Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian has assured the residents of a resort town in central Armenia that his government will not allow a mining company to go ahead with its project for the nearby gold ore deposit if it creates problems for the area’s environment.
The Amulsar gold mine is situated only 13 kilometers away from Jermuk, a popular spa town in the country’s Vayots Dzor province. Many environmentalists, economists as well as local residents and authorities have expressed their concerns over the project, which they fear may endanger the local environment and ultimately the economic status of Jermuk, a town that mainly lives off tourism.
Jermuk Mayor Vartan Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that on behalf of the town’s residents they had written a letter to the government asking it to take into account the town’s environmental and economic concerns in discussing the Amulsar project.
“They replied that they were following the process, had been examining the submitted documents and gave assurances that if it turned out that the project would pose an environmental hazard to our resort town, the mine would not be developed,” Hovannisian said.
The Armenian government entitled the Geoteam closely held joint-stock company to operate the Amulsar mine. Geoteam is an Armenian-registered company in which a 100-percent stake is held by Lydian International Limited, a mineral exploration and development company registered on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands. According to Lydian's official, it is registered as an onshore company.
It became known last March that Armenia’s London-based former prime minister Armen Sarkissian, who is known to have close ties with the Armenian leadership and was recently appointed ambassador to the UK, became a member of Lydian’s Board of Directors.
According to Didier Fohlen, of Lydian International, Sarkissian resigned from the Board in September.
Armenian environmentalists staged protests in Yerevan in late May when Prince Charles, the eldest child and heir apparent of British Queen Elizabeth II, was in Armenia on a three-day visit in connection with an unrelated charity project led by Sarkissian.
Activists then were not allowed to see the visiting member of the British royal family, but the British ambassador to Armenia promised to pass to the Prince of Wales their letter stating concerns about the gold project at Amulsar.
Still in May Ambassador Jonathan Aves, while acknowledging “legitimate concerns” regarding mining at Amulsar, stressed that he was “impressed” by Lydian’s approach to environmental issues. “We expect that they will do their best to meet all the regulations and rules that are required to establish their operations,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). The diplomat added that the Armenian government was “working hard” to ensure that the British company complies with those rules.
But environmentalist Inga Zarafian, who heads the Ecolur NGO, insisted that the operation of the mine at Amulsar will definitely create serious problems for the ecology of the provinces of Syunik, Vayots Dzor, Gegharkunik and Ararat as the territories around the place are connected with a number of rivers.
She told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the operation of the mine will result in the release of 90 million tons of toxic elements that will eventually affect the environment.
President of the Republican Association of Employers Gagik Makarian also painted a gloomy future for Jermuk in the event of the Amulsar gold mine’s operation.
“As a result of the mine’s operation people in Jermuk will be losing jobs as the number of tourists will decrease and the sales of [famous Jermuk] mineral water will also fall,” he said.
In an email sent to RFE/RL's Armenian service, Lydian said that they just concluded the Amulsar project’s independent international Environmental and Social Impact Assessment in line with the IFC Performance Standards and EBRD Performance Requirements. "The work was carried out by reputable international consulting companies such as Golder Associates and Wardell Armstrong International. We have spent more than $3.3 m. to ensure that our Amulsar project is developed in line with the industry’s best practice on environmental and social management," it said.
"Lydian’s Amulsar operation will greatly benefit the country and local communities. Amulsar will be about a $400 million project, will be a leading taxpayer and will provide about 500 well-paid jobs for our local communities," the company emphasized.