Par Karine Sahakyan



On the 7th of December 1988, my city suffered from an enormous disaster which took lives of 25000 people. Tragically, I became a participant in its aftermath, and a bearer of the consequences and psychology of the disaster.

I chose a unique way of compensation for the losses, both in my city and personally. I registered aboul 1000 dreams, because the connection betiween life and death continues in people's dreams.

Based on these 1000 dreams, I have developed a great deal of psychological material that includes the following topics :


- The psychological peculiarities of dreaming as in archetypical mentality;
- The folk soul reflecting imaginations of predictive dreams.


- The significance, understanding, sense, and language that characterize sign-symbol systems;
- The psychological peculiarities of sign-syrnbol system expressions in dreams;
- The psychological retelling language of dream texts.


- The emotional expressions of people in post-disaster periods;
- The psychological interpretations of dreams in interpersonal relationships;
- The nature of the constructive components of drearns as a psychological process.

I hope the earthquake of Gyumri will be an open lesson for the entire world, in the sense of survival and achievements.

Karine Sahakyan
PhD in Ethno-Psychology




(Based on materials written on the occasion of the earthquake
in 1988, December 7, in Leninakan (current Gyumri))


Armenia is located in the southern Caucasus (occupies about 29,800 sq km) and is bounded by Georgia on the north, Azerbaijan on the east, Iran on the south, and Turkey on the west. The nurnber of population is 3 213 011.

Armenia has one of the world's oldest civilizations. It once included Mount Ararat, which biblical tradition identifies as the inountain that Noah's ark rested on after the flood.

The first major state in the region was the kingdom of Urartu (the Assyrian name for Ararat), which appeared around Lake Van in 885 B.C and fell at the end of 7th century B.C. The first Armenian Kingdom was Artashisian dvnasty which started to expand and became one of the most powerful in Asia, stretching from the Caspian lu the Mediterranean Seas under Tigran the Great (fl. 95-55 B.C.).

During the second kingdom (Ar Arshakunian dynasty), in 301 AD, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, establishing a church that still exists independently of both the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Over the centuries Armenia was conquered by different nations. From the 16th century major portions were controlled by their most brutal invader, the Ottoman Turks, under whom the Armenians experienced discrimination, religious persecution, heavy taxation, and armed attacks. The Turks massacred thousands of Armenians in 1894 and 1896. The most horrific massacre took place in April 1915 (600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians were murdered). The Armenian massacre is considered the first genocide in the 20th century.

Since March 12, 1922, Armenia was part of the USSR and it declared its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union on Sept. 23, 1991.

Throughout most of its long history, under constant threat of domination by foreign forces,Armenians became fierce protectors of their culture and tradition. Armenia is a museum under the open sky. It is famous by its ancient monuments and churches. It has the ancient institute of manuscripts.
Matenadaran which has about the half of the 25000 Armenian Manuscripts of the world. The cultural center of Armenia is considered one of the oldest cities of Armenia - Gyumri (the second biggest city in Armenia) which suffered from the devastating earthquake in 1988 that killed 25 thousand people and left 400 000 people homeless. The disaster caused also psychological disorders among the population which became the core of my researches.

The examination of the ethno-psychological consequences of disasters is a complex and deep problem, It contains ethnological inversions of huge importance frorn the point of view of the psychology demonstrated by people on the borderline, as weil as interpersonal relations, and ernotional feelings of people affected by the disaster. The study of disaster psychology calls for scientific-theoretical and practical solutions, interpretations and fundamental presuimptions that concern not only the national understanding, of the phenomenon, but also the activities of social and spiritual reliabilitation in great masses of the population of post-earthquake regions.

The issue of studying the psychological consequences of disaster is demonstrated in a peculiar characteristic. It is demonstrated by the nature of national predictions of disaster in their ethnological mentality and imaginations. Dreams, forecasts and signs that involved natural phenomena that predicted disaster were registered immediately after the earthquake.

Their classification has been carried out according to the demonstration of sex and age peculiarities, social groups, the psychological condition of the people. nature of their psychological feelings, forms of social-psychological interactions, of their social stances and expectations.

