Mr Prime Minister, your Holiness
It is a very great pleasure to be in Armenia, cradle of one of the greatest and most ancient civilisations of our world, at one time powerful enough to challenge the Roman Empire itself. It is, I feel fairly sure, the first visit to Armenia by a British Prime Minister, and I am proud to have been given that honour. I am also most grateful for your very warm hospitality.
Armenia has not had a smooth history. Your rugged land has never provided an easy living. You have had more than your share of disasters and, as a result, you are no strangers to grief and turmoil. [end p1]
I remember the morning all too well. News of the terrible earthquake was just breaking. The Leonid ZamyatinSoviet ambassador came to Downing Street at a most undiplomatic hour to tell me that Mr Gorbachev would have to go straight home from America and that his visit to London must be postponed.
The early morning commentators on the radio were wondering whether I had heard the news. So I decided to telephone them and tell them that of course I understood that Mr Gorbachev would have to go straight back to Moscow. I said how shocked I was at the scale and the horror of what had happened. And I pledged immediate British help—help which was forthcoming in greater measure than any of us expected.
Several of you have just come with me from opening the Lord Byron school. Lord Byron was not only one of our greatest poets. He was also one of the few among my countrymen to set about learning your language. [end p2]
The school is a gift from the British people to the people, and above all to the children, of Armenia. Children do not always like going to school. But the start which you give your children in their life will determine the future of Armenia. We would like to be a part of that future too. The following paragraph may have been omitted
In this I am not only speaking for the British government. The people of Britain responded as I have never known before to Armenia's tragedy. Rescue workers came, and doctors. Excavation equipment was sent. With the massive funds donated by the British people, food shelter and medical supplies were bought and despatched.
Not far from here, in Kirovakan, a children's hospital is about to be built by the British group “aid Armenia” . If I had had time I should have liked to accept their invitation to lay the foundation stone. For it is the result of the [end p3] donations of millions of our people—the out-pouring of our humanity in Armenia's darkest hours.
And the response from Britain came not only from British people. Soviet representatives in London gave unstintingly of their time. Covent Garden, our famous opera house, laid on an evening of song and dance to raise money for Armenian relief.
Soviet dancers and singers went straight from the airport to the theatre arriving just in time for the performance. Armenia's own Vaseg Tumanian, who lost his own family in the disaster, made a particularly deep impression—a magnificent voice raised in proud support of his sorrowing countrymen.
A friendship[end p4]
Now around me here I see new confidence. From the rubble rise new buildings. From the despair comes new hope; and from the hopelessness new determination. You are a lesson to us all. ( Notes by MT:
After tragedy a fresh start. Some—a gap in their hearts. Others—value life more than ever—seek to give it a deeper meaning—live better day by day.
The world too is having a fresh start. Trying to overcome the evils of war and conflict.) [end p5]
Prime Minister, I have been very impressed and very moved by this short visit. There is a passage in Shakespeare, in King John, where he speaks of courage: “courage” he says “mounteth with occasion” . [end p6]
Your people have had far more than their share of misfortune and tragedy over the centuries—invaded, annexed, exiled, massacred. Yet today I have seen the truth of Shakespeare 's words: in the face of disaster their courage has never faltered, only mounted.
We honour them for that and wish Armenia and its people a better future, in which the tranquillity and prosperity for which you yearn will be yours.