The Earthquake that Rocked the World

A Tribute to the Legends Behind Rock Aid Armenia

By Rachel Melikian

Thirty years ago, members from some of the world’s biggest rock bands, including Queen, Pink Floyd, Rush, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, came together in the historic Metropolis studio in London. They came to record a special album in July of 1989 to raise money for those affected by the devastating “Spitak Earthquake.” In addition, the British music industry created a new record label, “Life-Aid Armenia Records.” The rock bands’ campaign was called “Rock Aid Armenia.”

Their goal was to help the city of Spitak, which was destroyed by a massive earthquake in December 1988. The entire city of Spitak turned into rubble, stones on top of stones, during a harsh, cold winter. The earthquake hit with a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale, causing the death of 50,000 to 100,000 people, injuring 140,000 or more. Between 500,000 to 700,000 people lost their homes. 

This happened during the final days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The President sent an American rescue team to Armenia to assist with the rescue efforts.

The rock legends’ collaborative efforts spanned three years. They first released a remake of “What’s Going On” featuring David Gilmour, Elizabeth Westwood and Reggae Philharmonic, and a cover of the 1973 hit song, “Smoke On The Water”  featuring Bryan Adams, Roger Taylor, Brian May, Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore, which they recorded as part of what they referred to as “The Metropolis Sessions.”

These releases kicked off their campaign. In 1990, Rock Aid Armenia released a full album called “The Earthquake Album,” featuring artists from bands such as Jefferson Starship, Iron Maiden, and Genesis. Also, they released a documentary about the making of the album as well as the devastating effects of the Spitak Earthquake. The project was called “The Earthquake Video” and featured Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Asia, Mike + The Mechanics, Rush, Deep Purple, Foreigner, Yes, Whitesnake and many others. Released in 1991, Rock Aid Armenia’s final project was a cover of Led Zeppelin’s classic, “Rock & Roll,”  featuring artists from The Who and Iron Maiden.

(You can watch the above recordings and more on the Rock Aid Armenia YouTube channel.)

Armenia’s 1988 Spitak Earthquake was the impetus for what has been called by Kerrang! magazine, “the greatest array of hard rock talent ever assembled.”

Armenia’s 1988 Spitak Earthquake was the impetus for what has been called by Kerrang! magazine, “the greatest array of hard rock talent ever assembled.” The Earthquake Album went gold, which was the first time a UK charity album achieved that distinction. This album rocked and rolled its way into homes across the globe, truly gaining listeners worldwide. These artists used their humanitarian efforts to bring relief to Armenia by showing that music can rock the world. 

Rock Aid Armenia project is ongoing. With the money they raised, they have reconstructed the Octet Armenian Music School and as recently as 2010, they released a CD and a DVD honoring their 20th anniversary. Their support of Armenia continues to this day from the DoSomething project (charitable concerts) to the WhoCares album. Rock Aid Armenia was honored by the Armenian government for their remarkable efforts on behalf of the victims of the Spitak Earthquake.

The Armenian Highland is an earthquake zone as it connects the east with the west. The earthquake affected many cities in this area. It was one of the 20th century’s most lethal earthquakes and the strongest recorded earthquake in the Caucasus region in 1,000 years, according to the American Geosciences Institute. It demolished 80% of the neighboring city Gyumri, which is the second largest city in Armenia.

Despite the global efforts of 113 countries offering humanitarian efforts, Spitak is not completely yet reconstructed and many of Spitak’s inhabitants are still displaced. Yet as President Ronald Reagan famously said: “And, yes, they will go on, for the Armenian people are made of hardy stuff.”

The geography of Armenia requires special help to withstand natural calamity because of this earthquake zone. The music by the rock bands has provided that special help and has been a nurturing influence on Mother Armenia. 

Special thanks to Rock Aid Armenia and all the rock legends for having Mother Armenia in their hearts and helping to put her back on her feet!

Rachel Melikian is a former GCC Woman of the Year

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