Armenian Relief Society Was at the Center of Earthquake Relief Efforts

Armenian Relief Society billboards for the were seen across the United States

Armenian Relief Society billboards for the were seen across the United States

As soon as the news was received that an earthquake had struck Armenia, the ARS had set its network of relief efforts in motion. Within hours of the December 7, 1988 disaster in Armenia, ARS earthquake relief efforts we’re already underway. This report serves to present the scope of this relief network, the commitment of the 16,000 ARS members worldwide to rebuild it devastated Armenia.

To ensure that effectiveness of its earthquake relief operations, the ARS Central Executive initially established contact with the Soviet Embassy in Washington, the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the US State Department, the American Red Cross Office of International Assistance and other organizational volunteer organizations involved in similar activities.

The ARS CE drew its plan of action in the crucial initial stages following the earthquake, with three primary objectives.

First simply to save as many human lives as possible lives that would surely be lost if the earthquake rescue operations did not perform as efficiently as possible in clearing the rubble of Leninakan and Spitak. And lives that would be lost if the healthcare system was not immediately erected in the stricken areas.

Second, to provide healthcare for casualties – those suffering from traumatic injuries, crush syndrome malnutrition and etc. And finally to strive toward the restoration of pre-disaster conditions with special attention given to the return of displaced persons to their homes by focusing attention on reconstruction and rehabilitation projects.

A medical team sent to Armenia by the Armenian Relief Society after the Spitak Earthquake

A medical team sent to Armenia by the Armenian Relief Society after the Spitak Earthquake

On the morning of December 8, the ARS had already mobilized worldwide network of volunteers to coordinate earthquake relief activities. Concurrently, the ARS-CE began a worldwide effort to response to maximize relief for Armenia. ARS chapters and members were encouraged to participate in the relief and fundraising activities in those regions where community coalitions were formed. Daily contact was maintained worldwide to coordinate relief activities and to provide the latest news from Armenia as it came in from our established contacts within the disaster area. The ARS Washington office also served as an information center to non-Armenian groups and interested community organizations.

In an effort to provide comfort to Armenians living in the diaspora who are desperate for news of their relatives in Armenia, the ARS set up telephone banks in 11 countries with the intent of gathering and releasing information on individuals and families who survived the earthquake. Information on how to get access to the telephone banks were continually broadcast in Armenian by special arrangement with the Armenian service of the Voice of America.

Four days after the earthquake, the ARS became aware of the alarming shortage of dialysis equipment in Armenia. Together with the Baxter Health Care Corporation, the ARS had managed to airlift 36,000 kilograms of dialysis equipment and supplies on December 18, along with a team of four physicians and technicians. The team returned home on December 31, having provided 20 to 35 dialysis treatments on a daily basis. A second team was sent to Armenia on January 7 and spent 16 days providing 18 to 25 dialysis treatments each day, and also trained local personnel in how to provide the dialysis treatments, to continue the team’s good work long after the team had gone home.

During the first week following the earthquake, the rescue operations in Armenia were in enhanced by the ARS’s sponsorship of a team of trauma physicians to work in Armenia, flown in a Chrysler corporate jet. The team was drawn from a volunteer bank that had been registered with the ARS. Also $14,500 worth of equipment had been rushed to Armenia to be used in the search and rescue operations in the affected villages. Meanwhile, an agreement had been reached with both the Chrysler Corporation and Monsanto Chemical Corp. that all employee contributions would be matched by corporate funds.

On December 28, the ARS proposed it’s a long-term earthquake relief program to just Soviet Ambassador in Washington. The program delineated the areas of ARS participation in the reconstruction of Armenia, the provision of psychiatric assistance to earthquake survivors, the establishment of health care clinics in teams of medical specialists to do work with local physicians, and the organization of a Volunteer Corps that would enable Armenians in the Diaspora to be put to effective use in the earthquake recovery program on an ongoing basis.