Considering the psychological interpretation of the registered dreams (around 1000 dreams) we have found out that, the latter dreams are not merely the expressions of the psychological condition, predictions and feelings of the inner stances of a suffered person, but the clearly reflect the folk imaginations, the forms of folk mentality, the peculiarities of ethnological culture, rituals, custoins and habits. However, we view the dream as a form of folk mentality, an aspect of ethno-psychological culture, an expression of extreme psychological condition. The expressions of verbal activities of folk meintality. the emotional feelings in the behavior of the nation are mainly directed to the restoration of the stability of psychological relative balance.

Dream images can appear in different combinations. It is natural that not all the modes of folk, faith and imaginative prediction tend to transmission, therefore the demand of attributing additional characteristics to the objects raises, in this case the ohject stops bearing its initial denomination. That is why people use the dream symbolism to interpret their dreams.

The simple symbols are absorbed in the imagination of population in such a way that their interpretation is not a big problem (the dreamers are more or less aware of the meanings). In all cases, the most traditional and absorbed modes of folk imagination are transferred.

Taking into consideration the cultural orientation, the regional peculiarities, the traditional fortified habits, the sex and age characteristics of the nation and the details of the personal life, we can say that the nature of predictions depends on the level of assimilation of symbols and signs.

During the natural and historical development process, and in people's personal lives, the person absorbs the national cultural traditional models.

For example : in one case the method of foretelling can include a simple and known sign system, in other case, an unknown system or sign which dragged out of the dream context for interpreting. In this case the perception of the semantic field of the images is also prioritized. While transferring into the speech level the visual images are distorted and due to this fact, the emotional attitude of the dreamer changes. While experiencing the dream verbally, the dream construction tends to change in certain ways, depending on what the person emphasizes and considers most important. From the other side, the dream world is discussed in the general daily activities of the person, as an element which describes the general situation.

The interpretation of dreams becomes extremely difficult when we are looking at it as in integral part of life and a vital continuation. Even in this short spiritual being there are stabile landmarks that need to be understood and interpreted. As far as the dreams that contain death symbols are more studied, below we will discuss the so-called "typical" group of dreams.

Dreams describing the death of a close relative give an impression about death and about an expression of an over-tensed spiritual suffering.

In most of the dreams about death the opportunity of after-death existence is explored, which can be interpreted as an organic reaction. In the studied dreams, the acceptance of the idea of death is a way of struggle.

At the same time it is the continuation of the earthly life. We are not separated from the dead, they are here with us, but we lose the ability to see them.

Coming out of the written materials, we also consider the dreams which foretell the death of beloved and close relatives to be typical. These dreams relate to the inflamed and acutely expressed emotional condition of the person. The context of these dreams sometimes directly or indirectly expresses the real sufferings of the dreamer.

Nevertheless, we are interested in the ways the dreamer interprets his/her dreams, the symbols that he/she separates or how he/she makes predictions.

In the typical dreams the often repeated symbols of loss, grief and horror are known to the dreamer from national fables, ritual traditions, and oral narrations. According to the nationaI books of dream interpretation, these symbols are similar in meaning.

The distinguishing feature of symbols indicating death is dependent on the peculiarities of the individual perception, i.e. the dreamer can prescribe personal characteristics to the symbols based on his/her vital knowledge and criteria.

While clarifying the constructional process of the dreams, let's analyze the dreams in the following directions :

1. How and what meaning the dreamer prescribes to his/her dreams while using the dream interpreting books and already-known interpretations. In other words, the main issue of the dreamer is to interpret his/her own dream according to the ethno-cultural criteria.

2. The psychological interaction and the manifestation of the interpretation methods during the communication process of the dreamer and the dream interpreter. The necessity of the various retellings of the same dream.

ln some structures, the phenomena of dream foretelling are viewed as follows :

1 . Dreamer (Individual typological peculiarities);

2. Plot of the dream (pre-disaster and post-disaster, contextual signs, symbols, structural peculiarities of the dream);

3. Interpretation of the dreamer (the interpretation of the dream according to private imaginations);

4. Dream interpreter - attendee (level of historical cultural evolution, the level of psychological influence on the dreamer, the interpretation of the dream images according to the life experience of the interpreter);

5. Book of dream interpretation (interpretation of dreams according to folk studies, folk traditional explanations of the universal and national symbols).

