Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Thursday that they could relocate several villages to pave the way for large-scale mining operations in the territory’s northern Martakert district planned by a leading Armenian metallurgical company.
Under an agreement signed with the Karabakh government in March, the Liechtenstein-registered Vallex Group is to invest about $80 million in developing the Kashen copper and molybdenum deposit.
Open-pit mining operations there are due to start by 2015, in time for the anticipated depletion of copper and gold reserves located elsewhere in Martakert. A Vallex Group subsidiary called Base Metals has exploited the Drmbon deposit for the past decade, producing some 20,000 tons of ore concentrates per annum.
“If [Kashen] mines need to be located close to houses … there will have to be relocations,” Ara Harutiunian, the Karabakh prime minister, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But all that can only be done in a way that would give the population no reason to be discontent.”
Harutiunian referred to villages located around Kashen. “That [relocation] will depend on residents in the first instance,” he said. “We will reckon with the majority’s opinion. If one person refuses to move we will not leave our country’s main economic project incomplete because of that person.”
Harutiunian argued that the Vallex Group operations will mark the single largest business project ever implemented in Karabakh. He said it will result in thousands of new jobs and a sizable rise in the Karabakh government’s budgetary revenues.
The Drmbon operations already generate roughly 17 percent of those revenues. More than 1,000 people currently work there.
The mining activities in Martakert are the main reason why the Karabakh Armenians began building last year a second highway that will connect the disputed territory with Armenia. The 80-kilometer road will run from Martakert to a railway station in eastern Armenia through Kelbajar, one of the seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that were partly or fully occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. Its ongoing construction is reportedly being financed by Vallex Group.
The new road will also be used by a recently established coal mine which is also located in northern Karabakh.