Inhabitants of the Empty

29 Years After the Earthquake in Armenia

Armenia – the smallest mountainous country in the South Caucasus. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent independence of the country in 1991, it was a time of important political and social changes for the country and the region. The transition from the Soviet system to independence was not an easy one. The Armenian nation went through a devastating earthquake, followed by five years of war and many more years of socio-economic hardship that still continues today. For most of the population, every day is a struggle for food, and a struggle for life.

On December 7, 1988, a 7.0 Richter-scale earthquake struck northern Armenia. The earthquake killed at least 25,000 people in the region. Thousands more were maimed and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city, bore much of the damage. Large-scale war by the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union, an energy shortage, and a blockade that left landlocked Armenia with just two open borders contributed to exacerbating the region’s already prevalent issues.

A quarter of a century later, Gyumri has the country’s highest poverty rate at 47.7%. The city has lost nearly half of its population since 1988, due in part to migration of the labor force. A few thousand families are still living in makeshift shelters, waiting for help. Many of them are not eligible for new housing since they are not considered direct victims of the earthquake. Twenty nine years later, they are still waiting for urgently needed improvements to their dwellings.

Here in Gyumri, where hope and despair go hand in hand, time is generally measured as “before” and “after” the earthquake.

During the Soviet era, these huge twin dormitory buildings on the outskirts of Gyumri accommodated around 120 families. Today, there are just four families living here, struggling with their own devils and ghosts and slowly going mad. After all these years, they remain imprisoned in these buildings among decaying walls and corridors, chaos surrounding them, which like a grasping monster destroys their conscious.

© Yulia Grigoryants. All Rights Reserved.