The first basic type of dreams relates to the symbols of epiphany, church, and cross.

The dreams that include these kinds of symbols are interpreted by the dreamer according to his/her religious preparedness. The dreamer, who communicates more, takes the epiphany as a dream-foretelling factor and during the next retelling completes its sense by accepting it.

Even the epiphany (or the saints, relies that relates them) is not present among the pictures of the dream, the dreamer recalls the power of his/her saint during the dream interpretation. M. L. ( 1-27), a dreamer, tells : "No one from my family died in the earthquake, because of the power of my saint".

Let's analyze this.

"The sky was very dark. Suddenly the clouds stepped back and a woman appeared. In my dream, someone was telling me that it was Lady Mary. The two fingers of her left hand were on her forehead, the two fingers of her right hand were on her chin. She was making signs to me, but I could not understand. She was gliding forward though the black clouds. Suddenly she appeared under a black cloud, there was a black coffin in front of her. The coffin was moving towards me. I was in terror. I screamed and woke up from my own scream."

The type of context of the dream - the appearance of Lady Mary in the black sky.

1. Main symbols - black sky, the symbol of appearance of Lady Mary, her movernent into the black clouds, the black coffin that was moving towards the dreamer.
a. Color symbol - black
b. Signs -- making signs with two fingers on forehead and chin.
2. The sex and age peculiarities of the dreamer, the loss : age group 5, the son perished.
3. The interpretation of the dreamer "I think that Lady Mary with her four fingers was showing me the time that I did not understand ( I saw the dream 4 days before the earthquake), the symbol of coffin symbolizing the death of Jesus - son, as Lady Mary also lost her son".
4. The sex and age characteristics of the dream interpreter - age group 7, the dream was interpreted using the book of dream interpreting and adding his/her own interpretations according to which the appearance of Lady Mary in dreams is kind, although the symbol is an augury of death.

According to the religious contemplation the miracle of epiphany in dreams is not only impossible and improbable but is a conviction in which the will of superior powers is manifested.

"The individualization and mystics of the religious life helps to create relations God and the soul that he saved".

We do not speak about the religious ecstasy or fanaticism, but during the epiphany divine pictures appear and communicate with the dreamer in the form of monologue or dialogue.

According to this comprehensive approach, the epiphany is a picture or a group of pictures, or a symbolizing subject or phenomenon. In such dreams sometimes the Saint is entirely visible or its essential part appears which recalls its whole picture. This foretells or indicates something to the dreamer. In this kind of dreams Jesus, Saints, the Lord's Angel are partially visible or sometimes you can hear a Divine voice. The dreamers can see Divine signs which are endowed with a great psychological energy that lead the dreamers and strengthen their religious faith.

There is a recorded group of dreams which relates to epiphany. In these dreams there is a dialogue between the dreamer and God or the divine person.

2.299. "I was either sleeping or awaken, and I had a dream. A Divine voice was calling me to Heaven. There was a blinding light; I was slowly flying up, leaving Armenia beneath. Everything was alloyed to the light, only the Temple of Etchmiadzin was seen. The higher I flew, the smaller the temple became, the louder the Divine voice sounded. At the very end only the dome remained, which gradually changed into light". (Haikaz Stepanyan, born in 1960, a poet)

In the dream due to the strength of his faith only Holy Etchmiadzin was preserved in which the dreamer trusts.

2.261. "I was in the army during the earthquake. I had not seen my relatives for around two years. I lost my mother and sister during the December earthquake. By the time I reached home, they were both buried. In a few days I returned back to my rnilitary service." Araik Torosyan, born in 1964, says, "at night, as if a Divine voice woke me up, a strong ray of blue light fell into the room from the window. I saw my mother's face in the light; in the depth I saw the face of Lady Mary. I heard my mother's voice; "Look ! Here's my mother", I said. Then I asked about my sister. My mother went away, and then glided back holding my sister's head under her arm. Her head was flat like a fish-head (in the position in which she was found out of the destroyed building.) Then my mother gave me some advice,. she held her hands towards me and said, "I missed you, I couldn't help and come ..."

