Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Monday accused environmental activists campaigning against the Amulsar gold mining project of misleading the public and said they must stop “demonizing” Armenia’s broader mining industry.
Pashinian argued that the industry accounting for more than 40 percent of Armenian exports would be the country’s sole reliable source of hard currency in the event of a renewed war with Azerbaijan.
“Therefore, demonizing mining means dealing a blow to our national security,” he declared at a four-hour news conference held in the northern city of Vanadzor.
“Let’s leave mining alone … There is hardly a civilized country in the world where there is no mining industry,” he said.
Pashinian spoke in the context of the continuing crisis over the Amulsar project disrupted by protesters in June 2018. He again insisted that his government cannot break any laws to prevent a British-American company, Lydian International, from mining gold at a massive deposit in the southeastern Vayots Dzor province.
“On this issue we must pursue the truth till the end and the truth itself must lead us to one or another decision [on Amulsar,]” he said. “And in terms of the truth, I find it very important that the public does not succumb to manipulations, including by my beloved and respected friends.”
In that regard, Pashinian ridiculed some environmental protesters’ latest claim that mining at the Amulsar deposit would lead to not only toxic but also radioactive pollution. He also said that a recent government inspection disproved environmentalists’ allegations about a serious risk of the collapse of a mining waste disposal facility in the northern Lori province.
The facility is part of the Teghut copper mine employing about 900 people. Extraction and ore-processing operations there were halted in early 2018. The mine’s new, Russian owner restarted them recently.
Speaking in Vanadzor, Pashinian renewed his calls for protesters to end their more than yearlong blockade of all roads leading to Amulsar, saying its continuation would ruin Armenia’s international business reputation and turn the country into a “black hole on the world’s economic map.”
He did not say whether or when the authorities will forcibly unblock the mine site if the protesters continue to defy his appeals. He noted only that an Armenian court effectively declared the blockade illegal earlier this year and that the country’s laws specify cases where riot police can use force against protesters.
The protesters camped out at Amulsar as well as Yerevan-based environment activists maintain that the multimillion-dollar project is too risky for the environment.
Pashinian met with Lydian’s top executives earlier this month.He said on September 9 that he received from them fresh assurances to the effect that “not a single liter of toxic water” would be leaked during gold production at Amulsar. He said the Armenian government will not hesitate to stop mining operations and even revoke Lydian’s license if the company fails to honor these commitments.
Pashinian stated on Monday that Lydian’s project is much safer and more environmentally friendly than long-running mining operations carried out in Armenia by other companies. Pulling the plug on the Amulsar operation would mean that the government must also shut down all other metal mines and close thousands of jobs, he said.
Armenia’s largest metallurgical enterprise, the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC), alone employs more than 4,000 people. It is also the country’s number one corporate taxpayer. ZCMC paid 29.5 billion drams ($62 million) in taxes in the first half of this year.
Lydian planned to produce 210,000 ounces of gold, worth over $315 million at current international prices, at Amulsar annually. It also pledged to create about 800 permanent jobs and pay $50 million in annual taxes.