Last week's Armenian earthquake, which left more than 60,000 people dead, was horrible enough. But when two airplanes carrying relief supplies crashed this weekend, killing 85 more people, Ann Shahinian was left to wonder.
"I'm basically not fanatically religious, but I think, `Are we cursed?' " she said."It takes a few days to sink in, then you start getting angry. At least I'm getting angry," said Miriam McFadden.
The women are two of the 300 to 500 Armenians living in Salt Lake City. They, along with Leone Gulgulian and Houry Megerdichian, work in the local Hamaspure Chapter of the Armenian Relief Society.
To them and many others, it seems that blow after devastating blow has hit Armenia for as long as they can remember. Over the centuries, Persians, Greeks, Romans and others conquered the land. Between 1894 and 1918 the ruling Ottoman Turks killed about 1.8 million Armenians. Thousands more fled abroad.
In 1920, the Soviets took over. During Stalin's purges and World War II, still more Armenians died. Those outside the country also suffered. "We've lost thousands in Lebanon," Gulgulian said.
In recent weeks Armenians have suffered in clashes with neighboring Azerbaijan.
And now the earthquake.
"You wonder, if there is a God, `Why are you doing this to us constantly?' " McFadden said. "There's this internal struggle. I couldn't go to church yesterday. I wanted to, but I couldn't. I wasn't at peace."
But despite everything, Armenians are survivors and they'll get through this somehow, the women agreed.
When local Armenians first heard about the quake, few could get any news of relatives in affected areas. Phone calls were impossible.
Albert Kazarian's wife, two children and grandchild were in Yerevan, the capital of the republic. He and his sister, Grace, spent the days from Wednesday to Monday like many others, watching Cable News Network reports almost non-stop, hoping for any word. Finally, Monday morning Kazarian's son managed somehow to call. "They are alive and in good condition, thanks to God," said Grace Kazarian.
But she said that brief call - more than most have received - didn't end their pain for the other quake victims. "It is not our relatives but still our nation."
As soon as the women in the local Armenian society chapter learned of the disaster, they began contacting Armenian groups in California to see what they could do to help. They are calling area businesses for donations and checking on the availability of medical supplies. They're also encouraging people to give blood to the Red Cross to replace the units being sent overseas.
The local Armenian society met Friday night to discuss donations and decided to send letters to everyone on its mailing list, encouraging contributions to the Earthquake Relief Fund for Armenia, 517 W. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale, Calif. 91202.
Linda Moore, spokeswoman for the Utah Chapter of the American Red Cross, said her office also has received more than $4,800 in donations, and she expects more. The disaster has touched people. "I got a call from a lady on Social Security who wants to donate $200. Her (monthly) income is $500."
The local Armenian society also canceled a planned New Year's Eve party. Virtually all Armenian groups nationwide have cancelled holiday functions because of the tragedy, Shahinian said.> Friday's meeting included a moment of silence for the people killed in the quake. And McFadden said she's trying to arrange for a memorial mass this Sunday in St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, since the Armenian Apostolic Church does not have a building in Salt Lake City. Other denominations have loaned their facilities in the past, Shahinian said.
The group also will ask the Armenian church's Western Prelacy in Los Angeles to send a priest to say the traditional 40-day mass for the dead on Jan. 15.> But remembering the dead is not all the local Armenians are doing.
Shahinian, who has two children, said she and her husband are checking into adopting one of the thousands of children orphaned by the earthquake. She said she understands the Soviets may allow some to be adopted internationally.
"Anyone if at all possible that could adopt, the time is now," she said. "They would save a soul, bring them to a free country."