According to the above-mentioned examples, one of the characteristic peculiarities of the dream is that another world opens up before the eyes of the dreamer's spirit; all in light, clean imagery, a relative world.

By their nature, content and components, cases of epiphany in dreams are very alike - light, voice, signs related to the nature of God, image of Christ embodiment, lightened cross, flamy column.

The second basic type is the group of dreams summarizing symbols of home, hearth and threshold. In the relation between part and whole, these symbols introduce a series of synonyms, although the word meaning difference in the dream imagination, the comprehensions like door, threshold, hearth, appear as a general semantic wholeness according to the meaning of the habit of reality. In other cases, thought, a widening, movement or re-accession of semantic field of the mentioned symbols is possible (See 3 a). For example, the symbol of a destroyed house is covered by another symbol; an image is viewed, which anticipates the approaching calamity. It is worth mentioning the appearance of the dead mother, as the constant guarding spirit of the hearth, or the appearance of a symbol similar in its meaning.

Example :

1.26. "My father's house was in Dzori district, on a high dam. I dreamed of my mother that had passed away; she was standing on the threshold with her arms held up. She wore black, she was dark and sad, as if she was a fog. I passed by, I wanted to speak to her - she dropped such a glance on me that I held my tongue and did not approach her.

The interpretation of the dream : in reality my father's house was not destroyed. My mother protected the house, she didn't let it get destroyed. (Gyuonjian Siran, born in 1922, a sister in-law in a Gyumri Family).

The threshold has been accepted among the Armenians as a spirit, from here the idea of "bringing (fertile) thresholds" and the faithful worship of the threshold is derived.

"Under an infertile threshold amulets are buried, a thorn is hung above the door, if those means do not help, in order to make the threshold "fertile", they wall the door up and open an entrance from another place. (Ethnological magazine, book 17th, 1908, n° I, page 90).

People in their everyday traditions use evil-annihilating means in order to preserve the threshold from hoodoo (evil eye).

"If the threshold is hoodooed, they bury a beef or sheep eye under the threshold, they hammer a pigeon's eye, blow it up or hit by a needle and bury under the threshold." (K. S., from my records).

If even there was no church, the candle was lit at the threshold. The troubles of the family and the kin were refered to the influence of the threshold. People mean the members of the family by saying threshold; all those who cross the threshold.

1. 96. "In my dream I saw my dead husband. He came and lied on the threshold, he would not get up. I was holding him and taking up, but he lied again. (Varduhi Simonyan, born in 1943, she lost her mother and brother during earthquake).

1 57. "In my dream I was as if beaten by my threshold. I could not enter the house. The door was kicking my face. I said, oh my God, what has happened to my threshold !"

Interpretation : my house was totally destroyed during the earthquake; the guard spirit of my threshold was offended by the disaster and would not let me in).

The door is an important part of the house. (The folk expressions like door of life, door of fortune are derived from this. The door being damaged or broken down into pieces is a bad sign.)

1.56. "I had a dream on the day of my son's wedding. The door of the house was in two parts; the right part fell down without a sound and broke into two pleces. I woke up and sald, 'Oh my God, what a vicious dream you sent to me !"

Interpretation : I lost my son during the earthquake. It was the image of his downfall at the threshold of his life. (Nahapetyan Silva, born in 1931).

1.92. "In my dream I constructed a house of red tuff. As if I had already constructed and finished it, but whoever looked at it would say : "Why there are two stones missing ?" Then my grandmother went and brought two stones, putting them into their places. The stones turned into black. (Stepanyan Rosa, born in 1960, her father and brother died at the earthquake.)

The idea of house, hearth is preserved in the dream, but the loss of the family members is illustrated by a depressing symbolism (two stones missing). In general, the symbol with negative coloring (black), referring to the part or the whole, as an objective characteristic, expresses the meaning of its being disrupted, destroyed or being grievous, if it is a person.

The tradition of converging the formulaic-symbol of ceiling and column to the idea-symbol of grandfather, father, son (the male origin that ensures the continuation of the hearth), is acting and behavioral in the folk psychology.

