Details from the PM’s four-hour press conference – what to do with the controversial gold mine, how to resolve the Karabakh conflict and the resignation of the country’s second most powerful official
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made a number of surprising statements at a four-hour press conference in the third largest city of Vanadzor yesterday on September 16.
The most shocking statement was his announcement that the head of the National Security Service Artur Vanetsyan has resigned.
Moreover, the PM practically confirmed his intention to allow the development of Amulsar gold mine to go forward despite public protest.
He also presented ‘100 achievements of the administration’ since the most recent press conference.
National Security Service head resigns
During the press conference, the PM announced that the head of the National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan, had resigned.
President Armen Sarkissian had released Vanetsyan from his position as the press conference was taking place.
The PM refused to share details on why Vanetsyan had decided to resign, stating that this was not a topic “to be discussed publicly.”
“Several scenarios of what will happen next for Vanetsyan were discussed. At the moment, he will most likely focus on leading Armenia’s football team to finals in Europe. [Ed. Vanetsyan is also president of the national football league of Armenia]”, Pashinyan said.
Immediately following Pashinyan’s announcement, Vanetsyan posted on his Facebook about his resignation:
“I believe this decision, given the current situation and future context, is the most desirable and reasonable for my service to Armenia… Spontaneous decision making, the chaos around decisions and not prioritizing properly one thing over another will not achieve anything.
This does not reflect the dignity of the office. An officer’s position is not compatible with such a process of decision-making. Let my resignation be a wake-up call, and in all other cases duty to one’s country will prevail. I desire peace and security for our country”, he wrote.
As journalists did not raise the question of his resignation during the press conference, Pashinyan commented thus:
“There was never a time when Vanetsyan said that he had any issues with the dignity of the office and position. I do not understand what he means.”
Vanetsyan was in his position for a year and four months.
On Amulsar – “Armenia will turn into a black hole on the economic map of the world”
The journalists’ first questions were in regards to the development of the Amulsar gold mine. There have been protests in Armenia over the gold mine for more than a year. Ecologists and those living close to the mine have demanded the government put a stop to its development. They are concerned that 100 tonnes of sodium cyanide will be used every year to mine the gold.
The Armenian government recently paid 400,000 dollars for an environmental impact assessment of the mine.
In response to the question of whether it was a waste of money if the experts did not give an honest assessment, Pashinyan replied:
“400 thousand dollars was spent to understand the impact of the mine; I don’t think this was a waste of money.”
After the experts provided the results of the assessment, the PM immediately posted on Facebook that the mine must be allowed to operate. He reiterated that position during the press conference.
If I put a stop to the development of the mine, international organisations will ask me:
“Why have you not closed other gold mines, such as Zangezurskiy and Sotskiy, down? And suddenly they’ll decide that the Amulsar project, which is much better at this project stage, and which is one of the largest investment projects, should be closed. Armenia will turn into a black hole on the economic map of the world.”
As for the road to the mine, which is still blocked by residents of the settlements around Amulsar, the PM stated that the administrative court has issued an order to unblock it.
The PM once again underscored that if the ‘Lydian’ company, with the permit to develop the mine, cannot ensure that its operations will be safe, it will be closed.
“My position and the government’s position is to always reveal the truth. The truth leads us to one or the other decision. And the public should not be manipulated.”
On the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh
The PM commented on his own speech “Astrakh is Armenia. End of story,” given at a meeting in Stepanakert on 5 August.
The head of the government also recalled another one of his declarations in which he stated that any resolution to the conflict should be acceptable to the people of Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan:
“I was the first leader of Armenia with such a position, a position acceptable to the Azerbaijani public. We expect Azerbaijan to respond in kind, but that still has yet to happen. Instead, they take a maximalist approach, even though in the Minsk Group discussion, the status could be different, even outside Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s position is that the decision can only be made in accordance with the country’s territorial integrity, and so if that is their response, ours will be – “Artsakh is Armenia. End of story.”
Pashinyan emphasised that he is ready to continue negotiations, but Armenia and Karabakh will not make concessions under pressure and with threats:
“We are open to constructive negotiations. We want to reach an agreement, and not appear to be just working on one.”
About a ‘new’ Armenia
During his speech, Pashinyan also presented economic indicators. First, he announced GDP growth, which for the first seven months of 2019, compared with that time period last year, was 6.8 percent.
In addition, according to Pashinyan, tax revenue increased by 25 percent. The post-revolution government prides itself on the fact that after assuming power in May 2018, 66,037 jobs have been created.
Positive dynamics being observed (% growth)
• Industry – 4%
• Construction – 5%
• Trade – 9%
• Average wage – 5.9%
Successes in the tourism industry
Pashinyan spoke about success in the tourism industry, which has experienced 12.8 percent growth. In the first half of 2019, more tourists started to come from Germany, China, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Central bank data show that in 2019, including Augusts, tourists spent 200 million dollars more than in the previous year.
From January to June 2019, the percentage of tourists staying in hotels grew to 60 percent. The PM explained:
“If in the first half of 2018, 20 percent of tourists who arrived in the country stayed in hotels, that is approximately 140,000 people. Then in January to June of this year, this figure was about 29 percent or more than 222,000 people in hotels.”