Pashinyan: “No legal basis to halt Amulsar mine”

Asks protesters to unblock access to mining site

Pashinyan pictured during a meeting about the Amulsar project (September 7, 2019)

YEREVAN—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on Monday that “there is simply no legal basis to block construction and excavation of the Amulsar mine.” In a Facebook Live broadcast, the Prime Minister informed citizens that his administration had been poring over legal and environmental legislation pertaining to the mine following the conference call with ELARD experts. “As you know, I had asked the Minister of Nature Protection to provide me with an assessment over the mining project’s environmental impact by September 4th, which we have scrutinized with great care,” the Prime Minister said.

“The Armenian legal system provides no mechanisms allowing a minister to call for another study,” concluded the Prime Minister. He went on to explain that the only way for the Armenian government to require a fourth environmental impact assessment (EIA) from Lydian would be if the implemented mitigation measures were to fundamentally alter the site’s original plan.

“Lydian has promised us that their mine will be 100 percent clean,” Pashinyan said. “What does 100 percent mean? It means that there will be no dust in the air, no contaminants in the water of any kind, including during the construction phase.” The Prime Minister’s wording of this commitment differed somewhat from that which was actually made during his meeting with Lydian executives on Saturday. In a video released from the meeting, Lydian International’s interim President Edward Sellers assured the Prime Minister that his company “is committed and undertaking to perform to the standards required by the EIA, and that includes ensuring that the surrounding communities are not adversely affected by pollution in any form.” 

Pashinyan pictured with Interim President and Director General of Lydian International Edward Sellers (September 6, 2019)

Recognizing the importance of environmental preservation, the Prime Minister also warned that Armenia cannot afford to allow continued economic uncertainty either. Referencing the Moody’s Investor Service’s recent upgrade of Armenia’s credit score, Pashinyan reminded viewers that his government has a responsibility to settle the Amulsar mine controversy in accordance with the law or risk squandering the country’s economic potential. 

“If we were to block the Amulsar mine site solely on the concerns of environmentalists, why then would we not also block the Zangezur and Teghut copper mines, which certainly do not abide by international environmental standards?” reasoned the Prime Minister. “However, Lydian Armenia LTD remains ultimately liable for any damage on the site,” he added.

The Prime Minister has tasked the Ministry of Nature Protection with performing an on-site examination of the mine to determine if it indeed contains any planning flaws and whether these could be rectified without the need of another survey. The Prime Minister also reiterated the right of Environment Ministry inspectors to conduct an analysis of the site at any time during its re-construction and operation. 

Lydian Armenia CEO Hayk Aloyan greeted the Prime Minister’s announcement with cautious optimism. In an interview with the Armenian Weekly, the mining executive said, “We have noted both in the PM’s speech today as well as in the recording of the discussion between Lydian and the government this last Saturday, that there is a recognition on behalf of the government of the high standards that Lydian has offered, unparallelled in Armenia.” He went on to express his hope that a fair and quick solution of the Amulsar issue “will benefit the country in the long run and will certainly help raise the environmental standards in mining, as the Prime Minister reflected upon during the Saturday meeting.”

Access to the Amulsar mining site has been blocked by several dozen environmental activists since August of last year, disrupting production which was expected to start last September. These protesters have rejected the conclusions of at least three independently-conducted environmental impact assessments that the mine, operated by the anglo-Canadian conglomerate Lydian International LTD, poses no damage to the tributaries to Lake Sevan or the natural springs at the nearby Jermuk resort town. 

An Armenian court has upheld an earlier judgement that these blockades constitute illegal trespassing following an unsuccessful appeal by protesters. Lydian International’s Canadian and British subsidiaries have already filed international arbitration requests against Armenia but stopped short of proceeding with litigation so far.

Aloyan revealed to the Armenian Weekly that at least 10 highly trained local employees have permanently migrated out of the country since the blockade began, while 300 locally-hired full-time employees and 1000 contractors have lost their jobs. However, the Lydian Armenia CEO felt reassured by the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement of harm inflicted on Armenia’s international reputation towards investors by the blockade, adding “I believe all parties now will need to put significant efforts into restoring that trust and making Armenia attractive to foreign investments.”

