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Letter: Amoulsar, A Mining Disaster in Armenia

The following is an open letter by the Save Teghut Civic Initiative, a coalition of groups and individuals concerned about Armenia’s environment, urging Armenians worldwide to refrain from supporting the Amoulsar mining project, which aims to extract gold from Mount Amoulsar in the Vayots Dzor province. The activists have raised concerns about the environmental, health, and economic ramifications of this project. They are appealing to the Diaspora community to divest or refrain from investing in Lydian International and its subsidiary Geoteam CSJC, who are engaged in this mining project and are reportedly reaching out to potential diasporan investors.

Below are excerpts from the letter:

Amoulsar is one of the peaks of the Armenian highlands, a mountain 3,000 meters above sea level, located between the Vayots Dzor and Syunik regions of Armenia, and only 10 km away from one of the gems of Armenia, the hydrological wonder of Jermuk.

Mount Amoulsar

Mount Amoulsar

When gold exploration started at Amoulsar in 2006, the Armenian public could not imagine what kind of risks the mining project could possibly pose to the regions of Vayots Dzor, Syunik, and Gegharkunik, as well as Armenia on the whole. These risks have already been identified and have been continuously voiced by civil society and local communities for over three years. Since 2011, three scientific conferences, five official public hearings, as well as many press conferences have been organized on the mining of Amoulsar, during which many geologists, hydrologists, economists, botanists, zoologists, doctors and other specialists expressed their disapproval and fear of uncontrollable risks. Many articles and publications were written, despite the narrow space in the Armenian media given to this issue. While media coverage of these events was limited, the PR strategies of Lydian International and its subsidiary in Armenia, Geoteam CSJC, succeeded in silencing criticism of the mining project in the mainstream media in Armenia.

Despite the claims of Lydian’s executives that they are going to engage in “responsible mining,” their statements cannot be grounded by any evidence of past performance as this is a new company with no track record of mining operation. “Responsible mining” is also incongruent with this particular project, as open-pit mining with such high risks for the environment, economy and livelihood of local communities can in no way be considered “responsible.”

Gndevaz village

Gndevaz village

We are aware that the company is conducting intensive PR in the Armenian Diaspora, convincing Armenians around the world to buy shares of their company and finance this disastrous mining project.

Armenians all around the world can only serve their homeland by calling for a moratorium of any new mining project in Armenia, including the ones in Amoulsar, Teghut, Meghri, Hrazdan and other areas, and adoption of strict environmental and taxation regulations to contain the harm threatening our homeland and future generations.

Armenians all around the world should exert efforts in pushing for Amoulsar to be included in the Jermuk National Park, a protected area that will be created soon, but overpasses the mountain for obvious reasons.

An endangered viper near Mount Amoulsar

An endangered viper near Mount Amoulsar

While the international quest for the natural resources of Armenia continues and is tilted towards Russia, we in Armenia need support to withstand all sorts of international pressure and extractive slavery. Two large international financial institutions—the International Financial Corporation of the WB Group and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development—are discussing financing this project alongside holding some of the shares of Lydian International. These institutions have already received two complaints from Armenia, one from nine organizations and another one from 200 members of the Gndevaz [a village in the Vayots Dzor province] community, with a request to revoke financial support for this project, as it does not meet international standards promulgated by their own institutions.

[…]

…We call upon Armenians and non-Armenians around the world to use common sense and demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility towards the population living in Armenia and reject supporting mining operations in Armenia, particularly gold mining of Amoulsar.

 

Save Teghut Civic Initiative*
Inga Zarafyan, President of EcoLur NGO
Vazgen Galstyan, President of Jermuk Development Center NGO
Tehmine Yenoqyan, journalist, resident of Gndevaz community
Levon Galstyan, member of Pan-Armenian Environmental Front civic initiative

 

For the full text of the letter, click here.

30 Comments on Letter: Amoulsar, A Mining Disaster in Armenia

  1. As an investor in Lydian Int’l, I presume myself helping Armenia to establish industrial output and create jobs.

    If this indeed hurts Armenian environment what are the alternatives to invest in Armenia?

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 8, 2014 at 5:37 pm //

      Alex,

      How much of the money and profits from these mines stay in Armenia and how much of it leave Armenia.

      Is Armenia getting the most out of these mines? This is Armenia’s wealth after all.

      And is the mining done in a way to minimize

      I believe these are the measures we should be looking at.

      And given Armenia’s tiny landmass, the land and the people living on it are affected greatly by any environmental damage.

      And how many jobs are we talking about?

    • I hope it will benefit the country and not “some1”.

  2. avatar Marjorie Nanian // November 8, 2014 at 12:57 pm // Reply

    I agree. I too invested in a gold mine (penny stock) in an effort to provide employment in the region. By looking at the mountains, the area must be rich in natural resources.

