When a massive earthquake struck Soviet Armenia Wednesday, the effects of the tremor reached all the way to Salt Lake City.
Peter Ouzounian, a bus driver, had gone to work at the Utah Transit Authority about 5:30 Thursday morning and heard the news on the television in the employee lounge. He came home about 8 a.m. and told his wife, Izabel, who was still in bed."I was so shocked I didn't know what to say," Mrs. Ouzounian recalled. She turned on the television to the Cable News Network. "All day I kept watching Channel 28 to see what was happening."
Mrs. Ouzounian and her husband are from Yerevan, the Armenian capital. They both left Armenia in 1975 and eventually ended up in Salt Lake City.
One of Mrs. Ouzounian's uncles and his children are still in Armenia, as are several of Ouzounian's relatives. The family immediately started trying to call the relatives but with no success. "We can't reach them because the lines are gone. . . . The only thing we can hear is from the news."
The inability to call has been hard, "especially for my mother. She's visiting me right now from California. . . . It's very hard for her because it's her brother," Mrs. Ouzounian said.
Her brother-in-law, Achot Ouzounian, left Armenia at age 20. "I'm thinking about the guys I grew up with, the guys I went to school with, and I'm pretty sure some of them probably got caught in it." He said he just talked with an uncle in California who called relatives in Paris who somehow had learned from someone in Yerevan about one uncle in Leninakan. "He's alive but they don't know about his kids."
More than 100 Armenian families live in Utah, but the Ouzounians are among a handful directly from Armenia. Most are from Iran, Lebanon and Syria.
The waiting without any word of friends and relatives no doubt has been frustrating for many of them. It has been for Grigor and Khatoun Tahmazian. Although their family moved to Iran many years ago when the Soviets took over Armenia, Mrs. Tahmazian still has many cousins in Echmiadzin. The last letter she got from anyone in Armenia came about six weeks ago.
"She is very sad," said her daughter, Ojik Degeus, translating for her mother, who doesn't speak English. Mrs. Tahmazian feels bad for not only her relatives but all quake victims. Members of the Armenian community met at the University of Utah Friday night to discuss making contributions to the relief effort through an Armenian organization called HOM.
Recalling Armenia's troubled history, from the massacres of 1915-20 to the recent clashes with Moslem neighbor Azerbaijan, Achot Ouzounian said: "They call us survivors, and we'll probably have a monument to this 20 years down the road, but it still doesn't apply to the pain you feel right now."