Earthquake Memorial Day, observed on October 6, is an annual remembrance ritual observed in Turkmenistan. It is a day designated to remember the victims of the 1948 earthquake that devastated the country. The quake, which was centered near the capital city of Ashgabat, is thought to have killed up to 110,000 people, or about 10% of the country’s population at the time. Along with the day, numerous memorials have been erected in Turkmenistan to commemorate the earthquake that changed the country.
History of Turkmenistan Earthquake Memorial Day
On the night of October 6, 1948, a massive earthquake, measuring up to 7.3 on the Richter scale, struck Turkmenistan, an oil-rich Central Asian country. The earthquake’s epicenter was located approximately 15.5 miles southwest of Ashgabat, the capital, and it lasted for around 10 seconds. However, the damage brought on in those 10 seconds was catastrophic. The quake destroyed brick buildings, brought down concrete structures, derailed trains off tracks, and decimated up to 40 villages. So powerful was the earthquake that parts of neighboring Iran were also affected.
At the time, Turkmenistan was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. As a result, news of the earthquake did not travel outside of Turkmenistan, nor was it reported by Soviet state media due to their notorious censorship practices. Initially, Turkmenistan’s Communist government reported a death toll of 10,000. However, in 1988, it was revealed that up to 110,000 had perished, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.
Despite the censure, the central Soviet government did respond to the disaster by sending relief supplies and airlifting survivors to medical centers elsewhere within the union. The governments of neighboring Soviet republics also provided aid.
Ashgabat was effectively closed for about five years while the city recovered and was subsequently rebuilt.
The earthquake deeply affected Turkmens of varying generations, with many either knowing someone who perished in the quake or knowing someone who was affected. Thus, Earthquake Memorial Day is seen as a solemn occasion to commemorate the disaster that has touched the country’s core.
On the day, state flags are lowered across the country and in Turkmenistan-related offices abroad. Memorial services are held in mosques and churches across the country. Wreath-laying ceremonies are observed by Turkmenistan’s government in Ashgabat. Many visit the graves of those who perished and pray for the affected.
Turkmenistan Earthquake Memorial Day timeline
A devastating 7.3-scale earthquake rocks Ashgabat, wiping out 10% of the population.
After decades of censorship, the Turkmenistan government releases the earthquake's official death toll.
Turkmenistan secedes from the Soviet Union.
Turkmenistan officially observes Earthquake Memorial Day as a public holiday.
The Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex opens in Ashgabat, honoring Turkmen lives that perished in the 1948 earthquake and the fallen soldiers of the 1881 Battle of Geok Tepe and WWII.
Turkmenistan Earthquake Memorial Day FAQs
What are the deadliest earthquakes in history?
The deadliest earthquake in history occurred in Shaanxi, China, in 1556, which registered at 8.0 on the Richter scale and killed over 830,000 people. In the modern era, the Haiti earthquake of 2010 is considered the deadliest, with the 7.0 magnitude quake claiming 316,000 lives.
Why was the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake so catastrophic?
Several factors that compounded the deadliness of the quake include the fact that it took place at 1:12 A.M., when residents would likely be indoors and sleeping. Most of Ashgabat’s buildings at the time were made of bricks, making them more vulnerable to collapse. The state of the infrastructure in Ashgabat during that time also rendered it exposed to the quake.
How many major earthquakes happened in 1948?
Up to 51 major earthquakes between 5.0 and 7.9 on the Richter scale occurred in 1948. The Ashgabat earthquake was the deadliest of the year, followed by the 1948 Fukui earthquake in Japan, which claimed 5,131 lives. The strongest quake of that year was the 7.8-magnitude event in the Philippines that claimed 78 lives. Due to the massive death toll of the Ashgabat quake, 1948 is seen as one of the deadliest earthquake years of the 20th century.
How to Observe Turkmenistan Earthquake Memorial Day
Attend memorial services
Pay tribute to those who perished and/or were affected by the quake by attending your local memorial services. If you are in Turkmenistan, one option is to visit the Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex and pay your respects to the victims.
Pray for the victims
Pray for the victims of the 1948 earthquake at your local mosque or church. Whether you are Turkmen or not, this is an appropriate way to pay tribute to the 110,000 who died and to wish those affected well.
Watch documentaries on the subject
As part of the country's observations, documentary films and old newsreels of the earthquake are generally shown every October 6 on every television channel in Turkmenistan. Seek out one of these documentary films and watch it. Generally, they would help offer a greater understanding of the events of the earthquake and showcase the perspectives used at the time.
5 Interesting Facts About Turkmenistan
Another notable earthquake takes place
Turkmenistan experienced another notable earthquake in 2000, centered about 155 miles from Ashgabat, which claimed 11 lives and registered 7.0 on the Richter scale.
Turkmenistan welcomes fewer tourists than others
It is one of the least-visited countries in the world, with only 9,000 tourists visiting in 2016 and 14,438 tourists in 2019.
A world record in glamor
Ashgabat holds the record for having the most white-marble buildings in a city, with 543.
Young men cannot grow beards
Saparmurat Niyazov, the country's late former "President for Life," banned males under 70 from having beards in 2004, and the law has not been repealed since.
Turkmenistan is always neutral in global conflicts
So far, Turkmenistan is the only country in the world to be considered "permanently neutral" by the United Nations.
Why Turkmenistan Earthquake Memorial Day is Important
The earthquake unites Turkmenistan under a common purpose
The 1948 earthquake struck deep in the hearts of Turkmens of many generations. It is a scar that lasts forever, but one that can be healed from its pain. The fact that the earthquake is still remembered so significantly today shows how close the tragedy sits in Turkmen hearts and how respectfully they remember their fallen brethren.
Earthquakes can help educate countries on how to improve in the future
Large-scale earthquakes such as the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake can help educate other countries on disaster mitigation. The lessons that the tragedy offers include possible insights into how earthquake-prone areas should be built or how to conduct relief efforts effectively. Governments have to make sure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and learn from disasters effectively to prepare for the future.
It ensures those affected will not be forgotten
Constant public reflections on the earthquake in Turkmenistan in the decades since show that the people will not forget this horrific event. It is essential to maintain the memory of the disaster as a way to pay respect to those affected and honor its history.
Turkmenistan Earthquake Memorial Day dates