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 9, 2014 at 11:11 pm //

      How much of the profits from the mining stay in Armenia, and how much of it leaves the country? I think that’s just as important as protection of the environment and the people’s health.

      These are Armenia’s resources and Armenia should get the majority of the profits from this.

      I keep hearing about how the officials in charge of giving mining licenses are asking for bribes and not caring about the consequences to the country.

      Even the most well behaved companies will bribe and act against the interest of the locals when doing business in a country with lax enforcement of regulations.

  3. avatar maro matosian // November 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm // Reply

    Alex, unfortunately the mining laws in Armenia are not protecting neither environment, nor improving the state budget nor the salaries of miners are above minimum wage and the villagers’ land was taken away form them for pennies. The destruction is enormous to the ecosystem but it is a means for quick money for investors. No effort is done by government to invest in manufacturing only in exploitation like in the African countries….and this leads to more poverty. In 20 -30 years it will be a wasteland , no agriculture can develop and people abandon those villages. Hectares of forest is destroyed and with it the ecosytem plus which affects the clean waters in the country. No oversight by government exists and since there is no responsible mining it is 100% only damaging enriching only off shore companies and oligarchs. We need good environmental legislature and good practice and no free for all. People working in those mine suffer terribly of illnesses and no medical care available at cost that they can afford. So practice shows that mining is to no benefit to the people…it is the propaganda of the government and companies with bad practices like Lydian to pocket more money.

  4. avatar Alice kalemki // November 8, 2014 at 1:18 pm // Reply

    To the above comment: could you tell us in more detail how is this helping Armenia?

  5. avatar nora davidian // November 8, 2014 at 1:47 pm // Reply

    James Tufenkian has invested in the rug weaving industry and has built a number of beautiful hotels and I think he’s done a lot of tourism in Armenia. You might consider investing in his companies.

  6. This letter unfortunately offers appeals to emotion and no substantive arguments to support the case of abandoning this project.
    All stakeholders are of course vested in the success of the project which could only be achieved in today’s world if responsible mining practices are followed. No one is interested or could get away with wantonly polluting like it once used to be.
    I cannot speak for Lydian’s management, but what I have read about this project so far has told me local population are on board and the government in Yerevan have also been supportive because of the badly needed FDI.
    Taking an uncompromising stance like all-or nothing (“nothing” in this case) is not conducive to helping Armenia or Armenians living in the area near the project.
    Open dialog and demands for state of the art processes for building the mine should be called for. I sincerely hope agreements are reached so we can have best of both worlds.
    Foreign direct investment, good paying local jobs for years to come, respect for the environment and full mitigation plan in place with details influenced by all stakeholders, especially with the engagement of locals in place for the eventual closure (all mining projects have a finite life).
    Can this be achieved?

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 9, 2014 at 11:16 pm //

      A_perplexed,

      Mining and oil is one of those area where a foreign company can come in and reap the benefits and profits while taking advantage of loose enforcement of environmental and health regulations. This happens a lot in many countries and the local governments have to be good at enforcing regulations.

      Given the level of corruption in Armenia, this is a major concern!

    • I don’t buy your argument. The current government itself promotes exploitation of its own. We blame the embargo and land locked situation of Armenia yet completely ignore the oligarch corrupt nature that is currently governing Armenia. I side on preserving the natural resources of Armenia until a more democratic and transparent form of government hopefully governs one day. Or any such project will only line the pockets of the few.

  7. What a shame, this is a very good project backed by very experienced miners. Too bad the activists won’t let capitalism take its course in Armenia. This project was poised to be the greatest tax payer should it have been allowed to operate. Some local folks just can’t let go of their communist roots.

    • avatar A responsible citizen // November 9, 2014 at 5:27 pm //

      Practice shows that what you call ‘responsible mining practices’ are not followed by mining companies in Armenia, and even if they were followed, we would still lose some of the most beautiful corners of our nature. Furthermore, there is nothing communist in understanding that mining and the poisonous waste it creates are destroying our nature forever, including the health of people living around the mining areas. Environmentally sustainable projects are what we need. We must not cut the brunch of the tree on which we are sitting. But maybe you just don’t care for the lives of people living next to the poisonous waste, as long as you have a safe home far away…

    • right so a few can line their pockets while ruining the natural resources for the rest of Armenia for eons to come. That’s a great idea. that’s exactly what Armenia needs.

  8. This not only hurts Armenian environment it cauaes irreversible damages to all living creatures including humans. It’s important to understand on what conditions those jobs are created. Talking about salary we know that the ammount is so miserable that people who gain diverse ilnesses wont even be able to pay money to cure themselves. This is concerning the people working directly at the area of mining. Have you ever thought about the rest of population that inhabits there? What do they gain? Conteminated drinking water, heavy poluted air, continuos noise, different kinds of illneses.

