Environmental activists in Yerevan on Wednesday dismissed Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s assurances that his government approves of their increasingly vocal movement and will address their concerns over the Armenian mining industry.
Sarkisian faced a street protest by Armenian sympathizers of the movement in the United States when he visited California over the weekend. He spoke to the protesters and heard their complaints about the environmental cost of mining in Armenia. “Your government must halt those disastrous projects,” one of them told the premier.
“I’m glad that this movement is gaining momentum in Armenia,” Sarkisian told the small crowd. The Armenian government is taking environmentalists’ concerns seriously even if it does not necessarily agree with them, he said.
Artur Grigorian, a Yerevan-based environmental campaigner, dismissed Sarkisian’s remarks, saying that the prime minister has been a strong backer of Armenian mining companies and their controversial operations. He said Sarkisian already promised environment protection groups in 2008 to consider halting the destruction of the Teghut forest in northern Armenia which is rich in copper and molybdenum.
“The orders given by the prime minister went unheeded,” Grigorian told a news conference. “The same person is now trying to engage us. That is unserious.”
Another activist, Anna Shahnazarian, dismissed Sarkisian’s pledge to meet environmental leaders on his return to Yerevan. “He said something that is well below our expectations from him,” she said. “We can always meet him. But what we want from him is actions.”
Armenian ecologists have long been at loggerheads with mining companies, 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 government denies these accusations.