BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
The recent success in Congress is plenty to crow about, but must not so consume us that we lose sight of other very important issues confronting Armenians. In this respect, the Amulsar gold mine, owned by a company named Lydian, is a prime example.
Recently, I was chided by a friend (whose experience and judgment I generally trust) regarding my, and others’ of like mind, positions and activities regarding the Amulsar gold mine that has raised quite a furor in the Republic of Armenia.
I profoundly disagreed with the points raised, but I think they should addressed. I will list them (in no particular order) and hopefully not miss any, then proceed to respond to them.
1. Oligarchs in the Republic of Armenia who own other mines don’t want competition and are supporting the anti-Amulsar movement, therefore working against Amulsar supports these corrupt economic actors.
2. Russia doesn’t want Western companies (which Lydian is) to get a foothold in the RoA’s economy. Like the oligarchs, and through them, it is supporting the anti-Amulsar movement. Therefore, working against Amulsar supports Russia’s efforts.
3. Amulsar is by far the cleanest, most properly set up mining operation in the whole country, it should be permitted to proceed and become an example and set precedent for all mining in the RoA.
4. Amulsar is setting money aside for a restoration fund to be used after the operation is completed to return the area dug-up to its pre-mining condition (or as close as possible to it).
5. The mine will provide some 10 years of local employment while it is being exploited. Depopulation being arguably the biggest threat to RoA’s security, keeping people in their homes by providing jobs is a priority.
6. The threat to Jermuk, Armenia’s famed mineral water, hyped up by mine opponents, is incorrect.
7. The threat to Lake Sevan via the Vorotan tunnel –Ketchoot reservoir – Arpa-Sevan tunnel is incorrect.
8. Those opposed to Amulsar are ignoring the very bad conditions at RoA’s other mines, thereby giving them a free pass to continue polluting.
9. ELARD’s (the company hired to review of Lydian’s environmental documents) highly critical report was revised under pressure. The earlier version is much more positive in its assessment of Lydian.
1. Given the predatory economic system foisted on the former Soviet space by Western advisors after the collapse of the USSR, it surprises no one that this is going on. But, the unmitigable threat posed by the Amulsar mine renders this concern much less grave in comparison. Also, arguing that because something good advocated by decent, concerned people, somehow makes them complicit with bad people also support the same thing is simply not a sustainable approach to solving societal problems.
2. Like #1, this is hardly a surprise and it is not a valid argument for the same reasons as above.
3. It is true that Amulsar is the most properly run mining operation in the whole country, but the overriding concern is the damage to Lake Sevan that the mine’s seepage into groundwater will ultimately cause plus the recently revealed health hazard posed to the local population by uranium that is naturally occurring in the ground, a fact that has only recently come to light.
4. Appropriate cleanup does not eliminate the damage caused while the mine is being exploited. Setting money aside for restoration after mining is the correct and necessary procedure. But it is not a sufficient reason to permit mining to proceed, under the circumstances.
5. Ten years of keeping people employed vs. long term health and genetic damage to those same people and their descendants and rendering the country’s main water resource unusable for an unknown, but very long, period of time: which is more important?
6. Indeed, the threat to Chermoog/Jermook, is negligible, remediable, or even nonexistent based on my current understanding. Those opposed to the mine should not use this argument, it is discrediting to do so, even though the source for the water is relatively close and it is a recognizable name that catches people’s attention.
7. The threat to Lake Sevan is very real, based on data in Lydian’s own environmental documents showing flows of groundwater in the area. This, along with the uranium are absolute reasons NOT to proceed with Amulsar mining.
8. This is like arguing that someone who is suffering from an ulcer, diabetes, and hypertension should disregard a threat that s/he will be exposed to if a toxic and/or radioactive dump is proposed in the neighborhood. There has been and continues to be activity about the RoA’s profoundly poorly operated mines. A documentary that came out roughly eight years ago, “Armenia’s Breaking Backbone” is a good example.
That was around the time that an intense round of effort went into stopping the Teghut mine from beginning its operation. All the calls for better procedures were ignored. The mine went into operation, but a little less than two years ago, the tailings (toxic sludge left over from mining) dam broke, spilling its contents which flowed into and poisoned three rivers. Preventing new damage from mining is at least as important as remedying existing damage and correcting bad practices. If anything, perhaps a transfer of ownership can be affected giving Lydian control over one of the older mines that it can continue exploiting, but with modern best-practices implemented.
9. I want to see a copy of that earlier version of the ELARD report.
If this matter worries you (it should) and/or you just want to learn more, be sure to attend the public forum titled “Amulsar Gold Mine and Its Environmental Impacts” organized by ARF’s Aghpalian Gomideh of Burbank. Speaking will be Areg Gharabegian, who was an advisor to a former minister of Nature Protection of the RoA. It will be held November 20, 7:30 pm at the ACF Burbank Mardirossian Youth Center: 75 E. Santa Anita, Burbank, 91502. Be there