Pashinyan appealed to protesters blocking the site to allow Environment Ministry inspectors to pass, contending that the new timetable gives the government time to enforce strict environmental regulations before mining commences. “People of Jermuk, I ask you to remove your blockades from the roads leading up to Amulsar,” the Prime Minister pleaded on Facebook Live. 

But anti-mining activists are standing their ground; an environmentalist group known as the “Amulsar Without Mine” Initiative responded to the Prime Minister’s call in a statement: “Our positions of Amulsar will not open, but on the contrary, they will get stronger. We will not allow this mine to be exploited; Amulsar will remain a mountain. We will fight to the end; let’s unite the people’s forces and stand behind our compatriots living in Jermuk with all Armenians.” 

Lawyer-turned-environmental activist Nazeli Vardanyan, who had previously caused a sensation by erroneously claiming that Armenian highways would be in danger of “exploding cyanide trucks,” also expressed her disappointment with the Prime Minister’s decision in a televised interview with Azatutyun TV. Vardanyan cast aside any concerns over breaking the $400 million contract with Lydian International without cause, arguing that the Amulsar site is not a mine yet, since it is still in the construction phase, and therefore people have a right to oppose the opening of yet a new mining operation in their community. 

Curiously, the environmentalists gained the backing of an unexpected ally on Monday when billionaire-tycoon Gagik Tsarukyan declared his opposition to the new mine. Tsarukyan’s opposition Prosperous Armenia Party had been part of the government which signed the initial mining concession with Lydian back in 2012. Perplexingly, Tsarukyan’s holding company Multi Group operates at least one open-pit gold mine near the village of Mghart in Lori Province. 

In any case, many of the structures on the yet-unfinished Amulsar construction site have suffered decay over the year-long blockade and may have to be torn down. Lydian specialists have conveyed to the Prime Minister that reconstruction would not resume until at least April of next year, while mining operations are not expected to commence until January 2021 at the earliest.

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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.

14 Comments

  1. He has had enough time to do anything of value for the Armenians in Armenia. It hasn’t come to fruition. Instead, he decided to have presence on social media. He is utterly unqualified to lead the nation. A huge disappointment.

  2. What is more important to be legally correct or to be morally correct. Which mode of decision making process will protect Armenia and the Armenian people. The previous three administrations have stolen from Armenia while the world banks watched this happen. The same banks who are going to threaten Armenia with lowering our investment ranking if we don’t follow the legal process. If the people of Armenia demand to shit down the Amulsar site then that is the moral thing to do. Armenians have protected Armenia for thousands of years and it should not come down to a past corrupt administration and international banking institutions to decide what is legal and what is not when it comes to Armenia. The current administration has a very tough decision to make. They themselves has said that they would not have approved this mining site it was presented to them. I am positive that this approval did. Or follow he legal process when Sarkissian approved it. I am sure there was payoffs. Don’t talk about what is legal better to talk about what is moral and expected as an Armenian.

    • It turns out that there is plenty of legal ground to reject that project and, in fact, Armenia will be violating multiple international conventions by opening the mine, as well as local laws and regulations. I think Pashinyan is simply a coward and a manipulator. He also does not understand much in international relations and how to handle such problems.

    • What is more important, a deficient law on mining or morality? Ihe people have spoken, no damn mining by a corrupy, offshore outside company. No mining at all. In case the government decides to open the mine, cause rebellion by effected citizens, will be the last nail in the coffin of the so called “Velvet Revolution”. Wake up!!!

  3. Quit yer whinning dude. Your boss, Nickolick, took a legitimate government down with the help of some 150,000 village idiots. Your incompetent Facebook PM, should be locked up in jail with that cockeyed LTP for instigating the March 2008 riots. They are RESPONSIBLE for the murder of two police officers protecting the city from hooligans. I have the full videos of the riots and be glad to assist the ECHR for their invesstigation.

  4. @ Ruz,
    You must be a millenial. Did you actually have reservation of a criminal, that spent two years in jail for instigating riots in Yerevan, to be your savior? Good grief.