    A sugestion is to invest in developing agreeculure, which is in poor condition in Armenia today. Armenia instead of developing and creating possibilites for the villagers to produce ecological and clean food chooses to import food full of pesticides from Turkey, in my opinion it’s not sustainable, in any way.

    There are people who choose to invest in beekiping, some others are researching and building passive solar greenhouses, to allow the greenhouse run all year round without being depandant from expensive Russian gas during the calder seson.

    Invest in creating jobs for the brilliant minded students who can bring sustainable solvations to problems in Armenia instead of choosing to emigrate and work for other countries.

    Invest in developing eco-tourism in Armenia, the world would love it and Armenia would gain from it.

    Possibilities to invest conciously and without causing harm as mining does are millions. You just need to look around once and you’ll see them. Good luck with that, Alex! :)

  9. avatar maro matosian // November 9, 2014 at 9:10 am // Reply

    Those who think that mining is such a great alternative to improving economy in Armenia, I suggest you visit the mining sites, and see what’s going on. The villagers are bribed, and the few that protest and block the roads so mining does not destroy their village are very roughly suppressed. Villagers are helpless in front of these large companies with government ties. There are reliable environmental orgs. In Armenia who are able with great difficulty because of the cover up to disclose the destruction and the damage mining brings to Armenia. There are many alternatives to mining, unfortunately the government prefers this because it is a fast way to make personal gains. The small parcels of forest Armenia has it’s rapidly destroyed and this will bring desert climate ….where will be the mining companies then????

  10. Does anyone here really doubt that the bulk of the benefit of this environmental disaster in the making, will be for the select few ruling Armenia?

    • avatar George Ohanessian // November 11, 2014 at 5:53 am //

      This is yet another story that re-enforces what I have come to expect from Armenian administrators. Cronyism, corruption and self interest seem to be the prime driving forces in the decision making process.

  11. Still perplexed by the overwhelming negative nature of the posts here.
    How can there be a disaster if the mining hasn’t even started?
    Look at Canada, Chile, even in Africa there have been numerous successful examples of responsible mining with full mitigation of the area involved.
    No one says there is never a tradeoff. The dialog should be on how to minimize the footprint and maximize the benefit to Armenia and Armenians involved directly, including the workers.
    Minimum wage mining jobs? That statement alone betrays total ignorance in this subject.
    Just look to the East of the Armenian border to see how even with wanton corruption, plenty of locals have been benefiting from mining oil, let alone all the wealth flowing to the coffers so they can even pay Atletico Madrid to advertise their country.
    Should we prefer business pursuits more in the intelectual sphere to emply talented educated Armenians? Of course! but right here and now, this project should be treated as a potential wealth generator.
    It can be done responsibly (see Canada). There is always corruption everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we should be so closed-minded as to refuse any and all opportunities which are far and few in-between to bring good-paying jobs to Armenia, even if only for 10-15 years (or whatever the mine life is for this project).

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 12, 2014 at 12:22 am //

      A_perplexed,

      the problem is, there is no trust in the Armenian authorities that there will be responsible mining in Armenia.

      “Just look to the East of the Armenian border to see how even with wanton corruption, plenty of locals have been benefiting from mining oil, let alone all the wealth flowing to the coffers so they can even pay Atletico Madrid to advertise their country.”

      In case you haven’t noticed, those coffers belong to the Aliyev clan and friends. The rest of the country is not seeing the full benefit of the oil profits. If Armenia had oil, she would be in the same situation.

  12. avatar bedo kalpakian // November 10, 2014 at 2:48 pm // Reply

    In my opinion this project will be detrimental to Armenia, and will not be beneficial to the Armenian people.

  13. I have been in Armenia last year, and visited many rural places. The series of houses along the road with closed gates and the “For Sale” inscription were very depressing.

    If there would have been jobs in Armenia, people would not leave the country. And Armenians abroad look for opportunities to help, to invest in jobs creation in Armenia. In projects that could be both economically viable, sustainable and environmentally approachable.

    Gold mining is only one of few visible opportunities for Armenia. Tourism might be another. Agriculture unfortunately is too dependent on many factors, both natural and politico-economical, like closed borders, that cannot guarantee sustainable growth of Armenian exports.

    Local gold on the other hand can serve as a source for the development of jewelry industry in Armenia, hopefully making it a regional hub.

    I remember the saddest days of Armenia when “environmentally charged” hordes under Stamboltsyan crashed Armenian chemical industry and stopped Metsamor station putting Armenia in dark and cold, and destroying lives of thousands of citizens. There was no arguing possible. I hope not to see these kinds of motions ever.

