UPDATE: Armenian PM gives green light to exploitation of controversial gold mine
Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said that the results of an international study are conclusive and show that the exploitation of the Amulsar gold mine will not harm the environment.
In a Facebook live feed, Pashinyan said that the waterbeds of the resort town of Jermuk, nearby rivers and Sevan Lake will not be affected by mining activities in the area.
Pashinyan announced that the exploitation of the mine will go ahead unless proof surfaces in the future that proves that gold mining in Amulsar is harmful to the environment.
The prime minister promised that the mine would be exploited per ‘environmental standards that are unprecedented in Armenia.’ He also said that the owners of other mines and deposits oppose its development because they will have to spend millions of dollars to ensure similar standards.
Pashinyan suggested that other mine owners themselves fed the protest against the development of the Amulsar gold mine, and noted that that there was no pressure on the government on this issue, including from foreign partners.
A rally was held earlier today on August 19 in front of the residence of the president of Armenia against the exploitation of the Amulsar gold mine in southern Armenia.
The demonstration also expressed support for the residents of settlements surrounding the gold mine, who came to the capital to meet with the country’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan.
Throughout the day, Nikol Pashinyan discussed the exploitation of the Amulsar mine with all the interested parties, government officials and ruling parliament bloc, My Step.
At one point, the protesters tried to block Baghramyan Avenue, where the prime minister’s meetings were being held, but the police restored traffic by using force.
PM Pashinyan said he would voice his decision concerning the mine in the evening.
Results of meeting with activists
While opponents of the exploitation of the mine demanded that plans to mine gold be abandoned, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met with a number of interested parties in the conflict, including government representatives, environmental activists, residents of settlements close to Amulsar and local regional authorities.
The meeting was not open to the media.
The first to leave the building of the president’s residence where the meeting took place were several environmental activists who left before the meeting came to an end.
Ecologist Anna Shahnazaryan stated that the aim of the meeting did not seem to be to listen to the public’s opinions and come to a common denominator, since Pashinyan alone spoke for more than 30 minutes since the start of the meeting.
“What Pashinyan said was not rational,” said Anna Shahnazaryan.
Shahnazaryan says that the PM “turned the results of the examination upside down”, referring to the results of a study conducted by the Lebanese company Elard, which was commissioned to carry out a comprehensive examination of whether the development of the mine may pose risks to the environment.
Elard’s study was published on August 15, and in short said that the exploitation of the Amulsar gold mine does not entail “uncontrollable risks.”
However, some environmentalists and activists disagreed with this conclusion of the study.
Therefore, a meeting was organized between the prime minister and the inhabitants of the region where the mine is located.
Ani Khachatryan, another activist who left the presidential residence before the meeting ended, added that the fight against the exploitation of the field will continue:
“Amulsar will not be exploited! Amulsar will remain a mountain [ed. the second root word in the name of the mine – “sar” – means “mountain” in Armenian].”
The same slogan was written on posters that activists of the movement brought to the presidential residence. Periodically, they chanted the slogan while the meeting with the prime minister was being held.
After this meeting, Pashinyan went to parliament to discuss the issue with the ruling bloc My Step.
Protesters also went to parliament and tried to block the avenue, which houses both the National Assembly and the presidential residence. But the police restored traffic by using force. Six activists were detained.
About the mine
Amulsar mine is the second largest gold deposit in Armenia, and contains about 31 tonnes of ore and 40 tonnes of pure gold.
Lydian Armenia discovered the gold mine back in 2005.
Up until 2012, the company was looking for investors and was developing a mine development programme.
The same year Lydian Armenia and the Armenian government signed an agreement to develop and exploit the mine, and the company received the right to proceed with the project.
Protests against the development of the mine began in 2011. They were attended by residents of surrounding settlements and environmentalists, who said that gold mining in the area could have a negative impact on the environment of the city of Jermuk, Lake Sevan and local rivers.
The initiative group ‘Jermuk will not become a mine’ was created at the time.
In 2012, the collection of signatures against the development of the mine began.
Activists repeatedly blocked the attempts of the mining company to approach the mine with heavy equipment. In 2018, they were able to have work at the mine suspended.
The Investigative Committee of Armenia then opened a case looking into environmental damage, for which an international assessment carried out by Elard was commissioned.
Several days ago after the release of Elard’s report, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that mining would continue, given the report’s findings.
“If it is true that operating the mine is safe for Sevan and the Jermuk water system, then the project will be implemented. However, if there is a threat, I, as the Prime Minister, will not be able to permit its operation regardless of anything.”
As a result, the examination concluded that the development of the mine does not contain “uncontrolled risks”. That is, the government had the go ahead to allow gold mining at Amulsar to resume.
Will another study be carried out?
The government of Armenia does not see grounds to commission a new examination, the prime minister’ s spokesman Vladimir Karapetyan said, adding that the PM’s meetings and discussions with activists are ‘transparent.’
Environmentalists do not agree with the results of the examination. They suggest that the government is turning a blind eye to environmental issues in order to avoid litigation with Lydian Armenia.
The company wrote on its official Facebook that Lydian Armenia’s operations comply with international norms and standards.
“Lydian Armenia’s actions comply with all international standards, and often surpass them. This is evidenced by the conclusion of the comprehensive examination.”
According to the head of the company Edward Sellers, Lydian provided all possible assistance to the experts who conducted the examination:
“Experts gave their professional assessment on the basis of the data received, and their findings are consistent with the opinion of other international experts.”
Why is the Amulsar mine so important
The Lydian company received the right to exploit the Amulsar mine after signing one of the largest investment packages in the history of independent Armenia.
The structure announced a figure of 325 million dollars, and said 1,300 people would be involved in construction work, and that 770 jobs would be available during the operation stage.
The development of the mine, according to the company’s estimates, should provide an annual growth rate of 1.4% or $185 million for Armenia’s GDP.
Export figures, according to preliminary estimates, could reach up to $286 million per year.
Social media reactions
Armenian Facebook users are actively discussing the issue.
Users appear divided into two camps: some write that the mine will destroy the environment, and that Nikol Pashinyan is not living up to their hopes, since he does not oppose its development. Here are some of the comments:
“Fools! They mine and sell gold with Nikol!”
“I demand the resignation of the follower of Serzh!” [ed. Serzh Sargsyan is the former president of Armenia]
“Nikol, go away! Amulsar will remain a mountain!”
“So nothing has changed …”
“Only those who do not understand the full extent of the danger, can advocate for the development of the mine, and secondly those who are ready to sell their own wealth, their homeland for a couple of cents, even at the expense of their health and the health of the next generation.”
Others, on the contrary, believe that activists are unnecessarily turning the issue into a conflict, as experts do not see big risks in the case of developing the mine. These users expresses full confidence in the head of government:
“The decision of Nikol Pashinyan is important for us, because the Prime Minister is on the side of the people!”
“Protesters, you said two years ago that Amulsar is your salvation, because you are provided with work thanks to the mine?!”
“The leader of our country thinks about people and about the country. If necessary, Amulsar will be developed, if not, it won’t.”