Crimes Buried Under the Ruins, Part 1

08.12.2016, Critique

Writer, screenwriter

“Top Secret” Violations

“There is no need to list all of the shortcomings of Armenia’s construction industry, which are noted by the inspection.” But I did want to make a reference to the protocol, which was prepared in May 1987, one and a half years before the earthquake. I quote: “The noted shortcomings of the construction of the buildings in the seismic regions present a great danger, since in the event of even the smallest seismic impact, there will be complete destruction.”

This is one excerpt of the remarks made by Suren Harutyunyan, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Armenia. This document, with its 100 typewritten pages kept in the state archives of Armenia and is today accessible to everyone, is entitled with the inscription “Top Secret.”

It was already 1989, USSR Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared “transparency” in 1986, but in practice the Communist Party continued to keep their committed crimes concealed from the public.

Although in terms of the 1988 earthquake, the actions of the representatives of the ruling party at the time, in fact, had justified them. The crimes, which for decades were made within the construction industry, were ignored over the years, with everything being attributed to the natural disaster.

In reality the destruction could have been significantly less, with thousands of people not losing their lives, if there was no theft, the extreme carelessness in the work.

Let’s compare:

The intensity of Spitak’s earthquake, according to the Richter Scale, had a 6.9 magnitude. The earthquake in Northern California the following year, October 7, 1989, was 7.1.

The death toll of Spitak’s earthquake is close to 25,000, with 31,000 wounded.

The death toll in California is...67 people, with 2435 wounded.

One more comparison, which will provide an idea, of what the death toll of 25,000 means for our country.

According to studies, in Armenia between the years 1937 to 1938, 8104 people were subjected to violence. From those, Stalin’s judiciary sentenced 4530 to death. (Some of those sentenced to death in 1938 were the executioners of 1937, but that cannot be considered to be a victory of justice. They, like the ones they killed, were convicted of espionage and other fabricated charges, with many being acquitted after Stalin’s death).

During the Artsakh war between 1988 to 1994, the death toll of the Armenian side was nearly 5800, with several more wounded.

The death toll of the 1988 earthquake is close to 25,000, with 31,000 wounded.

Has the Armenian media tried to identify those guilty of turning dozens of settlements into ruins? They have not conducted those kinds of investigations.

I have conducted research within the “Lratun” Media Museum Project, of which a considerable amount is featured on the website. And when those materials were summarized in the “Lratun” exhibit “Earthquake, that Shook the Media,” which was presented in 4 regions in Armenia and in Yerevan, I met with local journalists, who had exclusive materials as a result of journalistic investigation, not yet published.  

Let me begin with one, which is mostly innocent. Martuni’s local press correspondent Spartak Hayrapetyan had taken a picture of the theft of one box of liquor from a store. The photo was not published at the time, it is published for the first time with the author’s permission:

In force majeure situations, much worse cases of pillaging occurred from Mexico’s 1986 earthquake and after the 2005 flood in New much so, that using the theft of a box of alcohol to probably find warmth from the cold or to find relief from grief should not be considered worthy of being classified as a major finding.

Spartak Harutyunyan has many photos of the destruction, which are valuable as a record. In fact, he is also a national artist, who creates landscapes mainly using moss. He later transferred the photo of the mourning woman sitting on the ruins of Spitak to a canvas.

Gyumri journalist Yuri Khachatryan has procured an important document and since 1989 has preserved it. That is the “reference document” with the title “On the Outcome of the State Commission for Inspecting the Quality of Design and Construction." This commission was established in 1989 by the central government of the USSR, responding to public resentment following the huge destruction. The conclusions of the “reference document” were published, or more accurately only 5 copies were typewritten. Yuri Khachatryan has allowed us to copy and use the document.

Next: The Conclusion

Vahram Martirosyan
Photos by: Spartak Hayrapetyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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