Friday was Earthquake Day.
The 1988 "Spitak" earthquake may have killed as many as 40,000 people. This is not because it was such a powerful earthquake -- it wasn't -- but because it hit in a bad place (a densely populated region full of shoddy Brezhnev-era Soviet construction), and at a bad time (a bitterly cold day in December, late in the morning when almost everyone was at work or school).
For a country the size of Armenia, this was a staggering disaster. It's still very much a part of daily life. In Gyumri and Vanadzor -- now the second and third largest cities in Armenia -- everyone has a lost friend or family member. In Gyumri, there are still ruins that have never been repaired, and several thousand people are still living in "temporary" housing, trailers and the like. This makes more sense when you remember that the Soviet Union collapsed within a couple of years after the earthquake, and then Armenia fell into the Karabakh War. Although it's been 13 years now since the Karabakh War ended... Anyway, it's much remembered; one of my office staff is from Gyumri, and he took the day off to go home.
Here's an old Time article about the earthquake. Strange to think the USSR had just three years left at that point. Gorbachev and Prime Minister Ryzhkov would be disappearing from the scene; the Karabakh Committee, glimpsed here as a bunch of troublemakers, would be running the country within a couple of years.
Not a lot else to say, except that this is a very active region, tectonically speaking -- there are two or three big earthquakes per century, and then of course Ararat is not extinct but only sleeping. (The last eruption was in 1840.) I think Claudia has mentioned our "go bag". The two things that inspired us to set it up were a US attack on Iran (which now seems much less likely, but hey -- Iran is just 50 kilometers away) and an earthquake. Pretty much everyone agrees that most of the recent construction boom would not survive a major earthquake, but nobody seems inclined to do anything about it.
Anyway, Earthquake Day.