Mining Industry in Armenia

Last week I received an email about Lydian International Gold mining company of England that is developing the Amulsar goldmine near Jermug resort town in Armenia.

Jermug is a resort town famous for its hot spring mineral waters, and equally famous Jermug bottled water. (Amul-Sar loosely translated in the Armenian language means “impotent mountain”). My first reaction was what a good “operation” to get an “impotent mountain” to “deliver” gold!.

The article by Armenian Environmental Front  (AEF). http://www.armecofront.net/en/news/connect-the-dots-between-philanthropists-and-miners/ with well-researched links is critical of not only the damage that the mining operation will do to the environment and pollute the waters of Jermug but especially the pollution it will cause to Lake Sevan waters via Arpa/Sevan water tunnel that originates at Jermug.

It was surprising to learn that five wealthy Armenian businessmen/philanthropists from the Armenian Diaspora(s) are major investors in the Amulsar project. These businessmen/philanthropists represent a good cross-section of the Armenian Diaspora(s).

One of them is from Armenia living in London, one from Russia, one from the USA, one from Europe, and one from Canada. All of them are successful businessmen and either board members, or closely associated with, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU).

With this kind of investors (who not only are philanthropists and do charity work in Armenia, but few of them have made major investments in Armenia as well), it will be safe to say that, it is better to have this kind of investors in the project than foreign investors from “friendly” dictatorial countries like Russia and Iran.

The criticism by the environmentalists is more alarmist and the answers that the Amulsar management provided seem to be logical but it does fall in the category of “too good to be true”.

The Minister of Environment of Armenia Artsvig Minassyan (a member of ARF/Tashnagtsootyun that is supposedly a “Socialist” Party!), in an interview with Civil Net TV dated November 26, 2016, is on record saying that, Amulsar has complied with all the legal and environmental requirements and no need to be alarmist.

Since the preparatory work started about 11 years ago around 2006 and the actual mining work is just getting underway, it will be prudent and more effective if the residents of Jermug and surrounding areas do get organized and monitor the mining process and be vocal about any damage it will cause not only for their health and daily lives but also for a very long time after the mine is closed around 2029.

As for all those environmentalist organizations and individuals who had opposed the project, it is time to step up to the plate so to speak, and join the local residents to make this mining project become the “benchmark for sustainable mining in the country”  and as good as “Canada, USA, Australia and Sweden” as the statement of the Lydian management asserts.

The time for the talk is over, it is time to do the walk if I may say so, and maybe even ask some of these well known Armenian investors to appoint, and fund, an independent monitoring body composed of knowledgeable specialists in the mining industry, together with some knowledgeable environmentalists, and with the participation of the local residents, start to closely monitor this project to help minimize the damage.

Naive, maybe, but continuing to be alarmist and try to stop the project does not seem to be an option anymore. As I said earlier, the important thing now is to minimize the damage that the mine operation could cause. (Even if buying the shares of the Lydian corporation with the intention to get first-hand information could be helpful, it should be considered as a possible option as well).

Here it might be appropriate to quote a fitting Armenian adage that says Նպատակը խաղող ուտել է, եւ ոչ թէ այգեպան ծեծել. Loosely translated “The intention is to eat the grape, and not beat the vine grower”.

Reading the critical articles and the well-researched links was also an eye-opener about the mining industry in Armenia. The critical article by Peter Liakanov dated 17 January 2017 states that there are 460 mines in Armenia and 50% of Armenia’s exports are from the mining industry.

(The one mining operation that Peter Liakanov mentioned was in Teghut in northern Armenia that he says is owned by “Vallex Group controlled mostly by oligarch Valery Maljumyan has led to massive deforestation, pollution of Shnogh river, and loss of land  and agricultural capacity for nearby resident”.) Maybe the same is true for many other localities for which there is hardly any information.

Everyone in general terms is talking about the negative effects of the monopolies that oligarchs have, and the elimination of the corruption in Armenia, while there is hardly any factual, and credible, information about who these oligarchs are, and how they are plundering this vital, and rich, Armenian natural resources.

Nobody is investigating and revealing the hard facts. Unfortunately, the rumors and hearsay that dominate the Armenian news media have become the perceived truth. It is sad to say that, for the public at large, it is the perception that counts the most, at the expense of reality and truth. Sad indeed.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian

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