Prime Minister Sarkisian heaped praise on Armenia’s increasingly vocal environment protection groups as dozens of their supporters in the United States demonstrated during his weekend visit to California.
The small crowd gathered outside the Burbank headquarters of a U.S. diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church as its top cleric, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, met with Sarkisian. The protesters were mainly Armenian Americans and U.S.-based citizens of Armenia. Many of them held placards denouncing they see as a heavy environmental cost of metal mining in Armenia.
Sarkisian spoke with them after the meeting with the archbishop. “We are closely following your movement and are aware of your concerns,” he said, praising “positive results” of its high-profile campaigns in Armenia.
“The government also supports your movement,” he told the crowd. “I believe that this dialogue is useful for our people and state. Of course, you have voiced many demands that require contentious solutions. But we are ready to sit down, discuss these issues and try to find solutions that would also satisfy you.”
“I also want to express joy at the fact that many of you intend to return to Armenia. We are pleased to invite you to the homeland,” added Sarkisian.
Environment protection groups have long been at loggerheads with the Armenian mining industry, accusing it of polluting soil and rivers and contributing to the country’s deforestation. They also accuse the Armenian government of turning a blind eye to what they see as gross violations of ecological standards by mining companies.
The biggest cause of concern for the environmental movement is the ongoing destruction of the Teghut forest in northern Armenia which is rich in copper and molybdenum. Vallex Group, a private company, plans to uproot about 130,000 trees to launch open-pit mining operations there. The Liechtenstein-based company has pledged to plant new trees and create more than 1,000 new jobs in the area.
Critics say, however, that the $300 million project would wreak further havoc on Armenia's green areas that have already shrunk since the 1990s. They have for years staged protests in Yerevan and around Teghut to try to stop the project’s implementations. The government has repeatedly rejected their demands.