
And it is not too much to assert that our own souls were deepened in the wake of the earthquake. In the 30 years following 1988, the memory of our sorrow would be re-awakened whenever similar natural disasters struck our fellow human beings in other corners of the world. A sense of solidarity in suffering has inspired our people to provide relief and comfort to these fellow victims of devastation.
These were not new lessons for the Armenia people. Indeed, they are the lessons our Lord taught us through his holy cross, and his empty tomb; the lessons we embraced as a nation 17 centuries ago; the lessons we carried through the valley of the shadow of death in 1915. The earthquake was the way those lessons—lessons of suffering and redemption, of the sanctity of life and the power of hope, of the unpredictability of events and the constancy of faith—were asserted in our generation.
It falls to us to transmit those lessons to our children, so they may draw strength in their own times of affliction.
Most of all, we must not lose heart when we feel, 30 years after such an event, that some of those lessons have been forgotten. For they are not lost. The response of our people to the earthquake shows that those lessons and their associated godly virtues are always waiting to be reborn in us, at the right moment, according to God’s will.
Surely the Armenian people have been instruments of His will through our great afflictions and our great achievements; from the depths of our beings as individuals and as a nation. On this solemn anniversary, please pray that God will remember the precious souls He drew to His kingdom 30 years ago, and that He will bless the land and the people who emerged from, and were changed by, that time of trial.
May His guiding hand be upon our people, now and forever.
By Christopher H. Zakian
Above: His Holiness Vasken I, the 130th Catholicos of All Armenians, among his people in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia.