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This town is infamously known for being close to the epicentre of the 1988 earthquake. The town was wiped out and 4000 of its residents perished in the 7.2 quake. Housing has since been rebuilt, mainly with donations from overseas. Each housing block bears the distinctive touch of the country that provided the rebuilding costs.

A walk through Spitak cemetery shows the tombstones of those who perished; some of the stones mark whole family graves. Some graves show not only a picture of the deceased but also a clock face with the hands pointing to 11.41, the time the earthquake struck. Those of younger people often show a flower with a broken stalk symbolising a life broken while in full bloom. The graveyard is less neglected than the monument but is clearly little frequented. Though the survivors can never forget, would they really want to remind themselves by coming here? And perhaps many of the deceased have no surviving relatives. Certainly some of the graves show three generations of victims from the baby a few weeks old to the grandparents. Still remaining in the graveyard is the prefabricated metal church which served in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and which was erected within 40 days of the disaster.

The nearby church made of sheet metal was erected shortly after the earthquake as a place to pray for the dead.

There is another graveyard in Spitak round the other side of the hill. It is a war cemetery where German prisoners of war lie buried. It's a tranquil place - a flowery meadow with rows of metal crosses. Although the identity of each person is known, this is not marked on the grave with the sole exception of one grave where a relative has provided a normal tombstone. There is also a large cross bearing the words Hier ruhen Kriegesgefangene - Opfer des zweites Weltkrieges ('Here rest prisoners of war - victims of World War II'). The prisoners worked on the construction of a nearby sugar factory but that was destroyed in the earthquake. The German government pays a local man to look after the graves and to preserve the meadow by cutting the vegetation annually. This is the largest of the German war cemeteries in Armenia. The second largest is at Sevan and others are at Artashat and Abovian.

A neglected monument to the dead stands on a hill near the town. Visiting it is thought-provoking. There is no inscription in any language. It’s a haunting and forlorn spot that seems not to have been visited in some time, as if the residents of Spitak wish not to be reminded of their grim past.

Firstly it is reached by a long flight of concrete steps, over half of which have disintegrated and all of which are overgrown by tall thistles as well as a colourful range of weeds. At the top of the steps one reaches the rather grandiose memorial, now equally neglected with much of its marble cladding having fallen off and giving the appearance that total collapse may not be long delayed.

Spitak is just off the main road between Gyumri and Vanadzor and served by frequent marshrutkas.

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