YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Citing the findings of an independent environmental audit commissioned by his government, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on Monday, August 19, his intention to allow an Anglo-American company to restart a controversial gold mining project in Armenia disrupted a year ago.
Pashinyan said that the company, Lydian International, will have to stick to “unprecedentedly high environmental standards that have not been applied in Armenia until now.”
He said that the government will also force other mining companies operating in the country to gradually comply with those standards. He claimed that some of those companies have sponsored environmentalists’ campaigns against Lydian in an effort to kill the Amulsar project and thus avoid spending large sums of money on improving their notoriously poor environmental records.
Work on the massive gold mine located in the southeastern Vayots Dzor province started in August 2016 following a lengthy licensing process. But it ground to a halt in June 2018 as several dozen protesters blocked all roads leading to Amulsar. The roads have remained closed since then, with the protesters saying that gold mining and smelting operations there would pollute air, soil and water resources.
Lydian, which claims to have already invested $400 million in the project, dismisses these concerns, saying that it will use modern and safe technology.
Early this year, the Armenian government hired a Lebanese environmental consultancy, ELARD, to conduct an environmental assessment of what would be one of the biggest foreign investment projects ever implemented in Armenia. Pashinyan and other officials indicated that Lydian’s renewed operations will depend on the results of that audit.