    If there are certain (and I mean, certain) environmental dangers, then please involve authorities. Even though there is a common belief in a wide-spread corruption, I still hope that nationally responsible people can be found in the government that would put national interests, including the environmental ones, above short-term mercantile interests. And they would need convincing arguments.

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 12, 2014 at 12:16 am //

      Alex,

      Can you show us how the existing mining initiatives in Armenia have benefited the country and the people? You’re saying “Gold mining is only one of few visible opportunities for Armenia.”. Can you show us from past mining experience in Armenia how mining gold in Armenia promises good opportunities for Armenians?

      I don’t think you understand how dirty and hazardous mining copper, gold and other minerals is!

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 12, 2014 at 12:19 am //

      Also, negative impact on Armenia’s environment from mining can also endanger farming in Armenia.

      One of the bright areas in Armenia right now, other than IT, are the wineries. There are some good wines coming out of Armenia. These wineries are the initiatives of locals, diasporans and even odars. That’s a sustainable business and job maker. On top of all that, selling wines internationally puts Armenias name out there. Mining doesn’t.

  14. It’s quite obvious by now that this “Amoulsar mining project” will deliver very negative results to the environment and health of the local communities within that particular region of Armenia. Therefore, this hazardous project must be opposed at every level from both the citizens of Armenia, as well as the Armenian diaspora. The environment of our Fatherland, and the health of our brothers and sisters in Armenia should always be preserved and never sacrificed for anything else. As for those corrupt politicians in the Republic of Armenia government, it’s quite clear why they have absolutely no problem with this particular mining project. Such a project, after all, would definitely fill up their pockets with money in return for allowing these international companies to exploit Armenia for its natural resources. Let’s not permit them to get away with that!

  15. I recommend everyone to go and see these mining sites you will see the mess and horrific environment damage done all round,from water resources, soil pollution and forestry.

    As far as the profits are concerned its a one way ticket out of Armenia,in another words its one big rip off the whole mining sector is serving only the interests of foreigners and oligarchs period.

    Armenia should be very selective and very careful as to what mining is allowed and by whom,the criteria should always be profits must be fully invested in Armenia and not in offshore fraudulent front companies,environment must be fully protected and no government officials should have any shares in mining companies.

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 12, 2014 at 12:11 am //

      Unfortunately the corruption in Armenia prevents the right thing from happening. Companies are out for profit and if paying people off in other countries to take their mineral wealth, then so be it. Profit always wins over the environmental and the health of people in other countries you don’t get to see.

  16. avatar Vart Adjemian // November 11, 2014 at 5:25 pm // Reply

    Many comments, pro and con, but they all miss the most crucial and critical point.
    -Lydian International is a very small company, thinly capitalized with no previous track record or experience in mining operations.
    -The Company’s origins were in Canada, and now they are registered and incorporated in Jersey Channel Islands. This is a haven for shady corporations, tax evaders and cheaters and has loose corporate governance rules and enforcement.
    – The company’s shares are at a low of 48 cents- basically a penny stock. Only fools and short sighted speculators will invest in this company.
    – The officers’ background and experience is not impressive. Indeed they can be classified as ” below average”.
    I strongly believe and suggest that “Save Teghut Civic Initiative” instead of opposing the project based on the environmental issues (which are all valid, especially in this case of an unknown company),
    they base their opposition on the reputation( non existent), quality( highly questionable , financial weakness ( little cash on hand) , management depth ( mostly unknowns) and their incorporation in Jersey Channel Islands.
    I cannot but wonder who is the corrupt person or self interested parties in Armenia, who obviously were bribed to grant the license to such an irrelevant small company.
    My recommendation to “Save Teghut Civic Initiative” is to find/engage an expert financial analyst that exposes Lydian as a fraud and manipulator . Google has a lot of information;
    Vart Adjemian

    • avatar Random Armenian // November 12, 2014 at 11:56 am //

      Thanks for this info.
      As for you suggestions about making the right arguments, I would think they should be making all of the arguments you mentioned, including environmental.

  17. avatar Vart Adjemian // November 18, 2014 at 11:48 am // Reply

    Something smells at Lydian. The management is unstable with a troublesome turnover at the top management.
    1- On 4/16/2014, The Chief Financial Officer Roderick Corrie resigned and was replaced by Douglas Tobler.
    2- On 11/14/2014, the Chief Operating Officer Marc Ludec announced his resignation, and will be replaced by John A. Naisbitt, as “Project Execution Lead”.
    Mr. John A. Nasibitt is an unknown quantity. I have no idea what his qualifications or credentials are. No track record of him appears in Google.
    Warning signs are plenty. Question is what ” Save Teghut Civic Initiative ” can and will do about it.
    Vart Adjemian

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