Amulsar gold deposit: Enrichment of the Armenian elite in exchange for ecological collapse in the South Caucasus
The development of Amulsar gold deposit in the south of Armenia still on the agenda of the Armenian media: the nearer comes the beginning of operation, the louder voices of ecologists and opponents of the project grow.
While the Armenian government argues for the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Amulsar deposit supposedly will bring to the treasury and also contribute to the development of the mining industry, the ecologists blow the trumpets all over the world about the danger of contamination of nearby rivers and the oxidation of Sevan lake, the ecological pearl of the South Caucasus, 1news.az reports.
The Amulsar deposit – the second in the country for pure gold reserves – is located on the eponymous mountain, at an altitude of about 3000 m, in the valley of the Arpa and Vorotan rivers, just 13 km from the resort town of Jermuk. Gold ore was found here in 2006. According to geologists, the deposit contains about 31 million tons of precious ore and 40 tons of pure gold.
Construction of the mine began in autumn 2016, and it is planned to start mining gold in 2018. The project is being developed by the British company Lydian International, which has committed to invest $325 million.
Financial participation in the project is also accepted by the International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, due to which the volume of investments will reach $460-480 mln. As of today it is the largest international investment project in Armenia.
The company-developer assures that all works will be carried out with strict observance of international standards, and all risks are fully manageable, that is, they are under the control of the operator.
The government also sees no reason for concern. At the opening ceremony of the construction of the Amulsar field in 2016, former then Prime Minister of Armenia Hovik Abrahamyan said: “We have come a long way, we had objective and subjective difficulties, but it is important that the construction started, which gladdens me as head of government” .
All the numerous speeches, right up to the rallies, against the beginning of the exploitation of the Amulsar gold deposit, remained completely ignored by the authorities.
However, geologists, environmentalists and specialists in other relevant fields believe that the operator company withholds many details of preliminary studies, and the forthcoming work is threatened with major environmental consequences.
“The company did not assess three very important risks: acidic drainage, toxic substances mobilization and microseismicity,” the head of the Center for Environmental Studies of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Geological Sciences Armen Saghatelyan says, believing that the 450-page report of the company is just an attempt to divert public attention from unmanageable risks.
“Meanwhile, there are such risks, which they know very well, just do not want to talk about them, arguing that all risks are manageable,” says Saghatelyan.
“Amulsar is a sulphide deposit with a huge amount of sulfur. In the presence of an open field, all surface waters and sediments will immediately seep into the rock mass, dissolving the sulfur that enters the river network. This is an unmanageable risk,” the professor says.
He notes that nature does not have a mechanism for self-purification from heavy metals, and the impact of toxic food products manifests itself in tens of years in the form of cancer, the defeat of reproductive and hereditary functions.
“Heavy metals are embryotoxic, that is, they affect pregnant women, they are mutagenic – affect heredity, carcinogenic – cause cancer. We actually have this problem in various regions of Armenia, but, without solving it, we hasten to create a new one in the form of the Amulsar deposit,” Saghatelyan said.
Head of the Information and Analysis Center for Food Chain Risk Assessment David Pipoyan links the main danger of Amuslar deposit to the cyanide, which is an evaporation substance and can be found in soil, water, and food due to exploitation of the deposit.
According to the expert, only a detailed study of the territory of Amulsar will make it possible to understand exactly what changes agricultural products in this region may undergo after the start of field operation. However, such studies are not conducted and probably will not be held, since neither the state nor the project operator is interested in this, he says.
Ecologists fear that in connection with the development of the Amulsar deposit local rivers, reservoirs and Sevan will be contaminated, and the town of Jermuk can become a miner.
In October 2016, environmentalists and residents of Jermuk – a hydropathic and climatic health resort – even held a protest rally in front of the government of Armenia demanding to suspend the project of exploitation of Amulsar.
“According to our information, the developer leased the building of the sanatorium, where miners should live. But after all, the resort and health-improving city is one thing, and the miner’s is completely different,” nature protector Apres Zohrabyan says.
Another participant of the protest, representative of the All-Armenian Ecological Front, Levon Galstyan, noted that according to the results of a sociological survey conducted among the local population, 90% of respondents spoke against exploitation of the mine, while the majority of the respondents believe that they are not able to fight against powerful organizations under patronage of the state.
Along with Jermuk, the development of the Amulsar deposit can threaten the region’s water resources – the Arpa and Vorotan rivers, the Kechut and Spandaryan reservoirs and, most importantly, the high-mountain lake Sevan, a large source of fresh water.
Considering that the 48-kilometer “Arpa-Sevan” tunnel was built in Sevan in the 1960s to raise the water level, the pollution of the Arpa River will inevitably entail pollution of the Sevan.
