In Moscow Aug. 8, the Church agreed to assist the government of the Armenian Republic in the USSR and donors of the American-Armenian Bridge of Friendship in building housing for homeless victims of the December 1988 Armenian earthquake.
Leaders of the Church have offered to invite members skilled in the building crafts to serve in a voluntary capacity. While detailed plans have yet to be completed, ground-breaking is projected for the spring of 1990. A limited number of electricians, plumbers, contractors, carpenters and others with building skills will be needed."We view this as an opportunity to help our neighbors in Armenia where there are thousands of homeless victims of this disastrous earthquake," said Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve. On behalf of the Church, Elder Nelson joined with officials in the Soviet Union and leaders of an American charitable organization in signing a "memorandum of understanding." The memorandum is an agreement that the Church will assist in relief for homeless victims.
Signing on behalf of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was Prime Minister Vladimir Surenovich Markariants.
Also signing the document were two American businessmen and philanthropists, co-chairmen of the American-Armenian Bridge of Friendship: Jon M. Huntsman, chairman and chief executive officer of Huntsman Chemical Corporation of Salt Lake City and president of the Salt Lake Monument Park Stake, and Dr. Armand Hammer, chairman and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum Corporation of Los Angeles, Calif.
Elder Hans B. Ringger of the First Quorum of the Seventy and a counselor in the Europe Area Presidency attended the document-signing ceremony at the Armenian Representation building in Moscow, as did Jack Matlock, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union; and Peter and Jennifer Huntsman, a son and daughter of Pres. Huntsman and his wife, Karen.
Among those representing the Soviet Union at the ceremony were Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet Union's ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Liana; and Yuri Christoradnov, chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs for the USSR.
At the ceremony, Elder Nelson spoke of his previous visits to the Soviet Union, before he was called to the Council of the Twelve. As a cardiac surgeon, he visited many cities in the country to lecture and work among his colleagues of the medical profession.
He explained that Elder Ringger, before he was sustained as a General Authority, had been a noted engineer and architect in Switzerland. He said Elder Ringger has visited the Soviet Union previously and has developed special affection for the people of the nation.
"I mention these comments to illustrate the fact the members of the Church give their service not only to the Church but to their fellowmen in a voluntary capacity, without pay," said Elder Nelson. "Mr. Huntsman and members of his family and staff are excellent examples. He is a respected leader in the Church."
Elder Nelson referred to earlier donations made by members of the Church from throughout the world. One week after the Armenian earthquake - which left homeless about half a million people or nearly one-seventh of the population - Elder Nelson, on behalf of the Church, delivered to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, D.C., a remittance to assist in the relief of the victims of the Armenian disaster. A later donation was made to the Armenian Children's Relief Fund.
In the Moscow meeting, Elder Nelson said: "We are here to offer assistance as needed in further relief efforts to victims of the earthquake in Armenia. Bevan Chamberlain and David Horne are two professional contractors from the USA. They, along with Peter Huntsman, have just returned from a fact-finding mission to Armenia. They have provided essential information we need to undertake co-sponsorship of this worthy cause."
In his remarks at the Moscow ceremony, Pres. Huntsman said, "When the television evening news brought into our home the tragic events surrounding the Armenian earthquake, the thought foremost in our minds on that evening of Dec. 7 [1988T was, `How could we best help?'
"The opportunity to place those thoughts into constructive action came only a few days later when Dr. Armand Hammer and I sat down together and immediately began to work out a strategy for assisting the victims of this devastating tragedy. The culmination of these meetings resulted in the establishment of the American-Armenian Bridge of Friendship, a non-profit humanitarian organization co-sponsored by Dr. Hammer and me.
"Our efforts at relief will be of an enduring nature and we shall find others who will join us in this worthy cause for the Armenian people.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . has participated in humanitarian efforts throughout the world. They have agreed once again to provide assistance now."
Pres. Huntsman spoke of the previous donation that Elder Nelson delivered last December on behalf of the Church. "This donation," said Pres. Huntsman, "representing an outpouring of sympathy from the members of the Mormon Church worldwide, was followed by another significant donation, this time to the Armenian Children's Relief Fund, of which Ambassador Dubinin's wife, Liana, is president. Her father is Armenian."
Pres. Huntsman further said, "It is a privilege for me to be associated with these two great medical doctors - Dr. Armand Hammer and Dr. Russell M. Nelson who have turned their medical talents to the cause of peace in the world and relief of human suffering."
Ninety-one-year-old Dr. Hammer also addressed the group assembled for the document signing. He said: "A theme that is woven throughout much of the great thought of modern history . . . is that it is the responsibility of all of us to use the resources at our disposal to help those who are in need. It was English author George Moore who wrote at the beginning of this century, `After all, there is but one race - humanity.'
"There is a certain sense of urgency about this trip, as there was about my journey to Armenia last December to take a plane load of medical supplies."
He said that 66 years ago, after graduation from medical school, he obtained a World War I surplus field hospital and went to Russia to treat those suffering from widespread famine and typhus after the revolution. "I felt that I could be of help in easing some of the misery," he related.
"When I went to Armenia last December, the scope of the tragedy strained comprehension. The towns of Leninakan and Spitak were destroyed, and others suffered major devastation. In the mountains, many villages were in ruins. The death toll was reported to be as high as 55,000, with as many as half a million left homeless. Even photographs and television film could not adequately convey the situation."
Dr. Hammer recalled other sites of widespread disasters he has viewed - Mexico City after the 1985 earthquake, and Chernobyl in its "eerie absence of life there" after the accident at a nuclear power plant. However, he said, the situation in Armenia "was much, much worse."
He described the heart-rending scene of people wandering through what used to be streets, carrying bits and pieces of their belongings and trying to find relatives and hoping to see someone they knew.
The greatest need right now in Armenia is housing, Dr. Hammer emphasized. "I am particularly pleased to be part of the project we are announcing here today, because I know from having been to Armenia, housing is the greatest need immediately facing these people."
Upon his return to Salt Lake City, Elder Nelson reported that the basis for financing the construction project will be from funds supplied by Pres. Huntsman and his family and Dr. Hammer, along with contributions from others.
"We have found that through the goodness and graciousness of many other donors the people of Armenia will be provided for this winter. That will give us time to make our plans.
"The people of the Soviet government and the people of the Armenian Republic expressed their gratitude to the Church and to the donors."
Elder Nelson said it has been exciting and encouraging "to see that when one human being on this planet is in distress, another human being will want to come to his or her aid, regardless of race, color or politics. The outpouring of the desire to help has been remarkable. The people of Armenia have been deeply moved that people of many countries have wanted to help them. Our site visitors learned there is a project built by the Germans, a compound constructed by the Italians, and other facilities under construction by the Norwegians and others. This disaster has evoked a response worldwide that I'm sure pleases our Heavenly Father."