Armenian Government Reviewing Amulsar Impact Study Again

PM Pashinyan addressing residents in Jermuk, August 23, 2019

YEREVAN—The latest independent environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the controversial Amulsar mining project has been turned over to the Ministry of Nature Protection for further review. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made that announcement less than two days after signaling his tentative approval for the project’s resumption. This apparent backpedaling came in the wake of outrage by environmental groups, as well as public dissent from within the Prime Minister’s own party.

“Last year I made a commitment to only allow the mine to function if it were 100 percent certain that it would not contaminate the waters at Jermuk, Lake Sevan and local water streams,” Pashinyan explained, “99.9 percent wouldn’t cut it.” He asserted that he consulted with his Cabinet, the Ministry of Nature Protection as well as affected communities.  According to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Nature Protection later requested to further review the findings of the EIA. The Ministry has been tasked with determining whether a fourth EIA would be necessary to fully address questions over the mine’s environmental impact. The latest EIA, commissioned by the Armenian government and conducted by the resource management consulting firm ELARD, cost Armenian taxpayers almost $400,000.

Opponents of the mining project have offered mixed, and even contradictory interpretations of the ELARD study. The findings have been both criticized as unprofessionally-conducted “lies,” but also endorsed as evidence of inconsistencies in Lydian’s own assessment, leading some to dub the study “Schrödinger’s EIA.” While the ELARD study confirmed that the Amulsar mine doesn’t risk contaminating Lake Sevan or Jermuk, it did find flaws which could cause ‘manageable’ contamination to nearby freshwater streams. Lydian has since committed to implementing all 16 recommendations from the study to mitigate that risk. 

Interim Lydian CEO Edward Sellers said the news of a potential fourth EIA was “more than disappointing.” The Anglo-Canadian mining consortium, which won the rights to exploit the mine from the previous government in 2012, has signaled that its patience over the matter was quickly eroding. The company’s British and Canadian subsidiaries both filed arbitration requests under their respective countries’ bilateral trade agreements with Armenia earlier this year, stopping short of initiating litigation. The mining company also won an appeal against some of the protesters illegally blockading the Amulsar site earlier this month.

The threat of legal action by the mining firm has been interpreted as blackmail by some activists in Armenia. Legal experts speculate that if this case proceeds to international arbitration, under the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), Lydian International LTD could seek over $1 billion (between eight and ten percent of the country’s annual economic output) in compensation from the Republic of Armenia, recuperating its investment and lost potential earnings. Armenia also risks far greater damage to its international reputation as an investment-friendly destination at a time when the country is eager for capital inflow. 

Having been thrust into the Prime Minister’s office last year as a result of mass popular demonstrations, Pashinyan has shown himself to be especially sensitive to accusations from the public of succumbing to pressure from shadowy foreign interests behind-the-scenes. 

This was glaringly exemplified when respected political scientist Hayk Martirosyan publicly speculated that the Prime Minister’s ruling on the mine was motivated by backroom dealings. “There was no room for doubt that Pashinyan’s decision [to greenlight the Amulsar mine] resulted from collusion with Lydian Armenia,” read his Facebook post, which he later repeated several times for the media. These allegations prompted the Armenian National Security Service (NSS) to question him as a witness as part of their ongoing criminal investigation into the Lydian mine concession deal. The Sorbonne-educated analyst appeared to have no qualms about casually flinging accusations of high crimes at the Head of Government. In an interview with the press, he dismissed the NSS’ request that he provide evidence to back his allegations as “absurd,” arguing that he obviously didn’t have any and was just sharing his personal opinion. 

A number of NGOs have also issued a joint open letter to the Ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden, asking their respective countries to drop their support for the mining project. In it, the signatories called on “Ambassadors of western democracies [to] stand by high environmental standards for people in Armenia and with human rights values.”

PM Pashinyan speaking with a Jermuk local, August 23, 2019

Pashinyan, for his part, visited the communities of Vayots Dzor province affected by the mining project on April 23, where he listened to locals’ concerns. There, he reiterated that reaching a “fact-based” resolution to the mining dispute was his top priority. “I assure you that I have read all the letters and messages addressed to me,” the Prime Minister said. He also announced an impending consultation with the authors of the ELARD report to clarify some of the more ambiguous conclusions. The Prime Minister promised to release a fully-translated transcript of the meeting to the public.

