“Lake Sevan and the city of Jermuk are in danger due to mining”: Armenian environmentalists
Amulsar mine in Armenia
“The Amulsar gold mine will be put into use,” Armenian Minister of Economy Vahan Kerobyan said on February 22. A few hours later, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Armenian government, the Eurasian Development Bank, and Lydian Armenia. By obtaining the right to operate the mine, the company will transfer 12.5% of its shares to the Armenian government.
Ecologists and residents of the territories closest to the mine have been fighting against the exploitation of the deposit for several years. In 2018, the investigative committee of Armenia opened a case on suspicion of causing harm to the environment. The government ordered an international expert team from the Lebanese company ELARD (Earth link & Advanced Resources Development).
After a year of research, the company published a conclusion that the development of the Amulsar field does not contain “unmanaged risks” for the environment. But it turned out that the ELARD experts had relied on studies previously conducted by local structures.
Ecologist Silva Adamyan said that the risks had not been fully calculated. According to her, it is obvious that if the mine is put into operation, the city of Jermuk and Lake Sevan, located next to the mine, “will be lost to Armenia as resort areas.”
The license to operate the Amulsar gold mine belongs to the American-British company Lydian Armenia. At a meeting of the parliamentary commission on economic issues, Minister Vahan Kerobyan recalled that the government has “long-standing obligations” toward this mine.
“Today we are signing a $250 million package that will allow us to reopen the mine,” the minister said.
Since Armenia receives 12.5% of the company’s shares, Vahan Kerobyan was asked if the government buys these shares. The Economy Minister said no.
Pashinyan's powder keg – why the Armenian gov’t can’t solve the issue of the Amulsar goldmine
After a year-long break, the fight between activists, ecologist and the company Lydian Armenia for the gold-mine hills has started once again. There can be no compromise. The government has taken to waiting them out.
The Amulsar gold deposit is located on the border of the Vayots Dzor and Syunik regions of Armenia, regions considered a resort area.
The mine operation project is one of the largest investment projects in Armenia. Lydian Armenia planned to open it from 2018, but environmentalists and residents of nearby settlements held protests and closed the roads leading to the mine.
The Amulsar mine is located in the valley of the Arpa and Vorotan rivers. Environmentalists have raised concerns that gold mining will pollute their waters. This, in turn, will affect the ecosystem of Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater lake in Armenia, with which they communicate. Irreparable damage will be done to the mineral springs of Jermuk. Cyanide is used to separate the precious metal from the ore.
To study the situation, the Armenian government provided $400,000 to the ELARD company, but did not receive a qualified answer. Meanwhile, Lydian said that all risks have been calculated and the danger to the environment minimized. The last protests took place in August 2020. After the Karabakh war, the issue of the mine fell out of discussion.
The situation in the mining industry
In 2022, 10% of state budget revenues were provided by the mining industry. The head of the Union of Miners and Metallurgists of Armenia, Vardan Jganyan, told reporters:
“In 2022, about 2 trillion drams [$5 billion] in revenues, unprecedented in the history of Armenia, were received. About 10% of this amount was provided by the mining industry, about 200 billion drams [$500 million].”
According to Jganyan, such revenues are not expected in 2023 due to a number of reasons, including export duties set on metal concentrates and the exchange rate of the dram:
“But in the coming years, when productivity increases, we expect that there will be the same high tax revenues.”
According to the head of the Union of Miners and Metallurgists of Armenia, the main product in the country is copper concentrate, which also contains gold and ferromolybdenum. According to him, China has always been the main market for copper concentrate, and the European market for ferromolybdenum, a small part was exported to Russia.
On February 22, in Parliament, deputies asked the Minister of Economy questions about the decline in the mining industry index. He confirmed the decline in income. Vahan Kerobyan stated that the country “is striving to change the structure of the economy so that mining does not become the dominant industry, but the goal is not to reduce income at all.”
“The decrease was due to the shutdown of the second large mine, Teghout. The owner and partners were subject to sanctions. The company was unable to carry out its activities. We are working with them to find solutions to reopen the mine,” he said.
JAMnews spoke to environmentalist Silva Adamyan as she and a group of other environmentalists gathered outside the government building. She said that the decision came as a surprise, and environmentalists learned about it only after the Minister of Economy ad hmade a statement:
“For many years we all fought, each environmental group, to the best of its ability. We had a serious expert group that fought against the exploitation of the mine and transmitted data about it to the government. Today, as you can see, nothing has been taken into account; the document has been signed.”
SAdamyan says that “the decision was made by the prime minister of the country, he is the head of the country,” which is why they gathered in front of the government building. According to Adamyan, environmentalists will publish a joint statement on this in the near future.
“We will lose Jermuk as a resort. Jermuk is one of those places where the extraction of any minerals is clearly unacceptable. When they say, you know, we have very advanced technologies, we will minimally pollute the environment, it is clear to us that this will not happen.”
From 2016 to June 2021, Silva Adamyan and three other experts conducted risk studies at the Amulsar mine.
She believes that there are risks associated with deep groundwater which “have not been fully calculated.” This may have a harmful effect on Lake Sevan.
“We talked about the fact that deep water research was of insufficient quality. We were told that they would conduct tests again, bring new documents. But nothing was done. We are worried that there will be problems with Lake Sevan, but there is no clear information to find out how serious the damage will be.”
Adamyan hopes that it is still possible to change the situation. In her opinion, protests can play a role even after the signing of the document.
Amulsar mine will be operated