A moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Spitak Earthquake
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AUA Commemorates the 31st Anniversary of Spitak Earthquake

3 min read

YEREVAN, Armenia – On December 6, 2019, the American University of Armenia (AUA) community gathered to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the 1988 Spitak Earthquake and to announce the launch of the #AUAGivingDay campaign. Students, alumni, faculty, and staff shared their personal stories, reflected on the current reality and reimagined their collective future.

AUA Vice President of Operations Ashot Ghazaryan started his opening speech requesting a moment of silence in memory of the innocent victims of the Spitak Earthquake. He recalled the sufferings and hardships of 1988, the days he spent in the earthquake-struck zone trying to dig out survivors from the rubble.

“As you all know, the earthquake gave birth to AUA. I am proud that at that time I was working closely with AGBU President Louise Manoogian Simone, who played an instrumental role in the foundation of the University. Through this higher education institution, established with huge support of the Diaspora, our founders wanted to build a stronger Armenia, to prepare well-qualified specialists in engineering, seismology, and later in entrepreneurship and other fields. Thirty years later, our mission remains the same. On the symbolic day of December 7, we are launching the AUA Giving Day to empower the future leaders of Armenia,” noted VP Ghazaryan.

The idea to establish AUA came right after the devastating earthquake. AUA’s visionary founders felt that the most effective way to make a long-term contribution to Armenia would be the establishment of a Western-style educational institution to bring hope to the country in the aftermath of tragedy. That vision became a reality shortly after. 

Dr. Michael Kouchakdjian, professor at AUA’s College of Business and Economics and director of the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC), wove a narrative of the initial years of the University, mentioning the names of a few people who pulled AUA through the difficult 1990s. The particularly highlighted the crucial role of AUA’s Founding President Dr. Mihran Agbabian and President Emeritus Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, who was then the Founding Dean of AUA’s College of Engineering.

During the event, the video created to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Spitak Earthquake was screened. It concluded with the cheerful faces of AUA students from the earthquake-struck regions and was followed by two current AUA students from Gyumri, Susanna Avagyan (BS DS ‘22) and Lilit Khachatryan (BS DS ‘22), who shared the stories and memories of relatives who had survived the devastating earthquake.

The Chair of AUA’s Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA) program, Dr. Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, himself a 1988 earthquake survivor, spoke briefly citing a paragraph from his essay On the Edge of Life and Death: 18 Hours Under the Ruins that he wrote in 2013. He encouraged current AUA students to believe in the power of education and to become changemakers.

“When you survive in a situation like this, you ask yourself: Why me? Am I blessed? In that agile period of our lives we acquire an extra sense of responsibility for how we should build our life journey,” noted Artashes Tonoyan (MBA ‘00) recalling those days. “As long as hardship doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger. You never get what you deserve, you get what you fight for.”

Reimagining our collective future, Dr. Alexander Arakelyan, project manager at the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment, presented the Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction (ALTER) project, which focuses on establishing public-private partnerships to understand and address flood risks that may stem from water and mining dam failures. 

Concluding the event, AUA President Dr. Karin Markides together with the participants launched the #AUAGivingDay campaign to build upon the vision of AUA founders and to support the new generation of changemakers. 

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.