In December, as well, the ARS together with the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) agreed to coordinate relief and reconstruction efforts. A joint memorandum were issued to all Armenian groups providing specific instructions on the most-needed items in Armenia and packing labeling specifications.

The ARS made a concerted effort to negotiate with the US State Department and the Soviet Embassy to add the nutritional food transportation to the humanitarian aid airlifts provided by the US Department of Defense. From December to February a total of 13 airlifts were successful in providing 300 tons of donated goods (food, clothing, medical supplies), collected mainly by the ARS and AGBU, to those in the disaster area. By special arrangement with the AGBU, all the relief goods were co-signed to Bishop Karekin Nersissian, Vicar of the Araratyan Diocese in Yerevan, for distribution to earthquake survivors.

On January 26, an ARS leadership team, headed by the chairperson of the ARS-CE, left for Armenia to observe the effectiveness of the state to meet the needs of the people. Through meetings with high-level government officials and visit to hospitals in Moscow and Armenia, the ARS developed the bases of the programs to be adopted for earthquake relief.

Particularly in regard to health care, the ARS delegation observed that while the scarcity of medical equipment and supplies is prevalent throughout the country, what is more alarming is the lack of standardization in healthcare facilities. There were in enormous differences among hospitals in terms of the quality of healthcare, the distribution of medical equipment and supplies (including relief aid), and appearance. It was also observed that what would be most beneficial would be to arrange a program where medical staff in Armenia would be brought to the west to be trained to better provide for the needs of earthquake victims.

As the program for reconstruction was being prepared, the ARS team learned the Armenian health ministries need to develop a database to monitor the needs of those persons affected by the earthquake. Since Armenia was technologically unable to meet the task of such large scale, long-term, population-based service, the ARS, in cooperation with the John Hopkins University, proposed to adopt the project. The proposal was immediately approved and $189,000 was allotted for its commencement. Its objectives were:

1. To construct sample service to assess the health problems faced by those persons affected by the earthquake
2. To establish a system to continually monitor the needs of these persons
3. To develop a health survey and evolution unit within the Ministry of Health with sufficient computer capabilities
4. To establish a training program for the workers needed to implement the project 5 – and to use the information gathered to divine the needs of the affected persons, and hence to provide for those needs.

To ensure the success of this “data-based” project, the ARS reached a contractual agreement with an international organization with great experience in such affairs, Volunteers and Technical Assistance (VITA). To launch this partnership, the ARS of North America and VITA co-sponsored a benefit concert featuring Maestro Mstislav Rostropovich (his first performance in five years). With the help of VITA, the preliminary equipment for the establishment of a cold-cut factory in Spitak was delivered in the spring of 1990. In July, 1990, three people were trained, in Kansas, to manage the plant. So far, the ARS has spent $59,000 on this project.

In March, 1989, the ARS arranged for two physicians to visit Armenia and trained doctors there in the field of cardiovascular treatment. They were Dr. Vladimir Kvetan, the head of Emergency Medicine at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center and Dr. Valerie Baystock, also of the Montefiore Medical Center. They worked closely with the best arterial specialists in Armenia.

In April 1990, the ARS-CE, completed the construction of a technologically advanced emergency medical unit in the Republican hospital; two Armenian doctors were trained at the Montefiore Medical Center, in conjunction with this project as well. The entire project cost was $30,000.

The ARS has also obtained, at no cost, free medical equipment and training. The only cost incurred for this project has been $4,000 for transportation.

From August 30 to September 12, 1989, a team of psychiatrists were sponsored to travel to Armenia to assess the long term effects of the earthquake on the Armenian population, and to establish a program of mutual exchange of knowledge, training, and relevant assistance. In the meantime, the ARS contributed $30,000 to the Armenian Research Foundation for their technical assistance project, which would provide for the establishment of computer systems in Armenia, and the training of personnel needed to operate such systems.

In August 1990, a group of 25 volunteers were sponsored to help in the reconstruction efforts of Kedk village in the Akhourian province. Participants came from the United States and South America, and cost $13,000 to the ARS-CE of which the respective Regional Executive shared the expenses.

