Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian met with his political allies, environmental activists and the chief executive of a Western mining company on Friday to discuss the future of its controversial project to develop Armenia’s Amulsar gold deposit.
Pashinian briefed parliament deputies from his My Step alliance on the status of the stalled project and answered questions from them. He declined to talk to journalists after the three-hour meeting behind the closed doors.
Alen Simonian, a senior My Step figure and deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, gave no details of what Pashinian told his loyalists. He said that the participants of the meeting did not arrive at any “conclusion.”
“The prime minister’s position is known,” Simonian told the press. “As for his remarks, they were about the existing situation.”
Pashinian went on to hold separate meetings with activists opposed to the project and Edward Sellers, the interim chief executive of the British-American company Lydian International that had received in 2016 a government license to mine gold at Amulsar.
Lydian has had no access to the planned mining site ever since several dozen environmental protesters started blocking all roads leading to it in June 2018. The latter want the Armenian authorities to ban the project, saying that it would wreak havoc on the environment. Lydian maintains that it would use modern technology that would prevent such damage.
According to a government statement, Pashinian told the activists from Jermuk, a resort town over 10 kilometers north of Amulsar, that he believes a solution to the dispute should be based on “Armenia’s balanced interests.” The statement did not say whether he told them the government is planning to enable Lydian to resume its operations or on the contrary pull the plug on the multimillion-dollar project.
Pashinian’s press office also reported few details of his talks with Sellers. It said they discussed the results of an independent environmental audit of Lydian’s project commissioned by the government and conducted by a Lebanese consulting firm, ELARD.
ELARD sent a written report to Armenia’s Investigative Committee about a month ago. According to the law-enforcement body, the report concluded that gold mining at Amulsar will pose only “manageable” risks to the environment if Lydian takes “mitigating measures” recommended by ELARD.
Pashinian echoed that assessment on August 19 when he signaled his intention to restore Lydian’s access to Amulsar. But he then decided to ask ELARD experts to personally explain their findings at a video conference held ten days later.
The experts said they cannot definitively evaluate environmental dangers of the project Lydian because had submitted flawed and incomplete information to Armenian regulatory authorities. Lydian responded by accusing them of misleading Pashinian’s government.
Pashinian said at the end of the Skype call that the government might require Lydian to go through a fresh licensing process which would probably take months. The government has announced no decisions to that effect yet.