To the right of the main entrance on the north lawn of The American Red Cross Headquarters, located just a block away from the White House at 430 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C., stands a statue named “Motherland.” Armenian sculptor Frederic Sagoyan, a famous sculptor of Russian monuments, created the bronze sculpture of a mother fiercely holding a fearful child based upon a woman who survived several days in the rubble with her child. He gifted the sculpture on behalf of the Armenian people to the American Red Cross in appreciation for their assistance and support in the aftermath of the Spitak earthquake in Armenia, which devastated that country. On this bike ride I went by to see the statue.
The Armenian earthquake, also known as the Spitak earthquake, occurred on December 7, 1988, in the northern region of Armenia, which was a part of the Soviet Union at that time. The earthquake measured 6.8 on the Surface Wave Magnitude Scale, one of the magnitude scales similar to the more commonly-known Richter scale, which is used in seismology to describe the size of an earthquake. Although it was not extraordinary in its seismology or main characteristics, the earthquake was unusually devastating. Over 45,000 people were brought out of the rubble, including a group of six friends who were trapped for 35 days in the basement of a collapsed nine-story building. In the end, at least 25,000 people were killed and another 30,000 injured, while 21 towns and 342 villages were destroyed.
Compounding the horrific tragedy, most hospitals in the region could not withstand the earthquake. Most of them collapsed, killing two-thirds of the doctors, destroying equipment and medicine, and reducing the capacity to handle the critical medical needs in the region in the earthquake’s aftermath. This, in part, led to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev formally asking the U.S. for humanitarian assistance, despite the tensions at that time of the ongoing Cold War. In addition to the U.S. as well as private donations and assistance, 112 other countries also provided substantial amounts of humanitarian aid to the Soviet Union in the form of rescue equipment, search teams and medical supplies. It was the largest international cooperation since World War II.
That deluge of western aid, particularly from the U.S., that was a byproduct of the disaster that may have had a positive effect on Soviet Union–United States relations. It was less than a year later, on November 9, 1989, that the Berlin Wall was torn down in a significant step leading to the end of the Cold War.
So as I was there looking at “Motherland,” I couldn’t help but think about how the statue not only represented how the Red Cross, the U.S., and the international community came together for good in the aftermath of the Spitak tragedy, but also how those events and people are intertwined and connected to other events that since that time which together have changed the course of history.