A Cool Billion After Armenia’s Earthquake

  • Overseas
  • 1989

Late in 1988, a devastating earthquake struck Armenia, followed by months of aftershocks, killing more than 25,000 people and injuring 15,000 more. Factories and utilities were destroyed; roads and railways were wrecked. There were many American gifts of aid in the aftermath, but none as big as what Kirk Kerkorian delivered. The investor, a child of Armenian immigrants to the U.S., put up a billion dollars to help rebuild his ancestral homeland, repairing 261 miles of highway, constructing 3,700 new apartments, and rehabilitating countless homes, among other contributions. In 2005, Armenian president Robert Kocharian awarded his country’s highest honor to Kerkorian as thanks for this help.

Another donor who was vital to Armenia’s recovery was Jon Huntsman. One of the most generous Americans of his generation in his proportionate giving, Huntsman was moved by the suffering after the earthquake, and went to visit the country. It turned out to be the first of 46 trips he and his family made to Armenia after he adopted that land as a personal cause. In addition to immediate relief aid, Huntsman set up factories and businesses to supply building materials. He provided money to reconstruct schools and hospitals. He also provided scholarships which allowed Armenian college students to study in the U.S. In the 25 years after the earthquake Huntsman devoted about $50 million to Armenia, which not only helped it recover from the earthquake trauma but also allowed its business environment to develop faster than many of the other nations that were spun into freedom after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Many individuals rendered huge aid to Armenia after the 1988 earthquake, but Jon Huntsman is one of those who have continued aid and even increased it,” summarized president Kocharian.