Son of former U.S. President George Bush and brother of U.S. President George W. Bush, former Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush (official name is John) brought humanitarian aid to Armenians together with his 12-year-old son George after the devastating Spitak earthquake in 1988. At that time, he was a 35-year-old real estate developer.
In one of his interviews given afterwards, Jeb Bush said that it was “probably the greatest Christmas gift that I could give myself or my own”.
Excited but reserved
Levon Shahzadeyan who accompanied the guests during the visit told Mediamax how the newly elected U.S. President’s son and grandson had come to Armenia.
Levon Shahzadeyan at that time worked in the USSR Foreign Ministry and he got a posting to the UN Secretariat in the U.S.
When the U.S. President’s son’s delegation was going to arrive in Armenia, Moscow suggested that Levon Shahzadeyan accompany Jeb Bush and 12-year-old George.
AmeriCares charity organization was sending aid to Armenia and the guests arrived by one of the cargo planes. AmeriCares was founded by George Bush’s school friend Bob McCauley.
“He was dressed casual and was accompanied by a large group of people from Moscow. Jeb Bush was excited; one could see he was the first international experience. The excitement was perhaps caused by the tragedy: after the quake, many people in Armenia went crazy - it couldn’t but leave him indifferent. On the other hand, the USSR wasn’t a friendly state to the U.S.. Anyways, he was a very reserved person and didn’t show emotions. The child was also quiet as his father”, recalls Levon Shahzadeyan.
Jeb Bush left a surprising impression on Levon Shahzadeyan.
“I still remember his words. I thought at that time: this is how the U.S. President’s son brings up his child.
Photo: Yerekoyan Yerevan
We visited a little boy in hospital whose legs were amputated. When we went in, Jeb Bush looked at the Armenian boy and turned to his son: “Look at him, how handsome a boy he is, what beautiful eyes he has. If he were born in our family he would be your son and the tragedy wouldn’t happen to him”. His words were sincere, not just for the journalists. It was only us in the room: the doctors, Bush, boy and I”.
Little George was entering the hospital rooms, greeting the suffered and handing over Christmas gifts.
“The buildings were destroyed, people walked almost naked and hungry in the streets. The image of the tragedy of the suffered children will always be in my son’s and my memory”, said Jeb Bush in one of his interviews.
After Spitak, they left for Echmiadzin to see the Catholicos of All Armenians and then entered the Cathedral. The church was empty; they sat silently. The accompanying people left not to interfere. Bush and his son were praying for a long time.
“He seemed a good person to me though I got to know him only for a day”, said Levon Shahzadeyan.
“Thousand points of light”
JEB BUSH SEES ARMENIA TRIP AS ONE OF 'THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT'
AP , Associated Press
Dec. 27, 1988 9:21 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Jeb Bush said today that the trip he and his son took to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Armenia exemplified the ''thousand points of light'' his father, President-elect Bush, talked about during the presidential campaign.
''You remember during the campaign my dad did talk in political terms about the thousand points of light,'' said the president-elect's son on NBC-TV's ''Today'' show. ''And this is an example of it,'' he said.
''It's one example of hundreds of things that are occurring in this country and outside this country,'' he said.
Jeb Bush and his son, George, 12, flew to Soviet Armenia Christmas eve on an airlift to deliver toys and medical supplies to victims of the earthquake that struck there three weeks ago. The trip was sponsored by Americares, a Connecticut-based relief organization.
Bush, 35, a Miami real estate developer, said he had talked to his father since he returned from the humanitarian effort and ''he was proud of us and very pleased at the response both in the Soviet Union and in the United States.''
In a separate interview on ''CBS This Morning'' Bush described the hospital visits to children injured in the tragedy as particularly moving and ''something that'll be with him (his son) for the rest of his life.''
''I think he got an appreciation that he is lucky to be living in this country. I think we both came back with that feeling. He got an appreciation of what it is to suffer, to see human tragedy. And I think he grew up by being through that experience,'' Bush said.
Yerevan, Spitak, Karadzor and Echmiadzin
“Yerekoyan Yerevan” (“Evening Yerevan”) newspaper’s 1988 December 28 issue featured “Christmas Gifts” article. Below are some excerpts from it.
