Thirty years ago today, on December 7, 1988, a 6.9 earthquake devastated Armenia. Also known as the Spitak earthquake due to the fault rupture’s proximity to the town of Spitak, the massive quake hit a densely populated region in Armenia. At least 25,000 died, 15,000 were injured and 500,000 were left homeless in the catastrophic earthquake.
While Armenia existed behind the Iron Curtain at the time of the quake, the vast devastation compelled Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to formally request humanitarian aid from the United States — the first such request since the start of the Cold War. The American Red Cross responded by providing funds and people to assist with the relief efforts. In the year following the earthquake, the Red Cross directed more than $14 million in disaster assistance to Armenia, $6.5 million in cash and $8 million in in-kind goods, including antibiotics and other medical supplies. Anticipating the long process to rebuild cities and rehabilitate the injured, the Red Cross established a disaster preparedness program, prosthetic workshop and a spinal trauma rehabilitation unit.
Located on the lawn outside the 17th street Red Cross building in Washington D.C., is a 30-foot-tall bronze statue of a mother protectively embracing her child. Created by Armenian sculptor Frederic Sogoyan, “Motherland”, was a gift from the Armenian people to commemorate Red Cross relief services following the 1988 Armenia earthquake. This statue highlights just a small part of the global humanitarian contributions that have occurred since the organization’s foundation and that will continue to occur in the future.
“Motherland” embodies the ideal of service that has motivated the American Red Cross throughout its history: people giving generously of themselves to alleviate suffering, always ready to serve with warmth and compassion. For those visiting D.C. for the first time and even those who call D.C. home, we welcome you to visit Red Cross Square to experience “Motherland” and other remarkable memorials in person.
*Just one block from the White House, Red Cross Square is between 17th and 18th streets, and D and E streets NW.