December in Armenia, By Colin CunliffeFrom: Articles
THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS PAST
It’s December 1988 .President Gorbachev is in America addressing the UN, the Soviet Union is undergoing massive changes, it’s a of time of perestroika and glasnost , the balance and structure of the World powers is slowly altering.. The cold war is slowly coming to an end.
It is the morning of the 7th December in Armenia a small remote Republic bordering on Georgia, a peninsula of a country surrounded on three sides by hostile neighbours. They are far removed from the World stage .They have problems enough a small nation is struggling to cope with an influx of 150,000 refugees fleeing the fighting in Nagorny Karabakh, an enclave of Armenians surrounded by Azeri’s; a vicious and brutal war is taking place , every family takes in relatives or friends or just a fellow Armenians. The country is busting at the seams.
In the town of Spitak in the North the ground starts to shudder , buildings start to sway, the earth pitches and rolls. Where the plates are pushing, the ground literally goes up three metres and shifts seven , the fissure opens and the twisting and turning goes on for fifteen kilometres . Everything buckles and distorts Buildings start to collapse. This is 10 and 11 on the Soviet scale , 7 on the Richter scale, the dry definition is Devastating /Annihilating, wide cracks in the earth. Many landslides and avalanches . Stone built houses are completely destroyed . The earthquake continues for 40 seconds . There is nothing left standing . Whether you lived or died depends on where you at 11.41 on the morning of the 7th December 1988.Nothing you could have done would have saved you. Out of a town with 25,000 inhabitants seven out of every ten where dead or injured. The noise and the movement stops.
Slowly but ever so slowly the news leaks out help is requested. The Soviet Union acknowledges the scale of the disaster, little by little the World responds , first a trickle then a flood of rescue workers offer their assistance , teams from France , The United States of America, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Japan . Every republic in the Soviet Union gives help the Ukraine , Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, Georgia, , Kyrgyrzistan these and many more rush in.
British teams fly out , and then deploy wherever they can, along with the rest. There’s total confusion , people fleeing out of the area frightened of further tremors, fearful for their lives , to be meet by others rushing in , anxious to seek relatives , casualties trying to reach a hospital any hospital. People staying, frantically scrabbling in the ruins hoping against hope they may find a loved one alive, families separated are they alive or dead ? No food, no water, no electric, no sanitation , no communications , roads damaged, chaos. No shelter at night time the temperature drops to minus twenty Snow is expected. No transport, no fuel, no interpreters, the worst nightmare one could imagine both for the survivors and for the rescue workers.
Rescuers decide for themselves the priorities , question the survivors: any noise ? Which room were they in ? layout of the building ?
Slowly but ever so slowly the days drag on , working from daylight into the night time the ruins lit by lamps. Hoping against hope that you will find someone alive. QUIET KEEP STILL, listen was it something ? Working until you are so tired and worn out your bodies are aching with fatigue. Coated in dust and debris. Weary from the toil, cannot give up, there must be somebody keep trying.
Only bodies now , or body parts rough coffins left in the streets ready to be filled . Treat them with respect, somebody’s Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, …. Place them in with reverence . Then they are taken away to be replaced by more empty ones waiting to be filled. A football field stacked with coffins as high as the cross bars . It has now started to snow . Families not moving a Mother pleading. “ Please help me . Find my child 18 months old we must be reunited , a Christian burial please that’s all I ask”
The child was in a pram on a balcony on the forth floor of what once was a block of six floors, now reduced to a pile of rubble. Where do you start ? Make an effort. You try. Thankless task, impossible, impossible Working for hours , no point ! pleading tears there’s no more we can do . People pulling you away “ Help me Help me”.
Now tunnelling through what had been the ground floor of a gymnasium, eight children in here. Deep inside deeper and deeper, first on your hands and knees, now on your belly wriggling forward, what was the ceiling now pressing on your back thermal imaging camera scanning, nothing keep on trying. The ground moves- an aftershock , dust and debris start to fall” Bloody hell lets get out of here”. You pull yourself out, more buildings totter and fall.
Weary now , day follows day, more unpleasant things to do. Gross nobody else alive , depression sets in: then….. There is somebody trapped and still alive in the grain silo. Take the thermal imaging camera ,see what you can do. “yes “ at last , just one life please…
“Sorry dead, help us get him out” Other teams have pulled out, gone home people are still looking towards you and the team, only us left now. Sadly only body parts left now “ its getting to me , keep your mind on the job Think of the people you are here to help, then your mates, then yourself. We carry on That’s it finish But it is only the start for those left. Back home on Christmas day , it doesn’t feel like it. It and I most likely never will. Big question. Why ?
This country went through the program before the first World War over million and a half people killed by the Turks, now this 30,000 dead and a quarter of a million homeless, and a war as well . No answers.
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