Court Orders Removal of Amulsar Mine Protesters

Environmental groups dispute Lydian’s claims to victory

Refinery building, May 2018 (Photo: Lydian International)

YEREVAN— The Administrative Court of the Republic of Armenia passed a ruling last week declaring the blockade of the Amulsar mining site by environmental protesters an illegal act of trespassing on private property.

This judgement comes almost six months after Lydian Armenia CJSC, the fully-owned subsidiary of Lydian International Inc. filed an injunction against the Police Force of the Republic of Armenia for failing to disperse protesters from the property. The court ruled against the Police, ordering them to refund the 4000 AMD ($8.50) administrative filing fee to the mining giant, after it became clear that officers had ignored written requests by the mine’s operators to remove mobile cabins installed on company land by the protesters. Police have one month to clear the property of these tents and vehicles.

The Armenian Environmental Front (AEF), the leading environmentalist collective opposing the mining project downplayed the significance of the ruling. The group accused the firm of misleading the public as well as investors, stating that the ruling only applies to the campers and tents encroaching onto the company’s plot, which they insist is less than two meters (6.5 feet) deep. The AEF also disputes the passage from Lydian’s statement that the ruling assures free access to the Amulsar mining site, citing the absence of any order to dismantle the roadblocks on the public path leading to the property.

The sort of clear wording expected by protesters may not be necessary, however. Citing Article 11 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court ruled that the protesters’ right to freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 29 of the Armenian Constitution is not absolute and does not extend to private property without the consent of the legitimate owner. In using this wording, the ruling clarifies any potential challenges to the company’s legal ownership of the plot.

Khoren Nasibyan Esq., head of Lydian Armenia’s legal department, refuted the AEF’s interpretation on Tuesday, noting that the wording in the ruling was very clear. “The order does not only include the trailers installed by the activists in Lydian territory, but also refers to the activists blocking the roads of Amulsar preventing Lydian to exercise its property rights, which implies the access to Amulsar,” he said.

Furthermore, the blocking of public roads without a permit is already considered an unlawful act under Section 9, Article 246 of Armenia’s Criminal Code. Chapter 21, Article 109 of the Land Act also guarantees the right of access to private property. This fact is specifically referenced in the court ruling which states that the blockade “breaches the right of the company to the inviolability of its property, including the right to use the property without any obstacles.”

Lydian CEO João Carrêlo hailed the court’s decision in an online statement. “This is a long overdue step that we hope will become an important milestone towards the abolishment of unlawfulness and discrimination that Lydian has been facing since June 2018.” The executive also clarified that the firm respects individuals’ right to free expression, so long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of other lawful actors.

The dispute over the Amulsar mining project dates back to 2013, when environmentalist groups voiced concerns that the operation might contaminate the water supply to Lake Sevan and cause irreparable damage to the region’s fragile ecosystem. The Anglo-Canadian mining consortium dismissed the concerns, pointing to an independently-conducted audit which they say confirms the mine’s commitment to the highest international environmental standards.

The deadlock entered a new phase in June of last year when 100 protesters set up barricades to block access to the site. With construction coming to a standstill, the company says it laid off almost 1300 workers (464 of whom hailing from surrounding villages).

One of the main complaints from protesters was regarding legitimacy of the government approval on the project. Previous environmental assessments had long received government approval before construction of the mine began, but those agreements were made prior to Armenia’s Velvet Revolution, when the government switched hands nearly overnight—from a corrupt leadership to a more democratic one led by the movement’s popular spokesperson, Nikol Pashinyan. To appease protesters’ demands for reconsideration of deals made under the ousted Republican Party of Armenia, last month, the Government of Armenia announced the allocation of $396,900 in State funds for a third environmental audit, which would review the already-existing Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Earth Link & Advanced Resources Development (ELARD), the consultancy firm contracted to conduct the audit, expects to release results within 12 weeks.