Tensions over the controversial mining proposal which had simmered under the surface for over a decade re-emerged into the public discourse in a dramatic fashion last year when protesters physically blocked access to the site. Environmentalists have long warned of the ecological damage caused by unregulated mining operations in the country. While Lydian has argued that its extraction methods follow the strictest international environmental standards, activists are still not convinced, insisting that the risks posed to Lake Sevan’s strategically important drainage basin are too great. 

Pashinyan has said that while he would never have accepted the deal had he been in power at the time, he is responsible for abiding by the country’s legal commitments. The investigation which he authorized last year into the matter has yet to report any evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Lydian International, complicating any attempt to renege on the contract. During his August 19 announcement on Facebook Live, the Prime Minister argued, “We cannot afford to appear like a country which doesn’t respect contractual obligations.”

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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.

9 Comments

  1. Why depend on a single Lebanese consultant’s conclusions on the matter? Mr. Harout Brososian and several other international investigators have indicated unacceptable risks to the water resources of the Armenian State with this gold mine.

    • Have you not read the same article as me? – It literally says that this is the THIRD independent study on the matter. Aslo, if you google it, you’ll notice that the people who conducted the study are not Lebanese, they’re Americans. Company is just registered in Lebanon.

      FYI, unlike these studies, the one commissioned by Bronozian never actually included an in-person inspection of the site. so yeah…sorry if I’m not going to trust that.

  2. This is a lawyer, Nazeli Vardanyan covers the legal aspect of the Amulsar Mining issue in this 29 minute interview. She was also the lawyer who put away Ramil Safarov for the murder of the Armenian soldier Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan. She has been on the Amulsar case since 2006. There is so much info out there to show that Amulsar is a very high-risk mine.

    https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=481212606036227

    First of all, I’m not against mining at all, however I’ll add that there is NO mine in the world that has zero impact on the environment, and the people who live near by. So no mine can be 100% safe (as PM Pashinyan claimed that Amulsar would be, and would pose absolutely no danger to the environment or the people). He (Mr. Pashinyan) also went on to bring Salt Lake City as an example, saying that it was a former Olympics city, that has a mine, and doesn’t have ANY (emphasizing in his 1 hour 24 minute live video) impact on the environment or the people. Well I did a simple google search and the first link that came up was highlighting all the disastrous effects of the single mine in Salt Lake City the very same mine Mr. Pashinyan used as an example to convince the people that there would be no danger. you can see the facts in the second link below. This article completely debunks Mr. Pashinyan’s claims that the mining had no effect on the city, and it’s people; and how we are going to use the latest technology and etc, which would keep us safe from any disaster, which were similar words Obama used before the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Like how many examples do we need? Why can’t we learn from history? Can’t we see the horrible effects of the Copper smelting factory in Alaverdi (I believe it was a smelting factory) which generates a lot of toxic pollution, this is after the installation of special filters, or the Teghut mine or the mines that we have in Southern Syunik? All polluting the environment, the people and the communities.

    Like mentioned in the beginning of this text, I’m not against Mining, hence I’ve never protested against these other mines nor the smelting factory, because they were already there, operating and the human desire to stop them, were simply not there. Also Teghut mine, which is has had a huge impact on the forests in Tavush region, didn’t have major streams near by, which would deliver the toxins to communities. It was far away from Lake Sevan; However, Amulsar is at 500 meters (or less) away from the Vorotan river, which travels through the entire central part of Armenia (Vayots Dzor) traveling south to Artsakh’s city of Berdzor in the Qashatagh region, and then turning South, travel throughout dozens of communities before reaching the Arax river, and then into the Caspian sea. Even if Lake Sevan would be safe (which it won’t be, because underground water channels from Amulsar do drip into the Arpa-Sevan channels every year, and travel to Lake Sevan) rivers and streams are at danger, and when Vorotan river gets poisoned it could cause evacuation down stream. It is important to note, communities that live next to the river, they generally farm and if the river water is contaminated there would be rendered useless, and will no longer be able to farm or keep their cattle. This is a major risk. Also it snows on Amulsar every winter, how could a company contain the snow melting off of the mine into the rivers and channels both on ground and under ground (which I highlighted the effects of both above)? Safe mining is a fiction, nothing to do with reality.

