1988: The International Aid



1988: The International Aid

The 1988 Armenian earthquake was exceptional both for the scale of disaster and the international community’s reaction. A number of countries from around the world, including most of the republics of the Soviet Union and many individuals sent humanitarian aid to Armenia. Despite the Cold War and the Soviet Union, the West also supported  Soviet Armenia. Here are some stories about the international aid and support to the victims of the earthquake.

Text : Areg Davtyan  / Photos : Armenpress


The World`s Aid

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in New York on December 8th 1988, participating in the regular session of the UN General Assembly. When the participants of the session heard the news of the earthquake, Gorbachev received offers of aid from numerous Western countries. This was the greatest cooperation between the USSR and the West since the Second World War. A few days later, the US sent a number of aircrafts with doctors, teams of rescue workers and the necessary equipment on board to the disaster area. Furthermore, a significant number of private donations were collected. For instance, $800k was sent to Armenia from Chicago. American businessman Armand Hammer arrived in Armenia, bringing almost a ton of medical equipment provided by the Red Cross. Hammer also donated $1million, half of which he funded himself and the other half was from international organizations. Even Jeb Bush (son of then US President Bush) and his son arrived in Armenia together with the members of one of the American organizations. They spent a few days in the disaster area, visited hospitals and distributed gifts.

Rescue workers from France arrived in Armenia almost immediately after the earthquake on December the 9th. That same day, Japan offered $9 million dollars, Italy offered to construct a temporary block to house the victims and Western Germany announced that it could send state of the art technology to assist with the reconstruction process. Generally speaking, the number of volunteer rescue personnel from Austria, Canada, Switzerland, the United States and Yugoslavia numbered two thousand, who worked in Leninakan after the earthquake. Famous avant-garde musician Pierre Schaeffer was among the French volunteers, who also arrived in Armenia. As of July 1989, Armenia received about $500 million in donations from 113 countries. Most of the donations were spent on initial relief work, medical care and also on the reconstruction process.


The fatal accidents with rescue workers

During the rescue operations two tragic accidents occurred. There was a fatal collision between Soviet Ilyushin II-76 and an aircraft near the airport of Leninakan in foggy conditions, killing 79 people. At the time, approximately 180 daily flights were made in the area, it was also difficult to manage the flights because of a lack of staff members. The aircraft crew were destined to join the other rescue workers and to help search for survivors.

A disagreement between the pilot and an airport worker caused the crash of Yugoslavian Antonov An-12 aircraft, which was carrying supplies to the disaster area, killing all seven members of the crew. Afterwards, a monument was erected in memory of the crew members.

Nikolai Ryzhkov

The majority of the Soviet republics supported Armenia, except Azerbaijan; the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had already begun between the two republics. The Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union Nikolai Ryzhkov played a rather significant role in aid assistance. A Politburo commission was established for the local ASSR (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union) Government with Ryzhkov elected as its chairman. The commission provided guidance for the assessment of the damage caused by the earthquake, for the coordination of the rescue operation and aid assistance. He only initially intended to stay in the disaster area for two or three days, to give instructions and depart soon after. But Ryzhkov extended his stay for two months, almost abandoning his position as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, solely concentrating on managing the destruction caused by the earthquake. During this period he promised to rebuild the city of Spitak within two years, but he subsequently failed. A monument in recognition of his significant personal contribution to the reconstruction after the 1988 Spitak earthquake was erected both in Gyumri and Spitak. In 2008, the Armenian Government awarded Ryzhkov the highest state decoration, the National Hero of Armenia.

Aznavour for Armenia

One of the most famous charitable organizations was founded by Charles Aznavour to help those affected by the earthquake. Sometime after the earthquake, the chansonnier visited the disaster area. After his visit, he gathered a group of French artists in France to record the ‘Pour toi Arménie’ (For you Armenia) song, written in collaboration with Armenian-French composer Georges Garvarentz. The charity single was released in 1989 and sold more than 1 million copies. The funds that had been raised were intended to help Armenians who were affected by the 1988 Spitak earthquake. Patricia Kaas, Salvatore Adamo, Vanessa Paradis, Mireille Mathieu and many other artists, who were popular at the time, also took part in the project.

Aznavour has consistently helped the country through his charity and funds raised from various concerts. In recognition of his active involvement, in 2002 a statue was erected to honor Aznavour in Gyumri, which is the only one dedicated to the chansonnier in Armenia. In the aftermath of the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake, a remake of the song titled “Pour Toi Haiti” was released in support of the victims of the earthquake.

Rock Aid Armenia

Some of the most famous rock musicians were involved in a project to support those affected by the 1988 Armenian earthquake. The project was initiated by young activist and international charity campaigner Jon Dee, who managed to bring the many musicians together. Jon Dee suggested recording a new version of Marvin Gaye`s ‘What’s Going On’ to raise funds. ‘A Cool Wind Is Blowing’ was on the B-side, featuring Armenian duduk music performed by Djivan Gasparyan. However, the project increased in popularity after the re-recording of Deep Purple’s famous hit song, ‘Smoke on the Water’, with the participation of Bryan Adams, Ritchie Blackmore, Bruce Dickinson, Geoff Downes, Keith Emerson, Ian Gillan, David Gilmour, Tony Iommi, Alex Lifeson, Brian May, Paul Rodgers, Chris Squire and Roger Taylor. The single made it to the UK Top 40 Singles Chart and proved to be highly successful in raising awareness about the Spitak earthquake in the UK. But that was not enough for Dee. Sometime later the documentary ‘Smoke on the Water’ was filmed, featuring the recording sessions of the song. Afterwards, ‘The Earthquake’ album was recorded.

Along with ‘Smoke On the Water’, it included a number of tracks which were suggested by famous bands and artists for free. The album included tracks from Genesis, Deep Purple, Yes, Black Sabbath etc. Twenty years later in 2009, Mediamax Company initiated the ‘Armenia Grateful 2 Rock’ project, supported by the President’s Administration and the Government of Armenia. Within the framework of the project, in July 2009 Armenian President Serzh Sargsian signed decrees for awarding the most active participants of Rock Aid Armenia, with ‘Orders of Honor’ for “significant and continuous assistance to Armenia and the Armenian people”. Within the framework of ‘Armenia Grateful 2 Rock’ and on Mediamax Agency’s invitation, the most active participants Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi and Jon Dee visited Armenia. 


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