Photo: Yerekoyan Yerevan
The son and grandson of U.S. newly elected President George Bush were warmly welcomed by Foreign Minister of Armenian SSR A.Mkrtchyan, Chairman of Children’s Fund of Armenia, USSR People’s Artist E. Hovhannisyan, USSR Foreign Ministry associate V. Sukhodrev and associates of U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
John Bush said: “We brought 40 tons of different items - medical equipment, medicine, toys and children’s food which was donated by AmeriCares Foundation across the whole U.S.. Thousands of people contributed to this noble enterprise. We were in the airplane while the Christmas was celebrated on the earth. I would like everyone in Armenia felt on that day that Armenians’ sorrow was shared by millions of Americans”.
Little George, confused by the attention, says to journalists: “I heard a lot of Armenian children suffered from the earthquake. I wish they forgot a bit what they have been through and feel happy about American children’s Christmas toys”.
John and George Bush stopped at a tent site in Spitak suburbs where a number of American and Armenian workmen were fixing domiciles. After looking at Spitak’s ruins they moved to Karadzor village, which was half in ruins.
Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia, S. Harutyunyan invited John and George Bush to breakfast. Addressing to Bush he expressed gratitude on behalf of the Armenian nation and the authorities to the President of the U.S. and American nation for the condolence and sympathy over the earthquake.
Photo: L. Shahzadeyan’s archive
“Our people will never forget the moral and financial support it got from the American nation over these days of bereavement. The Armenian tragedy became tragedy for soviet nations and the whole world that supported us. This sorrow, becoming an international one, makes us believe once more that people should live in peace for the sake of creation and progress”, he said.
N 3 children’s hospital in Yerevan. The large medical staff had never seen so many wounded, injured, disabled for life children as they had to see over the last 2 weeks. The head doctor of the hospital O. Nazaryan said that more than 600 children were admitted to hospital from Leninakan, Spitak and other places after the earthquake. 2 of them have been sent to Moscow for treatment, many of them have already gone home. Now we have 178 children suffered from the disaster. Doctors from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Vietnam have been treating the patients together with our staff.
We now have 4 American specialists at the hospital who have brought and implanted a couple of “artificial kidneys” facilities.
John and George Bush visited each room, met with the wounded and injured children. Little George said “barev dzez” in Armenian and started handing over the gifts.
U.S. President George Bush’s children were received by Catholicos of All Armenians, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos Vazgen I in his office in the evening.
John and George Bush left Yerevan on December 26.
Legendary Viktor Sukhodrev
Viktor Sukhodrev who was mentioned as “USSR Foreign Ministry associate” in the article, was in fact a legendary man. He was a personal interpreter to Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev.
Viktor Sukhodrev who died in 2014 at the age of 82 had also worked with Anastas Mikoyan, Andrei Gromyko, Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexei Kosygin and other soviet political leaders.
Photo: RIA Novosti
During one of the interviews Viktor Sukhodrev said that he personally knew 8 U.S presidents - D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
It was Sukhodrev that accompanied Anastas Mikoyan to U.S. with the USSR delegation to take part in John F. Kennedy’s funeral.
In his memoirs titled “My Language, My Friend”, Sukhodrev wrote that Mikoyan approached Jacqueline Kennedy after the funeral and expressed his condolence.
“Jacqueline took his hand in hers and I spotted tears in her eyes for the first time over the night:
- Mr. Mikoyan, tell Mr. Khrushchev that my husband was trying to create a strong peace with him. Now Mr. Khrushchev will have to do it by himself, Sukhodrev wrote”.
A friend of Armenians
It’s hard to say if Jeb Bush often remembers his visit to Armenia, but Armenians never forget him.
Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America grants “A friend of Armenians” title to those who had significant contribution to developing relations with Armenia and Armenians. Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida, was conferred on with that title in 2013.
Jeb Bush and his son’s visit to Armenia indeed changed a lot. George Bush’s elder daughter Doro Bush Koch writes in “My Father, My President” book:
- The best thing about that was Gorbachev telling me afterwards that when Jeb went to church in Armenia and shed a tear there, it did more for the U.S.-Russia relationship than anything I could possibly imagine, dad recalled”.
Ara Tadevosyan, Marie Taryan and Gohar Nalbandyan
Mediamax thanks Tigran Liloyan for assistance