Angry residents of two villages in Armenia’s northern Lori province disrupted on Friday a meeting with government officials and representatives of a private company seeking to mine gold near their communities.
The little-known company, Miram, had asked the Armenian Environment Protection Ministry for permission to conduct geological surveys at a 200-hectare gold deposit located near the villages of Ardvi and Mghart. Almost three-quarters of that land belong to Ardvi residents. Dozens of them staged a series of protests this summer, saying that open-pit mining would contaminate water, forests and pastures surrounding the village.
The fierce resistance forced the company to concentrate only on the remaining 54-hectare section belonging to the other village.
Armenian law requires companies seeking mining licenses to hold public hearings in communities that would be affected by their operations. Miram executives as well as Environment Protection Ministry representatives planned to hold such a discussion at the former village administration building on Friday.
The meeting did not take place as protesting villagers from Mghart and Ardvi surrounded the building and prevented the officials from entering it. The protesters said that they will not even listen to the company’s arguments because they believe that any mining operation would wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.
The protesters did not disperse even after the ministry officials returned to Yerevan. They said they will continue to occupy the building until a geologist sent by Miram also leaves the village.
Miram’s shareholders until recently included a man linked to Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). This fact fueled media speculation that Baghdasarian is involved in the controversial project. The influential politician, who is a native of Lori, has denied any involvement in the potential mining project, however.