Rouben Hovanessian (70) being visited by his brother. Feb 1998. Gyumri - men break open concrete pillars from fallen buildings to retrieve the metal rods from within. These will then be sold on. Dec 1998.
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Photographs and text by Edmond Terakopian
On the drive up towards Gyumri, I wasn't greeted by sights of a normal town, with houses and shops. Instead there were rows, upon rows of round metal cylinders with doors and windows. It dawned on me then that these are actually peoples houses. Not their real homes, which they lost in the earthquake, but their houses.

In my visit to the region, I've tried to show the hardships that the people of the region face. Nothing can prepare an outsider for the sadness and shock which overcomes all other emotions. Most families had lost their loved ones; fathers, mothers and tragically children. The earthquake also killed the towns by destroying the factories and making the majority of people unemployed.

One thing I learnt from the people I met, and the friends I made was that now is a time to move on. Everyone was extremely grateful for all the foreign aid from "Aid Armenia", but now they want help to rebuild their lives and their towns. The only thing stopping them is the mass unemployment in the area. "Give us jobs, and we will look after ourselves, and rebuild our towns", is a common wish. After overcoming all the tragedy of the earthquake, this brave people's handicap is that they have no jobs?

There was a strange mood through the town a day before
the tenth anniversary of the 1988 earthquake. There seemed
to be a silence. People were going about their work as usual, but in a much more sombre mood. In the town centre of Gyumri however, I saw a sight that showed how these people just want to forget the sadness and move on with their lives. I witnessed a newly married couple in the square. They were having a picture taken and then went to their car and onto the reception. On the day itself everyone was in thoughtful and silent mood. There was a silence that was only broken by the sounds of tissues wiping away tears. In the cemetery the sounds of crying left me stunned. Never had I seen so much sadness in one place. It seemed like everyone in the town was in grief for their dead.

Ten years have passed, and this is how people live. Most of Gyumri live in wooden huts. These are rotting away in the harsh winters, and as a result, so is the human spirit. On every street there are physical reminders of the earthquake, as if reminders were necessary, toppled and crumbling buildings remain.

The people of Gyumri are known as the jokers of Armenia, always having a laugh - at least they were before the earthquake. They still manage to joke and laugh, but in their eyes is a great sadness.