The ARS-CE adopted two new programs for the 1990-91 fiscal years.

Community Center Program
The ARS is helping communities in Armenia to build fully equipped community centers, and has allotted $200,000 for this project.

Village Program
The ARS-CE has organized the reconstruction of villages in Armenia and Artsakh vulnerable to destruction, especially those in the border regions. $100,000 has been allocated to this project, although the ARS-CE recognizes that this is insufficient, that much more funds need to be raised, and that the project will take an extensive amount of time to show signs of success.

Note: The report is the complete account of the ARS Earthquake relief activities in the first 2 years. The ARS has continued to actively partake in the advancement of the Shirak Province and play a pivotal role in the nation and state-building of the homeland. In the coming days, we will also report on the ongoing activities of the ARS in the region.

ARS Western USA

One of the villages in the Akhourian region constructed by ARS Western US

One of the villages in the Akhourian region constructed by ARS Western US

On December 4, 1988, the ARS-WUSA opened the doors of the Nazigian Center in Glendale, California. It was a one story structure to bring together the administrative functions of the ARS Regional and to serve the community’s social service needs. Three days later, on December 7, as the earthquake struck the city of Spitak, the Nazigian Center became the nerve center of the fundraising campaign in the West Coast. Here is a report of their activities from 1988-1992.

ARS Psychiatric Center made possible by the ARS Western US (Photo from Meline Karakashian)

ARS Psychiatric Center made possible by the ARS Western US (Photo from Meline Karakashian)

Earthquake relief fundraising in this region was undertaken in conjunction with the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church. A total of $4,566,433 (equivalent to $9,602,179.02 based on the 2017 inflation) was raised. Of this amount $2,707,574 was used to construct 42 homes, a school, and a kindergarten in the village of Grashen. The expenses for the constructions of the school and the kindergarten were incurred by the Armenian Educational Foundation and Eliza Merdinian. There were also plans for the construction of 32 homes in the Noyemberian region and 15 homes in the Saryar Region.

As for health care, the ARS WR allocated funds in the following manner:

Medical Furnishings – $290,000
2 Mobile Clinics – $195,000
Psychiatric Care – $308,000
Powdered Milk – $40,000
Dental Care – $75,000
Optical Care – $60,000
Prosthesis Center – 50,000
Orphan’s Fund – $150,000
Medical Care (Children in San Francisco) – $60,000

Of the $1,228,695 allocated, $1,019,148 was spent, which left a balance of $209,947. For the production of the “For You Armenia” record $170,650 was spent. Of the $28,000 allotted by the Western Prelacy $17,952 was spent, which left a balance of $10,048. Of the $307,230 allocated for the administration and implementation of these programs, $284,578 has been spent, leaving $122,652. For the United Armenian Fund, in which the AGBU and the AMAA are also involved, $114,294 has been allocated, of which $88,294 has been spent, leaving $26,000. So from the $4,556,443 in total funds, $4,013,492 has been spent, leaving $5,42,951.

Volunteers at an Armenian center gathering clothing for the ARS relief efforts

Volunteers at an Armenian center gathering clothing for the ARS relief efforts

In November of 1990, the Earthquake Relief Fund of the Western Region was granted $602,000 from US Agency for International Development (USAID) for the realization of two programs:

Psychiatric Program
Aid Grant $202,000
Earthquake Relief Fund $48,000
Total: $250,000

Medical Development
Aid Grant $400,000
Earthquake Relief Fund $130,000
Total: $530,000

As of December 1991, the ARS Western Region has taken part in 28 airlifts of the United Armenian Fund.

Some of the donations also came from Pacific Bell callers who had dialed the special 976-FUND number to donate $2.00 to the Armenian Relief Society. The company, currently owned by AT&T, at the time agreed to waive its profits on the program and remit $1.88 for each call to the Armenian Relief Society.