Lydian International alone made up 53 percent of all cashflow into the country last year with its $400 million project.

It doesn’t help activists’ cause that the extractive industries comprise a significant portion of Armenia’s economy. Lydian International alone made up 53 percent of all cashflow into the country last year with its $400 million project. The mining giant is also the country’s single largest taxpayer, contributing $185 million a year to State coffers. In response to the backlash, the behemoth froze future investment plans. (Upon the court’s decision, Lydian stock price, listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), shot up 56 percent to C$0.18.)

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, for his part, has been reluctant to intervene in the dispute until after the Yerevan municipal and parliamentary elections, both key votes for his revolutionary cabinet. His government has come under pressure from both the British and American governments to solve the matter within the confines of the rule of law. Pashinyan has called for a resolution on the basis of facts, not emotions.

Lydian’s statement reiterated that it “fully reserves all rights and remedies to address any disputes under Armenian and international law.” The company’s Canadian and British subsidiaries have already announced their intention to initiate arbitration proceedings against Armenia in accordance with bilateral agreements if the matter is not resolved. Experts warn that case could potentially harm Armenia’s image as an investment-friendly country.

Activists in the meantime have vowed to continue their protest and plan to appeal the court’s decision within the month.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

13 Comments

    • The Administrative Court of the Republic of Armenia is tasked with upholding the law of the RA, not make judgements on whether or not mining is a moral activity.

  1. Good article. The environmentalists should meet with the company to iron out issues. Without Capital Investment and contract that are honored between Armenia and companies, there can be no progress, no jobs, and no improvement of standard of living.

  2. I wish reporting in Armenian Weekly was more objective, instead it is sprinkled with biases to make readers sympathize with Lydian. Why, for example, the article puts in bold letters how much money Lydian brought into Armenia last year, and that Lydian was the largest taxpayer?
    Surely, this data is correct, but it is what is not mentioned that makes this a piece of propaganda. For example, why article doesn’t mention that 90% of local citizens are opposed to the mining, or that because of pollution in the long-run the mining will cost more money to Armenia than it is going to bring. Why it doesn’t mention extremely weak environmental protection laws in the country, legacy from the old regime, and hence people taking charge of the situation because they don’t want to lose their livelihood.
    The consequences from Lydian’s activities will be so devastating that I don’t understand how anyone who cares one drop for Armenia would allow the gold mine to function. It includes acid drainage which may cause nearby waters to become unfit for irritation and drinking, and remember Amulsar is located in close proximity to a number of strategically important water resources for the country: Arpa, Vorotan and Darb rivers, Kechut and Spandiarian water reservoirs, Vorotan-Arpa-Sevan water tunnel, Jermuk mineral waters; dozens of freshwater sources start near the mountain. Think about it! Not even our worst enemies would come up with the idea of polluting the core of country’s water resources! Another problem: moving 1000 ton of deadly cyanide a year across the country; another, Lydian letting its industrial waters filled with heavy metals get mixed with irrigation waters , the primary source of irrigation water for more than five large villages that produce a substantial portion of Armenia’s wine and agricultural products. And what is going to happen to Jermuk? Already tourists don’t want to go there.
    But Armenian Weekly and its reporter, Mr. Raffi Elliot, don’t seem to care about these aspects. All Raffi Elliot seems to care is quoting Lydian executives and showing numbers taken out of context. It is truly sad. The readers deserve better, much, much better!

    • Thanks Hasmik for your valued input. Mining and specially gold mining leaves a long term toxic and devastating effects on the local environment. An open-cut mining will leave a forever scar in the region that no amount of money can replace. we have a tiny country, we should cherish every square meter of it.
      I’m ashamed as a Canadian-Armenian of the tone of this article citing criminal codes and blaming the protesters for breaking the law, as if it’s sponsored by Lydian!!! well Raffi Elliott what do you want them to do if a foreign company (who presumably bought out local politicians) is out here to destroy your town’s fields and mountains?
      journalism Mr. Elliot!

