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Armenian Community Mounts Drive for Quake Aid

Times Staff Writer

Fourteen-year-old Boy Scout Robert Momjian spent most of Sunday in his Encino school’s gymnasium with his friend Michael Bojalian piling shoes into large cardboard boxes. A hand-lettered banner above the gymnasium’s doorway read: “Help the Armenians.”

And that is exactly what many of the 40,000 members of the San Fernando Valley’s Armenian community have been doing since Wednesday’s devastating earthquake in Soviet Armenia.

In the gymnasium at Holy Martyrs Apostolic Church in Encino--headquarters of the Valley chapter of the Armenian Relief Society--huge piles of clothing and blankets filled the room as volunteers answered telephones, accepted donations and, like Momjian and Bojalian, generally lent helping hands.

“It’s better than doing nothing; it’s for our friends in Armenia, so we’re just helping out,” Momjian said.

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The quake, which measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Thus far, the relief society’s Valley chapter has raised more than $330,000 in cash and $400,000 in pledges, said Lee Chakalozian, society spokesman.

About $150,000 was pledged by doctors and other medical personnel who gathered at the church Sunday to discuss specific relief plans. At the meeting, pleas were made for donations of medical equipment, especially dialysis machines and portable X-ray equipment, and such supplies as antibiotics, plasma and serums.

“People are still living and breathing, but they are undergoing a slow death,” said Dr. Hrayr Karagosian. “The only way to stop this is to supply a dialysis unit.”

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About 150 Armenian-American doctors were at the meeting and 30 volunteered to go to Soviet Armenia to treat the victims. Because thousands of people are believed to have suffered broken and crushed bones and penetrating wounds, those most in demand are surgeons, emergency room doctors, orthopedists and hematologists, said Dr. Agop Antaiblian, president of the Armenian-American Medical Society of California’s relief fund.

“We are living in one of the saddest days of Armenian history,” Antaiblian said. “It’s our duty and responsibility to alleviate the suffering of those who fortunately survived and need our help.

“They need our help in Armenia and they need it now,” he added. “They are our own brothers and sisters; they are part of us.”

That sentiment was echoed by the Rev. Muron Aznikian, church pastor, in his memorial service held at Holy Martyrs Church earlier in the day for the earthquake victims. An estimated 1,500 people attended the service, which featured funeral marches played by local Boy Scouts.

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“This is Christmastime and everybody is giving something to relatives and friends,” Aznikian said. “We should remember our victims and extend our hands and give help to our brothers and sisters, as humans and as Armenians.”

Help has come from places outside the Armenian community as well, said Bedros Ghazarian, vice chairman of the church’s board of trustees. Valley-area synagogues and churches of various denominations have donated money and supplies to the relief effort, he said. In fact, the relief society exceeded its weekend goal of $100,000, he said.

“Schoolchildren, parents, old people, everybody wants to help,” Ghazarian said.

Although they have received a great deal of assistance, organizers of the relief effort emphasize that much more is needed in the way of money and medical supplies.

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Those who wish to contribute can call the Armenian Relief Society at (800) 848-9979 or send donations to the Earthquake Relief Fund for Armenia, P.O. Box 1107, Reseda 91335.


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