Earthquake  photo“No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!”

Armenia is small land-locked country the size of South Carolina on the eastern edge of Turkey, between Georgia and Iran. Over the years they have been very acquainted with difficult times and grief. The dominant religion is Christian, but was dominated for over 500 years by the Ottoman Empire. Are You Going to Help Me Now, is an account of what transpired in modern day Armenia during a devastating earthquake.

As the Empire was disintegrating in 1915, Muslim men from Turkey known as the “Young Turks” demanded all Armenians give up their weapons. The Armenians complied. Then between 1915 and 1917 the Young Turks killed 1,500,000. This is forever known as the 1st genocide of the 20th century. Armenia has once again become independent soon after World War I.

The Great Earthquake of 1988

On December 7, 1988 in Armenia over 25,000 people were killed by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake in a span of less than four minutes. The exact city is not known, but two cities took the brunt of the loss.  “Are You Going to Help Me Now” has been taken from Tom Vartabedian’s account of one incident during this calamity.

Suddenly without warning, a earthquake hit Armenia.  In the midst of utter devastation and chaos, a father left his wife securely at home and rushed to the school where his son was supposed to be, only to discover that the building had been flattened as a pancake.

After the traumatic initial shock, this man remembered the promise he had made to his son: “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!” And tears began to fill his eyes. As he looked at the pile of debris that once was the school, it looked hopeless, but he kept remembering his commitment to his son.

His Son’s School

He began to concentrate on where he walked his son to school each morning. Remembering his son’s classroom would be in the back right corner of the building, he rushed there and started digging through the rubble.

As he was digging, other forlorn parents arrived, clutching their hearts, saying, “My son!” “My daughter!”

Other well-meaning parents tried pulling him off what was left of the school, saying:

“It’s too late!”  “They’re dead!”  “You can’t help!”  “Go home!”  “Come on, face reality, there’s nothing you can do!”  “You’re just going to make things worse!”

To each parent, he responded with one line: “Are you going to help me now?”  And then he proceeded to dig for his son, stone by stone – alone.

The fire chief showed up and tried to pull him off the school’s debris, saying, “Fires are breaking out, explosions are happening everywhere. You’re in danger. We’ll take care of it. Please go home.”

To which this loving, caring Armenian father asked, “Are you going to help me now?”

The police came and said, “You’re angry, distraught, and it’s over. You’re endangering others. We’ll take care of it. Go home.”  No one helped.

No Help

Courageously, he proceeded alone because he needed to know for himself: “Is my boy alive, or is he dead?”

He dug for eight hours…12 hours…24, and 36 hours. Then, in the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. The man screamed his son’s name, “Armand!”

He heard back, “Dad? It’s me, Dad! I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved. You promised, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!’ You did it, Dad!”

“There are 14 of us left out of 33, Dad. We’re scared, hungry, thirsty, and thankful you’re here. When the building collapsed, it made a wedge, like a triangle, and it saved us.”

“Come on out, boy!”

“No, Dad! Let the other kids come out first, because I know you’ll get me. No matter what, I know you’ll be there for me.”


As a Dad I wonder if I’m mentally tough enough to save and protect my own children as this man did. Are we the kind of men who would fight to the death for our own children? Can our children believe and say, “No matter what, I know you’ll be there for me?” Will we be the men who say to others, when all seems lost: Will you help me now?

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