    • Thank you for the comment @Garo,

      However, it is not the Armenian Weekly which declared the protesters to be engaged in criminal activity. The Administrative Court of the Republic of Armenia passed a ruling that the protesters broke the law. AW just reported it. You’re free to your opinion on whether the mine is immoral or not.

    • Hasmik, judging from your comment, I will assume that you didn’t bother to read the article before skipping to the comments section. A lot of the points you raise have been specifically mentioned in the article.

      Having read the whole thing, the article is clearly discussing the legal proceedings over the protest and isn’t passing any judgement (either positive or negative) over the mine itself. It looks like you simply inserted a lot of your own biases over the matter in the article.

  3. It is unfortunate and most disturbing that Mr. Elliott takes an “Us against Them” attitude in this article. He makes it seems as if Lydian is an injured party, and the defenders are just a bunch of activists going against big business. No one is against business; the 3,000 Jermuk residents who signed a petition to immediately stop the Amulsar Mining Project did so to protect themselves, the environment, and future generations of people, animals, and agriculture. There are already studies that have proven the devastation of the use of toxic cyanide in the extraction of the gold, and the resulting pollution of heavy metals into the rivers which feed into Lake Sevan. There are devastating health and environmental consequences of these actions that far exceed the amount of money Mr. Elliott says Lydian will be providing to the Armenian government “coffers”. Please read the following Amulsar background information sheet distributed by Zoravik activist collective, in conjunction with a petition drive to save Amulsar.

    Background Information on the Amulsar Gold Mining Project – January 2019

    Starting from 2006, Lydian, an off-shore company registered in Jersey, Channel Islands, has acquired permits from previous Armenian governments to mine gold in Amulsar, a mountain located in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia. It is worth mentioning that Lydian was a newly created entity with no prior mining experience. Additionally, the former governments of Armenia violated a number of laws by approving the Amulsar gold project, including provisions of The Law on Environmental Impact Assessment and Expertise, The Law on Lake Sevan, The Water Code, The Mining Code, The Law on Flora, and The Law on Fauna.

    From the very beginning, environmental groups and independent scientists were strongly opposed to the project. The local community, once educated on the grave risks the mining entailed, became adamantly against it as well. However, the outcry of the public fell on deaf ears. In fact, Jermuk, the largest community in the area and only 10 km away from Amulsar, had not been included as an affected community up until 2016. Even after inclusion, no public discussions have been organized in Jermuk, although it is required by law.

    The mine at Amulsar has not opened yet; however, construction of the mining sight has been partially done. From June 22, 2018, the local population took the matter into its own hands and has been blockading the mining roads, preventing further activity on the mine.

    Here are some key environmental, socio-economic and human health reasons to support why gold-mining in Amulsar must not be allowed:

    1. Acid drainage, an outflow of acidic water from mining, is one the gravest and unmanageable risks of the project. Amulsar is located in close proximity to a number of strategically important water resources for the country: Arpa, Vorotan and Darb rivers, Kechut and Spandiarian water reservoirs, Vorotan-Arpa-Sevan water tunnel, Jermuk mineral waters; dozens of freshwater sources start near the mountain. Acid drainage will lead to pollution of these waters, making them unfit to use for irrigation or drinking. Internationally famous experts after studying Lydian’s documents concluded that “Lydian and its consultants have made simplistic and inaccurate statements about the potential of the mine to pollute waters.”

    2. Gold will be extracted using cyanide, a highly poisonous substance. Cyanide gold extraction is banned by many countries due to the devastation it causes in the event of accidents. Trucks carrying 1000 tons of cyanide annually will pass hundreds of kilometers through dozens of towns and villages of Armenia. Meanwhile, no expert assessments have been carried out for ensuring technical safety of transportation, routes, sustenance and the use of cyanide.

