Dr Matthew Raphael Johnson unearths new information on the Armenian earthquake from the declassified archives of the USSR.
The Soviet collapse was both a tragic and glorious event. Among many other things, the precursors to it can be found in the disastrous military campaign in Afghanistan, the Chernobyl catastrophe, increasing calls for secession, ethnic violence, the shooting down of KAL 007 and, the topic of today’s broadcast, the earthquake in Armenia on December 7th 1988.
Rumors were spreading throughout the month of November that “tests” were going to be conducted that had great destructive potential. Some of these tests included the militarization of seismology in the form of “tectonic weapons.” As the USSR was in its death throes, its military establishment under Defense Minister General Dmitri Yazov sought increasingly creative means to counter the growing and dynamic NATO military buildup under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. A key player in this was the Turkish military, the second most powerful in the alliance, that sat like a dagger pointed at the vulnerable Soviet underbelly of the Southwest.
Also known as the Spitak earthquake, the event and its aftershocks destroyed upwards of 40 percent of the Armenian industrial capacity. Between 25,000 and 50,000 were killed and about 150,000 were injured. Several million were rendered homeless. It registered at a minimum of 7 on the Richter scale, but other stations went as high as 8. Parts of the country have yet to recover from its affects.
Yet, days before the event, Soviet military forces were mysteriously withdrawn from the area. At the same time, Azeri villages and settlements were quickly removed back to Azerbaijan and Turkish workers were sent home in buses and cars in a hurry.
While the violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the volatile Nagorno-Karabakh region was serious, it doesn’t explain the sudden removal of thousands of Azeris and Turks just a few days before the event. It also doesn’t explain the rapid removal of Soviet military equipment and the families of the top brass in the area just days before the event. It also doesn’t explain the presence of a specialized Soviet military unit, sent in a day or two before the quake, that specialized in crowd control in catastrophic situations.
There is good reason to believe this was a test of another seismic weapon, the testing of which is banned by the UN but who’s existence was well known among specialists. The US was testing these weapons in the Pacific, while the Soviets were using the far east, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. The ferocity of the quake was far greater than anticipated, but it did unify the USSR, distracted the world from Chernobyl and Afghanistan, and brought Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia together, if only for a short time. Further, the Soviets received billions in aid from the west.