1988 Earthquake survivor Arman Ghazaryan, middle, AmeriCares Eurasian Program Manager Jim O'Brien, left and Stamford businessman George Leylegian, right
The event was the AmeriCares 25th Anniversary Gala on May 10 in New York City. Ghazaryan, a victim of the devastating 1988 Armenian earthquake that leveled his hometown of Spitak, had been airlifted to the United States by AmeriCares for a damaged leg and a crushed skull. Now, eighteen years later, AmeriCares brought Ghazaryan back to New York to attend the gala and reunite with the various people who helped him recover.
"To see him again is beautiful, just beautiful," said George Leylegian, a retired businessman in Stamford, CT, who had been instrumental in helping AmeriCares bring Ghazaryan and the other victims to the United States for medical treatment and making sure they were well taken care of outside of their medical needs. "We've been blessed." The two had not seen each other since Ghazaryan returned to Armenia eighteen years ago.
President George H.W. Bush, an old friend of AmeriCares founder Bob Macauley, was toasting his good friend for the remarkable work Macauley had done to save millions of lives in the quarter century since AmeriCares was created. Bush had just been elected president when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Ghazaryan's village and sent two of his family members to Armenia with AmeriCares to provide assistance to the victims. The quake had left 25,000 people dead and 500,000 others homeless.
Arman in 1988, with his grandfather
Reuniting with Old Friends
"He was so wild! No one could handle him. That's why they called us," said Gagik Dilakian, who along with his brother Hovik, helped translate for the Armenians being treated in New York, visiting the patients frequently to provide comfort and entertainment. According to the brothers, Ghazaryan used to race around the hospital in his wheelchair like a "speed demon." Ghazaryan's leg was so damaged that he could not walk when he arrived in New York in early 1989. With the therapy he received which was arranged for by AmeriCares, he walked off the plane when he returned to Armenia two months later. And, while today he complains that his leg still aches every so often, when he was reunited with the Dilakian brothers, his gait showed no sign of a limp. The last time the Dilakians saw Ghazaryan was a year after he returned to Armenia when the brothers paid him a visit in Spitak. The affection between them all was not lost despite the long gap in contact. The three laughed and reminisced over a homemade Armenian meal as if they had never lost touch.
AmeriCares in Armenia Today
"The earthquake was both a defining moment for AmeriCares and the first international challenge faced by then president-elect Bush," explained AmeriCares Eurasian Program Manager Jim O'Brien. "Ghazaryan is truly representative of what we have been able to achieve and what we hope to achieve in the future - showing the compassion of the American people in response to emergency needs for natural disasters or ongoing crises around the world."
AmeriCares has been delivering medicines and medical supplies to the people of Armenia ever since the earthquake, providing more then $67 million in aid in that time.
Ghazaryan returned to Spitak after his week in New York, where he and his family still live.