YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s leading environment protection groups expressed serious concern on Monday over the possible launch of another large-scale mining project, which they said would not only destroy more green spaces but also pollute a major Armenian town.
The Canadian-owned company Deno Gold Mining is reportedly planning to mine molybdenum and other non-ferrous metals just outside Ghapan, the capital of the southeastern Syunik province bordering Iran.
Local officials say Deno is ready to invest $50 million in developing the deposit, which contains an estimated 12.4 million tons of metals. They admit that a part of the forests surrounding the town would be destroyed as a result of open-pit operations.
In a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Ghapan’s Mayor Arthur Atayan said at least 6,000 trees growing there would have to be cut down.
Environmentalists contend, however, that that the real number would be much higher. Speaking at a joint news conference, they said open-pit operations would also inevitably involve emissions of heavy metals and other toxic substances into air, soil and water reservoirs.
“The project carries big risks for the health and lives of the local population,” said Inga Zarafian, chairwoman of the Ecolur non-governmental organization.
Zarafian argued that the ecological situation in the area, which is home to several mines and ore-processing plants, is already alarming. Citing a past study commissioned by the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, she said the contamination level of local environment exceeds safety limits several-fold.
This has been taking a heavy toll on the health of Syunik residents, she said. “We have seen children with black teeth or no teeth at all,” added the activist.
“We are losing Syunik. Very soon we will have no healthy residents left in that area,” claimed Silva Adamian of the Public Ecological Alliance, a coalition of several dozen Armenian NGOs.
Adamian said the alliance plans to launch an appeal to Deno Gold Mining’s Canadian parent company, Dundee Precious Metals, and even the government of Canada. It will also urge the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development not to finance the project.
The project is understood to be in preliminary stages at the moment. Deno Gold Mining has yet to apply for mandatory clearance from the Armenian government and the Ministry of Environment in particular.
“I think there is a danger that they will not even wait for public hearings, an assessment by the Environment Ministry or an appropriate government decision, seeing as they say openly that the trees must be cut down,” said Hrayr Savzian of the Ekodar NGO. He warned that environmentalists will go as far as to set up a tent camp in the Ghapan forest if the company goes ahead with the project’s implementation.
The Armenian authorities have a long track record of usually siding with the domestic mining industry, mostly dominated by foreign investors, in its disputes with environment protection groups. Most notably, they have given the green light to plans by another Armenian mining company to develop mining operations at Teghut forest, a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the northern Lori region.
The Teghut project, if implemented, will lead to the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest, including 128,000 trees. Critics say that would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s green areas that have already shrunk dramatically since the 1990s.
Ecologists have also been up in arms against plans by the Armenian and Russian governments to jointly develop uranium reserves believed to be located near Ghapan. More than two thousand people rallied in Ghapan last November in protest against possible uranium mining.