Amulsar Mining Risks ‘Manageable,’ Insists Top Investigator


YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A major gold mining project launched in Armenia by a Western company poses only “manageable” environmental risks, a senior law-enforcement official who has investigated it insisted on Monday.

The official, Yura Ivanyan, also stood by the investigators’ conclusion that the Armenian Ministry of Environment Protection did not break any laws or regulations when it formally allowed the company, Lydian International, in 2016 to develop the Amulsar gold deposit.

“The assessment of the environmental and social impact on the mine’s exploitation received a positive conclusion from the Ministry of Environment Protection without any violation of the law,” Ivanyan told a news conference.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Armenia’s Investigative Committee to look into the legality of Lydian’s mining license shortly after he came to power in May last year. The law-enforcement agency was specifically supposed to find out whether ministry officials misled people living near Amulsar about “dangerous risks” posed by the project.

The Investigative Committee chief, Hayk Grigoryan, said on August 15 that it has no grounds to indict anyone as a result of its inquiry led by Ivanyan. Grigoryan cited the findings of an environmental audit of the Amulsar project commissioned by the Armenian government and conducted by a Lebanese consulting firm, ELARD.

In its final report submitted to the investigators, ELARD concluded that toxic waste from the would-be mine is extremely unlikely to contaminate mineral water sources in the nearby resort town of Jermuk or rivers and canals flowing into Lake Sevan.

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The 200-page report says that gold mining poses greater environmental risks for other rivers in the area. But it says they can be minimized if Lydian takes 16 “mitigating measures” recommended by ELARD.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pointed to these conclusions when he indicated on August 19 his intention to enable Lydian to the restart the multimillion-dollar project disrupted by protesters more than a year ago.

Armenian environmental activists denounced that statement. They said that in fact ELARD gave a negative assessment of the project’s impact on the environment.

This led Pashinyan to announce on August 23 that he will seek additional explanations from the ELARD at a video conference that will be held this week. Visiting communities surrounding Amulsar, said he will press the Lebanese environmental consultants to give “clear-cut answers” to lingering questions about the safety of Lydian’s operations.

“Although the [ELARD] audit refers to a number of shortcomings and omissions [in the Lydian’s project] its overall conclusion must be put into context,” said Ivanyan.

The investigator stressed the importance of the 16 safety measures recommended by ELARD and essentially accepted by Lydian. “The mitigating measures are reasonable and adequate, and if they are implemented along with additional measures the environmental risks will be manageable,” he said.

Topics: Amulsar, Ecology

Asked what will happen if those risks turn out to be serious after the start of open-pit mining at Amulsar, Ivanyan said Armenia’s laws allow authorities to monitor and ensure Lydian’s compliance with environmental regulations.

Pashinyan Tours Communities Close To Blocked Mining Site

Pashinyan sought to reassure residents of the resort town of Jermuk and two villages located close to the Amulsar gold deposit in southeastern Armenia as he visited their communities on Friday.

Pashinyan told them that the British-registered company Lydian International will not be allowed to launch mining operations there if they are deemed to pose a serious threat to the environment. He also announced that he will seek additional explanations from the Lebanese consulting firm ELARD that has conducted an independent environmental audit of the Amulsar project.

ELARD’s final report submitted Armenia’s Investigative Committee was made public two weeks ago. According to its key conclusions presented by the law-enforcement body, toxic waste from the would-be mine is extremely unlikely to contaminate mineral water sources in Jermuk or rivers and canals flowing into Lake Sevan.

“I have decided that next Thursday or Friday we will hold a video conference with ELARD’s team of experts during which we will say that ‘there is a big debate in Armenia over what you wrote [in the report] and that you yourself must now present your conclusions,” he said. “All that conversation will be filmed and made public.”

Pashinyan said he will press the Lebanese environmental consultants to give “clear-cut answers” to lingering questions about the safety of Lydian’s project.

“If it emerges that our water, our air, our soil and our grass will indeed be polluted then the mine will not be allowed to operate,” he declared. “But if it emerges that the only problem is that one will see some rooftop from their window then it will be a different situation which we will discuss.”

Several dozen protesters have blocked all roads leading to Amulsar since June 2018, disrupting the construction of Lydian’s mining facilities which was due to be completed by the end of last year. The protesters say that gold mining and smelting operations would severely damage the local ecosystem.

Lydian, which has invested at least $350 million in the project, dismisses these concerns, saying that it will use modern and safe technology. The company headquartered in the US state of Colorado has repeatedly demanded that the Armenian government end what it regards as an illegal road blockade.

The government contracted ELARD early this year. Pashinyan and other officials said then that Lydian’s renewed operations in Armenia will depend on the results of the ELARD audit.

While in Jermuk, Pashinyan also discussed the Amulsar issue with other ordinary residents of Armenia’s most famous mineral water resort. In particular, we went into the apartment of a middle-aged woman who claimed to have lived in the United States for about 27 years and returned to her hometown recently. She urged Pashinyan to pull the plug on the mining project.

“I came back to live in an ecologically clean place,” she said. “I want this clean and untouched nature to be really preserved. Watching this nature gives me great pleasure.”

Lydian and its Armenian building contractors employed more than 1,000 people until the start of the Amulsar blockade. Many of them were residents of the surrounding communities.



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