Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Wednesday that he will not break laws to prevent a British-American company, Lydian International, from mining gold at the Amulsar deposit in southeastern Armenia.
Speaking in the Armenian parliament, Pashinian also complained that environmental activists are excessively focused on the multimillion-dollar Amulsar project and pay little attention to environmental risks posed by other, functioning mines mostly built in Soviet times.
“If we are talking about an [environmental] disaster, then that disaster happened a long time ago. We just don’t know or are not told about that so that our spirits remain high,” he said with sarcasm.
On Monday Pashinian called on protesters to end their more than yearlong blockage of all roads leading to Amulsar, saying that his government has no “legal grounds” to pull the plug on Lydian’s project. He said the project’s continued disruption would have severe consequences for Armenia’s economy and even national security. He also argued that Lydian has given the Armenian government more guarantees that mining operations at Amulsar would not contaminate water, soil and air.
During the government’s question-and-answer session in the National Assembly an independent parliamentarian strongly opposed to the project, Arman Babajanian, challenged Pashinian to explain why his government is not unilaterally revoking Lydian’s mining license issued by Armenia’s “former criminal regime” in 2016.
“My position on Amulsar and any other issues is that everything must be according to the law,” replied the prime minister. “This is very important because we are talking about [building] a rule-of-law state, and if in some cases there are environmental, emotional and economic approaches to an issue I believe that the right solution to those approaches must be a legal approach.”
“If we illegally shut down the [Amulsar] mine now, we will illegally shut down a media outlet tomorrow, illegally shut down a factory the day after and so on,” he said.
Pashinian also defended the government’s decision early this year to pay a Lebanese consulting firm, ELARD, $400,000 to conduct an environmental audit of the mining project.
ELARD submitted a written report to Armenia’s Investigative Committee a month ago. According to the law-enforcement body, the report concluded that Lydian’s operations would pose only “manageable” risks to the environment.
But at an August 24 video conference with Armenian officials moderated by Pashinian, ELARD experts said they cannot definitively evaluate environmental dangers of the project. They claimed that Lydian had submitted flawed and incomplete information to regulatory authorities. The U.S.-based company strongly denied that.
The several dozen protesters blocking Lydian’s access to the mine site were quick to reject Pashinian’s appeal on Monday. The premier did not say on Wednesday whether he will order police to forcibly unblock the Amulsar roads.
Before the road blockade Lydian was due to complete the construction of its mining and smelting facilities in late 2018. It planned to produce 210,000 ounces of gold, worth over $315 million at current international prices, and pay $50 million in taxes annually in addition to creating about 800 permanent jobs.