  5. living Abroad I only get to read and hear what is going on in Armenia. Visiting Armenia as wonderful as it is still does not give the true sense of what Armenians have to go thru day by day. The last three administrations have been taking Armenia backwards vs forwards. Stealing and pillaging for their own personal gains is a criminal offense. What are we teaching our children. That it is ok to steal from Armenia or to hurt Armenians. The current PM has implemented some policies that should keep politicians honest. That is a good start. He is also at least tacking crucial issues like the roads in Armenia. How does a country have so many bad roads. The past administrations did not address the basic items needed to help a country grow. As much needed revenue that this gold line will bring in, it will not be close to enough to cover the cost of land destruction and health of the Armenians. PM must stop this gold mine and focus on the other projects to grow the country.

  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 truly positive or constructive when it comes to Armenia’s long term survival in the south Caucasus. Nevertheless, with these Western agents and Neo-Bolsheviks now in power, Armenia’s situation on the global stage will gradually get worst in the coming years. In the process, we as a people will run the risk of not only ruining Armenian culture and polluting Armenia’s vital/strategic water resources but also losing significant amounts of land in Artsakh.

    • Every leader was put in power by the help of some group or political interest. The US is always on a constant mission to expand their interests which is always at the cost of the host county. To say that Armenia’s PM was put in power to serve western interests is a pretty far stretch. I don’t see any connect to that. He is trying to make changes in a country that was being strangled by the previous administrations greed. For Armenia to survive we do need to be a strong ally with Russia. We can still have close ties to Western Europe as well as with other nations but not at the expense of hurting relations with Russia. Armenian culture can only be hurt as an Armenian living outside of Armenia. Like it or not, we are influenced by the home country we are living in. Armenians in Armenia will always hold our culture alive. As far as Artsakh, this will require Armenians all over the world to stand up and fight if it comes down to giving lands ways for reasons that does not protect Artsakh. Not everyone can be a true politician but every politician should be a true patriate to his country. This Will be a true measure of a leader of a county.

  7. In fairness to Prime Minister Pashinyan, he certainly did not create this whole mess; on the contrary, he inherited this whole mess (along with all of the previous mining projects, which were all failures) from his predecessor, Serzh Sargsyan, who certainly had no problem with inviting all those mining companies to come over and inflict damage upon the environment of Armenia in exchange for being showered with tons of money.

    On the other hand, Prime Minister Pashinyan made a bad move by going against the wishes of the residents of Jermuk, and instead allowing that Canadian mining company to have its way. If Prime Minister Pashinyan had truly been devoted to protecting the inhabitants of Armenia and protecting what’s remaining of the Armenian homeland, then he surely would’ve terminated the Amulsar mining project. A country as tiny as Armenia cannot afford to have mining on its soil.

    “Our positions of Amulsar will not open, but on the contrary, they will get stronger. We will not allow this mine to be exploited; Amulsar will remain a mountain. We will fight to the end; let’s unite the people’s forces and stand behind our compatriots living in Jermuk with all Armenians.”

    I salute those anti-mining activists who are attempting to save Amulsar, as well as protect Lake Sevan and Jermuk from the risk of being harmed. When the law fails to protect you, then you most definitely have the right to take the law into your own hands and protect yourself by any means necessary.

  8. Is anyone listening to our young people around the world today? Opening a mine? More pollution to our planet? More destruction to our planet and our children’s future? Is anyone listening? More money is not going to save humanity. Armenians included.

  9. Another concerned diaspora Armenian
    I found a great deal of the outcry about the issue of Amulsar unjustified. The clamour, both inside and outside of Armenia, reaches at times to demagoguery.
    Whatever reservations we may have about Pashinian’s manner of running the country, the present controversy and how it will be solved can be of vital importance for the future of economy of Armenia, regardless of who is in power.
    The environmentalists’ concerns are of course understandable, but as the article makes it quite clear, those concerns have been so far properly addressed by the government. Three independent assessments have concluded that the operation does not pose any threat to the environment. Besides, the government has acquired strong assurances that the operation would be safe and it can at any time during the operation intervene to make sure that all goes well. I find the blocking of the Ministry of Nature Protection inspectors’ access to the mining site by over-excited activists to conduct on-site investigation irresponsible. They may have been moved by honest motives, but going that far may work the other way and ruin the economy.
    Either you have to close your doors to foreign investment and stifle yourself in your own house or if you want to activate your economy and create work places to prevent, among others, further emigration, you have to develop economic relations with the outside world and play according to the rules.

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