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Armenians in US reach out

Armenians and others across the United States are mobilizing to help the victims of the Soviet earthquake in one of the largest responses to a disaster since the African famine of 1985. Money, food, clothes, medical supplies - all are being given or offered by thousands of people at churches, relief agencies, and other organizations nationwide.

Millions of dollars in donations and goods are continuing to be pledged, much of it through various Armenian groups in the United States:

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In New York, volunteers at the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church are working around the clock packing boxes with shoes, blankets, and other clothing for shipment overseas.

In Boston, a real estate company donated a bank of 12 telephones for use in fund-raising over the weekend.

In Los Angeles, where the largest settlement of Armenians outside the Soviet Union is found, the 700 students of the Rose & Alex Pilibos School, a private Armenian institution in Hollywood, today will donate their lunch money toward the relief effort.

``If you can find one good thing in this, it is the way people have rallied together,'' says Sarkis Ghazarian, director of social services for the Armenian Relief Society in Glendale, Calif.

For Armenians in the US, watching the tragedy from afar has been particularly painful. Many still have not been able to find out news of relatives and friends days after the earthquake.

``Everyone I know has been affected by this thing,'' says Steve Muncherian, a pastor at the United Armenian Congregational Church in Hollywood.

Compounding the pain for many Armenians has been the ethnic strife that has befallen their people recently in the southern Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

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``We have had back-to-back disasters,'' says Harut Sassounian, editor of the Armenian Weekly California Courier. ``The community is in a state of shock.''

One who did get heartening news was 9-year-old Arthur Essarian of Watertown, Mass. The fourth-grader persisted in calling his grandmother in Yerevan every half hour the afternoon following the earthquake. He finally got through.

``They said not to worry, because nothing happened to them, but many people died,'' he said. His aunt's house in Stepanavan, two hours from Yerevan, was leveled. She and her three children escaped injury and fled to the undamaged home of Arthur's grandmother.

For others who are still grieving or anxious, the Armenian community is doing what it can to help. On Sunday, Armenian churches from Los Angeles to Boston held special memorial services. Many of the churches will be donating their collections to earthquake relief.

A recent candlelight vigil held in Hollywood drew 700 people. The Pilibos school is offering individual counseling sessions for its pupils, all of whom have been wearing black ribbons to class.

In a ceremony Friday in Watertown, a wreath for the children who perished in the earthquake was laid at the base of a stone memorial marking the massacre of Armenians by Turkish forces in 1915. Some 70 children from an Armenian elementary school gathered under cloudy, cold skies to pray and sing the Lord's prayer in Armenian, led by the Rev. Dajad Davidian, the pastor of St. James church. Rabbi Richard Yellin from nearby Newton, who had come to the church to express his condolences, also spoke a brief prayer.

Meanwhile, relief efforts are being mounted by many local and national organizations in the disparate and sometimes fractious Armenian community. By the end of the weekend, the Armenian Relief Society of North America had already raised more than $3 million. Donated medical supplies and new clothing were being stockpiled in a Boston hangar and elsewhere, awaiting transport to Yerevan. Mostly the organizatons are gathering funds to be used to purchase materials and ship them when the need is better known.

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