Environmental protest in Armenian turning into political stand-off
An environmental protest in Armenia is growing into a political issue as activists claim that the government is turning a blind eye to what they say is a problematic gold mine near the resort town of Jermuk.
The Investigative Committee of Armenia published the results of an analysis of the operations of the Amulsar gold mine on August 14: the committee concluded that the exploitation of the mine will not harm the environment, while environmentalists still beg to differ.
Gold mining operations in the area will resume once the government gives the final green light.
Environmentalists say that the government is ignoring the issue in order to avoid litigation with the company that has mining rights in the area.
Ruling party My Step representative Hayk Georgian responded to these allegations on a 1in.am broadcast, stating the issue of developing the mine was politicised a year ago, after the Velvet Revolution of spring 2018 in Armenia.
“The problems [surrounding the mine] started 10 years ago, but neither the population nor the environmentalists took any steps at that time.
The issue was politicised a year ago when [residents of settlements located near the mine] blocked the road to the mine and did not allow development plans to go forward. From that moment on, the issue became political. Before that it was environmental.”
Lebanese company Elard, which conducted the examination, states that gold mining at the Amulsar mine does not pose ‘uncontrollable risks.’
It noted that the groundwater in the area is not a part of the same subterranean water system as the waters of Jermuk, Kechutsk reservoir and Lake Sevan.
This means that harmful substances produced as a result of gold mining will not get into these water bodies, which was the point argued by the mine’s main opponents.
The concern is that the Lidian Armenia company, which received a license to operate the Amulsar mine, will use approximately 100 tonnes of sodium cyanide per year during its gold mining operations.
The committee also concluded that the water bodies will not mix even in the event of an earthquake.
However, the analysis does not assess the impact of the mine on the Vorotan, Darb and Arpa rivers, but states that the environmental protection measures guaranteed by the mine operating company Lydian Armenia should be sufficient to prevent any possible environmental damage.
The results of the analysis also state that gold mining will not have a significant negative impact on the air quality in the area. Moreover, the authors of the analysis conclude that further measures may mitigate the mine’s impact on the environment.
On the mine and Lydian Armenia
The Amulsar mine is the second largest gold deposit in Armenia.
It is located 13 kilometers from the resort town of Jermuk and is located between the rivers Arpa and Vorotan. The deposit contains about 31 tonnes of ore and 40 tonnes of pure gold.
Lydian Armenia found the gold mine back in 2005.
Up until 2012, the company was seeking investors and developing a programme to exploit the mine. That same year, Lydian Armenia and the former government signed an agreement on the development of the mine and the company received the right to operate.
Why was the study carried out?
The need for an independent, comprehensive examination of the operations of the Amulsar mine was brought up after the change of power in Armenia in the spring of 2018.
Opponents of the mine hoped that the new government would be sympathetic to their qualms with the mine.
However, protests against the mine’s exploitation began long before that – back in 2011. They were attended by residents of surrounding settlements and environmentalists, who said that gold mining could have a negative impact on the environment of the city of Jermuk, Lake Sevan and several nearby rivers.
At the time, an initiative group was formed called ‘Jermuk will not become a mine.’
In 2012, the initiative began collecting signatures against the mine. Activists repeatedly blocked the entrance to the mine and impeded on work in the area.
And in 2018, they achieved the suspension of gold mining operations.
In the same year, the Investigative Committee of Armenia opened a case looking into whether the mine was harming the environment.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan previously stated that the mine would continue to be exploited if an analysis concluded that the mine was not causing damage to the environment.
“If it is concluded that mine is safe for the Sevan and 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.”
Environmentalists protest in front of government administration building
Opponents of the development of the Amulsar mine held a rally outside the government building on the morning of August 15 – the day after the Investigative Committee announced the results of the examination.
The participants argue that the statements of the Investigative Committee on the environmental impact of the field’s operation are ‘manipulative’, and that the Investigative Committee only selected expert opinions that play in their favour.
Anna Shahnazaryan, representative of the “Armenian Ecological Front” civic initiative, believes that the environmental impact assessment was incomplete, and the development permit was issued on the basis of false data:
“Approval of a development project on this basis is illegal. The environmental impact assessment was incomplete, a new assessment needs to be made.”
Participants of the protest rally held up posters with different inscriptions:
“Examination proved that ecologists are right”,
“Based on the assessment of Elard, Lydian should be deprived of permission.”
The protesters demanded that five people be allowed to attend a government meeting to present a real picture of the development of the Amulsar gold mine.
They tried to gain access to the meeting room, but the police did not allow them to pass.
Lydian Armenia approves of results
Lydian International interim president and CEO Edward Sellers commented on the findings of the report, and said the result was expected.
The company is pleased that “a difficult year for thousands of direct and indirect beneficiaries of the Amulsar project has ended … since the Armenian government has repeatedly stated that Lydian will be able to continue the work of the Amulsar programme depending on the results of the examination.”
Sellers also stated:
“Now we must familiarise ourselves with the full text of the conclusion … We are also pleased to find out that [given the conclusion], there is no reason to prosecute or institute criminal proceedings.”
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.