This photo was taken sometime in 1996, when I was in the Peace Corps. I had gone to the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri, formerly known as Leninakan. On December 7, 1988, there was a massive earthquake that affected Gyumri. 55,000 people died with many more injured.
I was walking with a friend through Gyumri and didn’t have my camera with me. He was kind enough to snap this shot and give it to me later. Lots of street dogs in Armenia get their dinner out of trash cans. Street dogs were usually kind of mean. I love dogs, but didn’t enjoy running into most of the street dogs in Armenia.
I don’t know if Gyumri still looks like this. I hope it’s better by now. We looked in some of the vacant apartments and could see remnants of peoples’ lives, complete with painted murals on the walls. It was very surreal. I know that the Austrians came in and built a village in Gyumri. It’s weird, because that village looks like it was plucked out of Europe and put in a very incongruous place.
People from Gyumri were said to be the funniest in Armenia with the most developed senses of humor. It’s hard to laugh about this. If they managed to, more power to them!
Pictured above is a former five star hotel, Soviet style. It didn’t fare well in the earthquake, either. My friend quipped that this area was referred to as “Little Beiruit” by Peace Corps Volunteers who served in that area.
This photo was taken in Gyumri in the summer of 1997, just before I left. I’m not sure what this once was… but the earthquake truly fucked up this building.
December 7, 1988 means something to me for another reason. I was 16 years old on that date and when I was in school that day, I learned that a much beloved member of our high school football team had died. He’d had aplastic anemia that became apparent just after the first game in September. When they found out his condition, he was sent to NIH (National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, Maryland for treatment. Sadly, it failed. I remember when we were told he had died. The whole school was silent. He’d really made an impact.
Little did I know that years later, I’d be in a place where that same day was devastating for other reasons.