In 1968 a devastating earthquake rocked Khorasan province. Some sources estimated the immediate loss of life as between 8,000-12,000. The disaster disrupted life in predictable ways: homes were demolished and people’s livelihood destroyed. Families fell apart, and children were left abandoned by an unforgiving calamity. A moving photograph from these difficult days captures the sheer devastation of this seismic event, as well as its emotional toll on the earthquake’s youngest victims: its children. The heart-rending image of an unnamed boy, tearful and seemingly abandoned amidst a pile of rubble, begs the question: What happened to children and orphans when disasters hit? The earthquake likely injured and mutilated many who survived but lost the ability to use their bodies in full.
Despite its scope, seismic activity was not new to this region of Iran and its borderlands. However, we know little about the impact of such devastation on afflicted families and individuals. This essay explores two complicated but related subjects: the role of children in Iran’s modern history and its connection to discourses about disability and social welfare policies and services. It argues that disasters such as the 1968 earthquake in Khorasan made it difficult, if not impossible, to contemplate the hygienic discourses that tended to focus the conversation about healthcare on prevention of disease, disability and “wholeness.” Calamities, in fact, threw these discourses and vulnerable institutions into chaos. As the response to this disaster showed, local and national authorities struggled to provide the necessary services to ensure the survival of badly affected residents of Khorasan province. Years after the disaster, what became of the abandoned and neglected young victims of this disaster? While acknowledging the challenges of locating first-hand survivor accounts, this essay will attempt to fill in some of these silences by piecing together existing historical sources.