Armenian environmentalists believe that the damaging project for Jermuk also contains corruption risks, otherwise Lydian International would not be entitled to operate a field located near the resort.
According to the chairman of the NGO “Union of Green Armenia” Hakob Sanasaryan, there are suggestions that the Amulsar deposit, besides gold and silver, is also rich in aluminum, radioactive uranium and thorium. Thus, according to his version, the company-developer plans to get a much larger income than stated.
Information from open sources indicates that the top leadership of the Republic of Armenia, in particular, President Serzh Sargsyan, is interested in the development of the Amulsar deposit.
This can be judged on the basis of the fact that the Armenian ambassador to the Great Britain Armen Sargsyan, who was recently nominated by Serzh Sargsyan as a candidate for the presidency in March this year, is known for his extensive ties with the Western elites and has a whole business empire.
In particular, he is a member of the Board of Directors of Lydian International, which has its own subsidiary “Lydian Armenia” in Armenia. In May 2013, Armen Sargsyan accompanied Prince Charles during his trip to Armenia. Then the trip of the prince was connected with lobbying of activity of the company Lydian International in an issue of participation in the Amulsar project.
Armen Sargsyan is also the founder of the company Knightsbridge Group, engaged in more than 15 different industries in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Russia, India, Mongolia. He has a stake in Pepsi in Georgia, as part of the Highbury Group he founded, the Leningrad corporation, which has shares in Energoprojekt, is involved in large energy projects in the Russian Federation.
Since 2000, he is the founder and president of Eurasia House International. In different years he acted as a consultant for British Petroleum, Alcatel, Telefonica and other large companies.
The risky initiative to develop the Amulsar gold deposit is not the only Armenian project that carries a danger to the ecological state of the South Caucasus. The fact that there are other states in the region that are not obliged to feel the ecological consequences of the irresponsible actions of the Armenian leadership are not always remembered in Yerevan.
Among such dangerous projects is the operation of nuclear power plant in Metsamor, which gives the republic 40% of the electricity it consumes. The need to close the station, the operational period of which was completed in 2010, is spoken by Azerbaijani specialists and international experts.
The European Union has repeatedly called for the early closure of the Metsamor NPP. Thus, the European Neighborhood Policy Country Report for 2012 notes that the Metsamor NPP “can not be upgraded to the level of internationally recognized nuclear safety standards”.
Also the renewed agreement on partnership and cooperation between the EU and Armenia, which the parties signed in November last year, clearly states the need to close the Metsamor NPP and Armenia’s gradual shift to renewable energy sources.
Also, Armenia has been controlling the resources of the Sarsang reservoir located in the occupied Azerbaijani territories for more than 25 years, deliberately polluting the rivers flowing from the territory of Armenia to Azerbaijan.
Last summer, in Armenia, they even thought about limiting the water flows of the Araz River, which passes through the territories of both countries and flows into the Caspian Sea, taking water from it “for their own irrigation needs.”
“The water of our rivers in billions of cubic meters goes to the Araks and flows into the Caspian Sea. We should better use it ourselves. We need solutions not for one or two years, but for a long time,” Armenian Deputy Minister of the Environment Eric Grigoryan unceremoniously stated.
The issue of illegal economic activity of foreign and Armenian companies in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan was raised more than once.
Among the main activities of foreign companies in Nagorno-Karabakh there are the telecommunications sector and, again, the mining industry, which can have detrimental consequences for the ecosystem of the region. Information on risk assessment and reporting on this activity remains private.
Under the Armenian occupation there are over 155 different mineral deposits of Azerbaijan, including five gold-bearing, six mercury deposits, two copper deposits. According to the Ministry of Economic Development of Azerbaijan for 2007, over 30 companies have been created in Nagorno Karabakh over the past few years to develop underground resources of Azerbaijan.
It should be noted that any economic activity in the occupied lands of Azerbaijan is prohibited both by Azerbaijani legislation and international law.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan has repeatedly raised the problem of environmentally irresponsible activities of Armenia.
“The Metsamor nuclear power plant, built in 1976 by the technology of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant, is obsolete and, moreover, is located in a seismic zone. The concealment by the Armenian leadership of the dangers posed by this station is irresponsibility before the international community,” the spokesman of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Hikmet Hajiyev said.
Concerning the deliberate contamination of transboundary rivers and control over the Sarsang reservoir, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated that Armenia uses water as a means of ecological terror and threat. Hikmet Hajiyev noted that Armenia did not join the so-called ” “UN Water Convention” with the aim of evading civilized behavior and fulfilling obligations.
Illegal activity of foreign legal entities in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan is also always in the focus of attention of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Hikmet Hajiyev said. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a clear list of such companies.
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