A large copper mine located in Armenia’s northern Lori province will resume its operations next week after an 18-month shutdown that led to mass layoffs and a change of ownership.
Mining and ore-processing activities at the Teghut deposit were halted in January 2018 due to problems reported at its waste disposal facility. Vallex Group, a private operator, is understood to have lacked funds to refurbish the tailings dump that posed a growing threat to the environment.
Vallex had borrowed $380 million from Russia's VTB bank to build and launch the mine in 2014. It was no longer able to repay the debt after the shutdown. VTB gained ownership of Teghut as a result.
New senior executives of the Teghut company said on Friday that renewed production operations there will start on July 1. They said the company has hired 700 workers ahead of the restart.
Some 1,200 people used to work at Teghut. The vast majority of them were laid off after the shutdown.
Residents of nearby villages are dissatisfied with the employment numbers, saying that the new owner must hire more locals. Earlier this week, they blocked a road leading to the mine in protest.
Anahit Amirjanian, a villager whose family was forced to sell its 4,500 square-meter plot of agricultural land to Vallex a decade ago, said some of her family members worked at Teghut until being fired in January 2018. She complained that none of them has been rehired by the new mine operator.
“We are from an adjacent community and we had lost our source of a living. Since they had dispossessed us we should have been the first to be rehired,” argued Amirjanian.
The Teghut company’s new director general, Vladimir Nalivayko, insisted, however, that it has hired more people from the local communities than worked at the mine before the shutdown. They make up nearly half of its 700 newly hired employees, he said, adding that 200 other workers are from Alaverdi, a nearby mining town.
“I don’t care if they are from Alaverdi, Shnogh or Teghut,” Nalivayko told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “But I asked our bosses to hire locals and try to avoid bringing in outsiders. I have trouble doing that now because I can’t find mechanical engineers, software engineers or interpreters in the villages.”
Nalivayko also complained about the company’s bloated staff under the previous owner, saying that the revived mine will have a total of only 900 workers. “There were too many deputy managers, assistants and consultants here,” he said. “We now have a more compact and cost-effective structure.”
Mining has long been the single largest source of Armenia’s export revenue. Copper, other base metals and ore concentrates accounted for around 40 percent of Armenian exports worth $2.4 billion in 2018.