BY LUSINE MUSAYELIAN
STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)—In what authorities in Stepanakert say will be Nagorno-Karabakh’s largest economic project in a decade, a leading Armenian mining company has officially announced plans to invest about $80 million in developing another copper and molybdenum deposit in the territory.
The Kashen deposit in Karabakh’s northern Martakert district contains an estimated 17 million tons of rock rich in the two non-ferrous metals.
Under an agreement signed with the Karabakh government on Monday, the Liechtenstein-registered Vallex Group is to launch open-pit mining operations there by 2015, in time for the anticipated depletion of copper and gold reserves located elsewhere in Martakert.
A Vallex Group subsidiary called Base Metals has exploited the Drmbon deposit for the past decade, producing some 20,000 tons of ore concentrates per annum. The company currently employs 1,100 people and its taxes account for roughly 17 percent of the budgetary revenues of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Valeri Mezhlumian, the Vallex Group chairman, said the Kashen project will be more large-scale than the ongoing operations at Drmbon. “We have three years left to exhaust Drmbon’s remaining ore reserves,” he told journalists at the signing ceremony in Stepanakert.
Bako Sahakian, the NKR president, said the project will give a major boost to Karabakh’s economic development. His prime minister, Ara Harutiunian, likewise emphasized the project’s significance for the small local economy hamstrung by the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
“We expect that this project to exploit the Kashen ore deposit will also be a success and contribute to Artsakh’s prosperity,” said Harutiunian.
The mining activities in Martakert are the key reason why the Karabakh Armenians began building last year a second highway that will connect the Armenian-controlled disputed territory with Armenia. The 80-kilometer road will run from Martakert to a railway station in eastern Armenia through Kelbajar. Its ongoing construction is reportedly being financed by Vallex Group.
Passenger and cargo traffic between Armenia and Karabakh has until now been carried out through a highway going through Lachin. It was built in 1997 with the financial assistance of the Armenian Diaspora and U.S.-Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian in particular.
The new road will also be used by a recently established coal mine which is also located in northern Karabakh. A company running the mine is expected to start supplying coal to a thermal power plant in Yerevan later this year.