Story Beyond The Ruins

The Value of Oral History

Why tell stories? Stories are the ultimate medium of connection. They are the most engaging and memorable part of a conversation with a friend. They are an exercise of our inner voice - no two individuals tell a story about the same event in quite the same way. A story about the past has the power to alter our perception of the present and likewise shift how we imagine the future. Stories are relatable because they contain triumphs and struggles with which we identify, in the process forming an emotional connection between strangers far apart in distance and time.

Our goal is to tell personal stories about the 1988 Armenian earthquake: how it reordered the way people narrate their lives and how their identities changed. While there is much tragedy in the disaster, there is also much hope. People who survived this event grew up, pursued new goals, and became strong, motivated citizens who want to help their country and give back to those in need.

Here at Story Beyond The Ruins, we use techniques of oral history to keep a record of what happened, in the words and memories of the people who experienced it. This website contains spoken narrative about just one historical event from points of view varying in age, location, profession, and life experience. We think learning from the sum of these stories offers a richer view of history.

We were washing our hands with Pepsi-cola... There was no water.
— Vahagn Tonoyan, Rescue volunteer during earthquake

The 1988 Armenian Earthquake

At approximately 11:41 am on December 7th, 1988, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia was hit by a devastating earthquake. Its epicenter was close to the town of Shirakamut, located in the north of Armenia between the cities of Spitak and Gyumri.

Teachers died protecting their children while schools collapsed around them. Roads cracked apart and apartment buildings crumbled into towering piles of concrete.

Thousands of people were caught in the middle of their daily routines, and their lives were upended in the aftermath. This year, Armenians will recognize the 30th anniversary of the earthquake - not only for its direct impact, but also for the ensuing struggles which coincided with major events in Armenian history. Please read our History page to learn more about the effects of the earthquake, the recovery process, and the earthquake’s place in Armenian history.



Coffins everywhere. Whenever you go outside you see them. It becomes, day by day, just an ordinary part of your life.

 Our Photo Galleries

Images are another powerful medium of connection. We gathered these pictures during our interview process to show you the modern landscape of the affected regions. In some places the effects of the earthquake are visible, and in some you must look more closely. Nevertheless, we invite you to view our galleries because the pictures themselves tell a story about how people and places change.

For the first time since 1923, the Soviet Union invited the help of international relief organizations, and the relief effort was later referred to as the ‘fall of the humanitarian wall.’
— Donald and Lorna Miller, Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope

About the Project

The mission of Story Beyond The Ruins is to preserve and highlight stories from the 1988 Armenian earthquake and beyond. On this page we tell the story of how the project came to be, and we showcase the team of volunteers who contributed an enormous amount of help towards realizing this project. There is also the opportunity to read short blog reflections from members of the team, to learn how to support (or help out yourself!) with the project, and to contact the team.