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Pashinian Ally Blasts ‘Selective Environmentalism’ In Armenia


Armenia -- Deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian speaks to RFE/RL, Yerevan, June 24, 2019.

A close political ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Wednesday hit out at people vocally opposed to the Amulsar mining project, saying that many of them know little about it and ignore other environmental issues facing Armenia.

“Many, many people writing ‘Save Amulsar’ on Facebook simply don’t know where Amulsar is physically located in the territory of Armenia,” said deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian. “But when trees were cut down in [forests around] Dilijan and Ijevan this selective environmentalism was not in action for some reason.”

The Amulsar issue came to the fore after Pashinian indicated on August 19 his intention to enable a British-American company, Lydian International, to mine and smelt gold at the massive deposit located in the southeastern Vayots Dzor province. He cited the findings of an independent environmental audit that was conducted by a Lebanese firm, ELARD, contracted by the Armenian government.

In its final report released earlier in August, ELARD concluded, among other things, that toxic waste from the would-be Amulsar mine is extremely unlikely to contaminate mineral water sources in the nearby resort town of Jermuk or rivers and canals flowing into Lake Sevan.

Armenian environmental activists denounced Pashinian’s statement. They as well as protesters blocking the roads leading to Amulsar maintain that the project would wreak havoc on the environment.

Opposition politicians and even some parliament deputies from Armenia’s ruling My Step alliance have also spoken out against the U.S.-backed project. But other My Step lawmakers have voiced support for Lydian’s renewed operations at Amulsar disrupted by the protesters in June 2018.

Simonian downplayed those differences when he spoke to reporters after a meeting of My Step’s parliamentary faction chaired by speaker Ararat Mirzoyan. He insisted that they will not cause a split within Pashinian’s bloc.

“It’s up to the government, not the parliament faction, to make a decision on the [Amulsar] issue,” said Simonian. “We will discuss the issue only if it comes to the National Assembly.”

“Haykakan Zhamanak,” a newspaper owned by Pashinian’s family, commented on the Amulsar controversy and other challenges facing Armenia in an editorial published on Wednesday.

“In this situation, the government has to not only solve the problems but also overcome the resistance of the entrenched [state] system,” the paper complained. “But one gets the impression that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian is doing that single-handedly or with the help of a handful of ministers and parliament deputies and that others are waiting on the sidelines to see how all this ends.”

Simonian would not say whether he thinks that Pashinian warned his loyalists through the “Haykakan Zhamanak” article to fall in line with the government’s position on Amulsar.

In his August 19 comments, Pashinian said that Lydian International will have to stick to “unprecedentedly high environmental standards that have not been applied in Armenia until now.”

He said that the government will also force other mining companies operating in the country to gradually comply with those standards. Pashinian suggested that some of them have sponsored the environmentalists’ campaign against Lydian in an effort to kill the Amulsar project and thus avoid spending large sums of money on improving their notoriously poor environmental records.

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