Dozens of activists raising environmental concerns in Armenia disrupted the start of a two-day international conference on mining issues that opened in capital Yerevan on Tuesday.
The event at Armenia Marriott Hotel in downtown Yerevan is organized jointly by the Armenian government and the World Bank and is entitled “Establishment of Responsible Mining: Opportunities and Challenges”.
Among those attending the conference are a number of senior Armenian government officials well as foreign guests, including Jean-Michel Happi, the World Bank’s Country Manager for Armenia, and the United States, British and German ambassadors in Yerevan.
With posters saying “Hands Off Armenia”, “You Mine, We Die” and others the activists, who first staged a picket outside the hotel building, broke into the conference hall, interrupting the event by their actions intended to raise awareness of environmental problems in Armenia.
They, in particular, drew the attention of those present to a number of controversial mining projects in Armenia that they claimed were causing major environmental damage.
One of the activists, Anna Shahnazarian, approached high-ranking officials, offering them a glass of water from Armenian rivers to show how polluted it is.
“Every day in our cities and our villages we drink this water from our rivers. Please, drink it. This is the water that Armenia’s population drinks today because of the mines,” said the environmentalist.
Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian refused to take the glass and drink the water.
“You drink it, I don’t need water,” he replied angrily. “Don’t get excited… Who do you think you are to tell me to drink this water?”
To criticism heard from another activist, Harutiunian threatened: “Know your limits or else I’ll tear off your ears, boy.”
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian also refused to drink the water.
While Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was also supposed to attend the conference and make a speech, he did not show up in the conference hall.
Chief of Government Staff, Minister Vache Gabrielian said the prime minister was ready to receive the environmental group later during the day.