    We understand that the Government of Armenia needs the extra $50 Million in taxes to do more good, but there are short term fixes and long term. The $50 Million could benefit people in the short term (5-25 years), but in the long run, generations will have to pay for it with variety of issues. Birth defects, Cancer, and other environmental issues.

    There is also discussions that if the Armenian government breaks the contract/agreement, future investors won’t invest in Armenia. I would say the contrary, if they go ahead with Amulsar, that in its self would break many laws, which are in placed in Armenia, so that would make future investors hesitant about investing in Armenia. If the country doesn’t respect its own laws, what chance foreign investors would have in such a place? For a list of these laws, please see the first link (the facebook link).

    From learning from history, our people have been very short sighted in the past, always seeing the tip of their nose. So, I have no hopes that Mr. Pashinyan would make the correct decision.

    https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=481212606036227

    Article by Salt Lake Tribune (Local paper): Environmental risk is on the rise in Utah, but most emissions come from a single source:
    https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2017/11/22/so-the-epa-says-utah-is-rising-on-its-list-of-the-most-toxic-states-in-the-nation-should-you-be-worried/?fbclid=IwAR3ks8lVKz1xkhnMJ31RLiR3ql7J7nX3YmvvMIEf4Bz6c2rt6SFXRHipN-I

    Thank you Raffi for the article.

  3. Mining needs to go the way of the Soviet Union. It’s perfectly easy to train miners to do other work.

  4. I agree with Mr. Ozanian’s statement that no mining is absolutely
    free from environmental damages. I don’t know the situation in Armenia
    but do know that in the USA we have been fighting the opening of a
    copper mine (also by a Canadian company) for about 13 years or more. We who live here know the destruction mining can bring. Besides water contamination, there will be loss of habitat for wildlife, and thousands of acres of unusable land after the mine no longer produces
    ore. This mine promises to bring many high paying jobs to the area.
    Yes, that will be the short term gain. After 20 yrs or so, the next
    generation will not have those jobs available. They will be busy
    trying to restore that which can never be restored again. Be careful
    of the short term gain and the long term loss.

  5. This inevitably will become a complex legal issue.
    On June 6 2019, Lydian International replaced its President and Chief Executive Joao Carello with Edward Sellers who was named Interim President and Chief Executive.
    Mr. Sellers is a lawyer. His resume does not include mining experience. As a lawyer his main area of expertise/advice/consultancy has been as a restructuring advisor to companies in trouble.
    It is obvious that the Lydian Board has recognized that they are facing a “legal” battle, thus bringing on board a lawyer.
    Mr. Sellers is currently in Armenia and has had meetings with PM Pashinian.
    The sad reality is that any resolution will not satisfy all parties.
    PM Pashinian is caught between a rock and a hard place.
    Vart Adjemian

  6. Nikolik was put in power by Western interests and Globalists. Therefore, he is not in power to serve Armenian interests. Moscow is simply tolerating him for now. Actually, Nikol has been giving in to Russian demands to simply save his skin. Russians know that if Armenia is to survive in a place like the south Caucasus Armenia has no choice but to remain Russia’s ally. We therefore have a very weird situation, compliments of the “peoples choice”. A country fully dependent on Russia for survival now has a ruling administration that is in the service of Western powers and Globalists. The sad/troubling part in all this is that Armenians as a collective people both in and out of the homeland are too self-engrossed and too politically illiterate to do anything positive or constructive when it comes to Armenia’s future. With these Western agents and Neo-Bolsheviks in power, Armenia’s situation on the global stage will gradually get worst in the coming years. In the process, we will run the risk of not only polluting Armenia’s vital/strategic water resources but also losing significant amounts of land in Artsakh.

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