About two dozen environmental activists clashed with police on Wednesday as they picketed the Armenian branch of a Russian commercial bank that plans to finance a controversial mining project in northern Armenia.
The police used force against the protesters after they blocked the entrance to the Yerevan head office of the VTB-Armenia bank and refused to let anyone in or out of the building. One of the protesters, Armenian Green Party leader Armen Dovlatian, was injured in the scuffle.
The country's leading environment protection groups and other non-governmental organizations have for years been campaigning against plans by the Armenian Copper Program (ACP) mining company to develop a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the northern Lori region. The Teghut deposit is estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum.
The project, if implemented, will lead to the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest, including 128,000 trees. Critics say that would wreak further havoc on Armenia's green areas that have already shrunk dramatically since the 1990s.
ACP admits the heavy environmental cost of its plans but says it will be more than offset by 1,400 new jobs which it has pledged to create in the area. The Liechtenstein-registered company has also pledged to build new schools and make other investments in the local infrastructure.
The project was formally approved by the Armenian government in 2007. The subsequent global economic crisis delayed its implementation, with the Russian bank VTB delaying the release of a $300 million loan promised to ACP. The company needs the loan to launch open-pit operations at Teghut.
The protest outside VTB-Armenia followed reports that the Russian bank will disburse the sum later this year. The protesters demanded that the bank withhold funding for the “illegal project.” Bank executives refused to meet with them.