    3. After collecting the industrial water for 5 years, Lydian plans to release it into the Arpa River, cleaning it only from cyanide. Heavy metals such as arsenic, zinc, lead present in highly toxic levels will flow into the Arpa River, the primary source of irrigation water for more than five large villages that produce a substantial portion of Armenia’s wine and agricultural products. The inhabitants of these areas were never informed about potential large-scale contamination to their agricultural lands and the devastating impact it will have on their lives.

    4. The Jermuk population has been employed in the world renowned spa, tourism, healthcare and related fields for decades. Jermuk mineral water is exported to many countries. What will happen to these jobs if the town and its mineral waters are contaminated? These risks were not even assessed. This is also stated in the World Bank CAO report. Neither Lydian, nor the state bare responsibility for the potential social-economic losses of the residents and businesses located in the area. While mining will bring 700 temporary mining jobs for 10 years, several thousand long-term jobs are at the risk of being permanently lost.

    5. The territory of Armenia, including the area of Amulsar, has important hotspots of biodiversity for the region and for the entire Planet. Birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and plants listed in the Red List of Threatened Species inhabit in the area of Amulsar; in addition, migration routes of Red List species (Armenian mouflon, leopard, bezoar goat, etc) run through this area.

    6. According to explorations carried out back in 1955, large quantities of uranium and thorium are present in the Amulsar area. This can have enormous consequences on human health, ecology and the economy, while not a word on these deposits is mentioned in the Amulsar gold mining project.

    You can learn more information about the issue from the following sources:
    http://www.saveamulsar.com
    Armenian Environmental Front’s website: http://www.armecofront.net/en/ and its Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/armecofront/
    Additionally, you can watch the video on YouTube called “Amulsar: State of Indifference” that gives thorough background information on the issue.

    • I knew the author in his university days and he is simply a conservative/republican that believe the government should play no role in growing the economy. Let the industry do as it will, is his philosophy and it is quite evident in this article.

      This is not objective news, this is biased. At least do the respectable thing and state your biases Raffi.

  4. I remember that when I was writing for this media, pretty much one sided, presenting social issues, civil society’s perspectives in Armenia, I was blamed by the editors for being one sided, maybe even socialist. Now seeing this liberal one sided author promoted in this newspaper, I wonder if the editors understand that the problem was not one sided-ness of the reporters, but pretty much the editors’ own liberal views? Good luck in going further into neoliberalism :)

  5. Everyone knows that the judicial system in Armenia is filled with previous systems “dogs” and needs major reforms!! A ruling like this is devastating for our country. There are people who value the millions of dollars invested from Lydian into Armenia more than the fact that mining projects like this will be the cause for Armenia’s dissapearance after thousands of years of survival, even in the hands of Turks, Persians, Russians, etc. But articles like this prove we are our own worst enemy, we survived everything, but there is little to no hope in surviving our own greed, ignorance and lack of humility
    !

    • No one doubts that industrial and mining activities have a negative effect on the environment.
      Does anyone remember the Soviet-Armenian youth protesting (in 1988-89) against our nuclear power station in Medsamor; how they succeeded in having it shut-down. Perhaps the people now protesting against this Amulsar project have forgotten how much the Armenian people have suffered as a result of these well-intentioned young environmental purists action. It took us years of efforts to try and re-open the NPP, but we were only able to re-instate only one of the two nuclear reactors.
      Our Medsamor NPP presents a much higher risk (of damage to our environment) than the Amulsar project. Often, we have to make difficult choices.

  6. It’s not a legal opinion but just as Lydian and the Court upheld
    private property rights, couldn’t local communities legislate
    strict environmental laws prohibiting the sale, usage
    and transport of deadly chemicals like cyanide and mercury?
    Other laws prohibiting run-off from the mine and any damage
    to the environment could be established with severe fines
    and prison time for violators.
    Do local communities have any power to
    legislate these type of laws or is my suggestion
    laughable?
    Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

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