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L.A.'s Armenians Struggle to Learn Fate of Relatives

December 08, 1988|From Associated Press

The nation's largest Armenian community struggled today to learn the fate of relatives and friends caught up in the devastating earthquake in Soviet Armenia, but telephoning the area was impossible, spokesmen said in Los Angeles.

"We can't reach Armenia," said Suren Bursalyan, editor of the Armenian biweekly Paros. "All the phone lines are shot. Our only information is American television. It's really hard. We would like to know the extent of damage."

Wednesday's earthquake, which measured 6.9 according to the U.S. Geological Survey, virtually destroyed several cities and killed tens of thousands of people, Soviet officials said. Some estimates put the toll at 100,000.

Archbishop Datev Sarkissian of the Armenian Apostolic Church said the 250,000-member immigrant community in Southern California is "in a state of shock."

"They are in a state of grief and great pain. But a great relief operation is being organized by the community to help rebuild the cities," he said.

Sarkissian said he has been unable to uncover any information that he could pass on to his parishioners.

"Yesterday I was trying to get in touch with Armenia, and the operator was overrun by the telephone calls," he said.

The Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church announced that a period of eight days of mourning will begin Friday and that local Armenian churches will hold special requiem services Friday and Sunday.

Southern California has the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Soviet Armenia. Most live in Hollywood and Glendale. Another 40,000 live in Fresno.

In New York, Armenian prelates from around the world held a news conference after a one-hour meeting with officials from the Soviet mission to the United Nations.

"The devastation is heavier than we can imagine," said Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America.

"We urged the representatives of (Soviet President Mikhail S.) Gorbachev to assist us in providing the necessary material and financial assistance" for the earthquake victims, he said.

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