The idea for Story Beyond the Ruins originated on December 7th, 2017 with Michael Chen and Max Malter, both volunteer English teachers in northern Armenia. That day, Max attended a public memorial for victims of the earthquake with close Armenian friends and community members, later joined by Michael. While Max was familiar with stories about the earthquake as a resident of Spitak, Michael had no idea what was being memorialized, but he was moved by the emotions of those in attendance. In conversation, they decided that it was important to learn more about the earthquake and its lasting impact on the affected communities. Together they began thinking about how to accomplish this.
A Chance Meeting
A few weeks later at a popular cafe in Stepanavan, Michael randomly met an Armenian man with an interesting story. His name was Ashot Grigoryan, an architect who worked for FAR, the Fund for Armenian Relief, during the initial years after the earthquake. In fact, Ashot just happened to have designed buildings and helped with the reconstruction efforts in Spitak and Stepanavan. He returned to Stepanavan each year to see how the city changed over time. Michael and Max set up a conversation with him in Yerevan, which became a formal interview. It was a memorable experience for all three of them. Afterwards, they decided that this project was worth expanding and spent the next few months looking for more contacts.
Growth & Collaboration
In order to realize such a project inclusive of all stories, volunteers from American University of Armenia joined the team. They were joined later by university students from Gyumri. With bilingual help on hand, during the spring and summer the team conducted interviews in both English and Armenian across multiple regions of Armenia. The expansion of the team also allowed for partnership opportunities with NGOs and motivated individuals working in the earthquake-affected regions, who helped guide the project forward. The team continued to expand in multiple rounds, adding more talented volunteers to help with translation, research, and technological work.
The expanded team decided that building a website would be the best way to make these stories available to the public. Storybeyondtheruins.com was created as a space where interviews, articles, and pictures could be featured together, in two languages and accessible on mobile. The most important content, the soul of the website, would be edited audio clips from the interviews, similar to a podcast, where website visitors could listen to these historical stories in the words of the people who experienced it. As the project progressed, the website would be updated with more stories and content. Through this online collection, the stories would be preserved and the project could be sustained after Michael and Max eventually left Armenia. In the future they look forward to the evolution of this project in the the hands of their Armenian peers.