1.131. "I dreamed that the ceiling of our house was made of columns and beams. It was constantly leaking tiny, thin and muddy drops. I asked my brother :"Karapet jan (dear), what can I do, how can I cover the roof, by wood or by stone ? (Nazarian Paistar, born in 1939, a worker, who lost her 27 year old son).

1.52. We live in an old Gyumri house. The ceiling is "hazarashen" (constructed of small pieces of wood from inside). In my dream two stones fell into the house from the edge of the roof. It was not raining outside, but it was raining inside; drop-drop. The Saints of my house were standing there and crying, they said, "Where should we go ?"

The interpretation of my dream : the water is a message, drops are tears. My two sons died in the earthquake. After my sons were taken (I think that the the water took them away), my Saints have not appeared any more. I have only evil dreams, a sword or a saber; I can not get close to my God. (Manik Ghazarian, born in 1920. "I have carried Christ's cross").

The interpretation or the prediction of the dreamer is right, it is pin-point, the mentioned symbol-meanings are known to her as basic symbols. They are not about something, but her hearth, house, threshold, which are the inseparable parts of the dreamer's life, and the person knows the interpretation without any external mediation.

Another dreamers tells.

1.76. "I dreamed that I wanted to enter my house, I could not find the door, I was astonished and looked this way, the other way, and saw that our door was walled. I ran to my brother's house and saw that their door is also walled, by black and shiny
stones. I said : "My brother, how should we enter ?" He kept silence, and stared at me. (Eghiazarian Margo, born in 1928, is not married, she lost her nephew (brother's son)).

In colloquial speech, formulas of negative wishes saying things like, "May your house be destroyed" and "May your house walled in black stone" are still popular.

The symbolism that is formulated in colloquial speech becomes a solid contextual image in dreams (a door walled by black, shiny stones).

As far as those symbols are ascertained in folk psychology, the dreamers rarely turn to the interpretations of books of dream interpretation, but rely on their personal experience.

The idea of a geographical and spiritual homeland is ascertained in the cumulative memory of the Armenian nation because of its historical faith. The modern nation maintains customary cultural models of loss and is contravening it.

In its direct meaning, the nation has lost its home. This probably signifies the fixed nature of symbolism. The real symbol that is transferred into the dream world by the same meaning becomes a relatively solid customary encasement.

The dreams containing symbols like salt and bread form a separate basic type.

As with many other nations, Armenians also consider the salt to be sacred. The salt was kept in sacred plots as basic spice. The beliefs relating to it have mythological origins, e.g. before sacrificing an animal; they fed it with salt (as a consolation to the sacrifice victim). This ritual was incorporated into Christianity and is used until today. Other of the many forms of salt utilization include baptizing children with salt, washing the hands of women that have taken part in a child-delivery process with salty water, etc.

Worship of salt has been expressed by using women-like clay plots for keeping salt which, according to different external indicators, expresses different physiological conditions of women: virginity, pregnancy, labor pains, and delivery.

Even the salt-bag of the animals was hung on the wall, which probably contained the meaning of an amulet. (140,17).

The significance of the objective worship of the salt and bread is evidenced by the following colloquial idioms : to cut (taste) salt and bread, salt and bread is powerful, to betray salt and bread, a brother of salt and bread, bended by salt and bread, a person with salt and bread. It appears also in the formulas of swearing : "this salt and bread are evident". "if I lie, let my eyes be blinded while looking at this bread", etc. When it moves to the area of dream-mentality, it turns into a symbolisin that bears vital meaning. According to folk life knowledge, salt is mourning, it is scalding. (20, 16)

In everyday life they do not pour salt into one's hands. They put it on the ground for others, to take it. The context is not to harm the other person.

The following dreams are symbolic :

1.326. I dreamed that I had labor pains. My voice reached the heaven, and it reached the earth. The child was born, a girl weighing seven kg. When they brought the child to show me, the girl got smaller and smaller, and turned into a palm of rock-salt. (Her daughter died in the earthquake.)

1.346. I dreamed that my dead daughter brought rock-salt in a big sack. I said, "Take it away; we don't need so much salt". She spread it at the entrance and went away. (Her grandchild's feet were amputated).

A suivre...