In the three weeks since I last addressed the Amulsar gold mine issue, it has remained heated and not yet resolved for the better.
Prime Minister Pashinyan had held a meeting on August 19th in which he was asking good questions. This inspired hope along with the fact that a criminal investigation had already been opened into the whole situation, based on suspicions of corruption.
You’ll recall that for several years now, a foreign company named Lydian has been working on getting permission to mine gold at a mountain south of Lake Sevan named Amulsar. By all accounts, it has gone through the most thorough vetting, procedurally, of any mine in the Republic of Armenia to date. Of course being the best of a bad lot doesn’t make it good in an absolute sense. Locals, concerned with the negative impacts of the mine on their health, economy and environment have physically blocked access to the mine by barricading access roads for the past year.
But just a few days ago, Pashinyan announced that there was no legal basis for preventing the mine from commencing its operations. A lawyer, Nazeli Vardanian, who has been active on this issue and is familiar with it immediately countered his assertion. The announcement came after he had given directions to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the whole matter. It seems to me that so extensive a review of all the technical and legal details could not have been conducted in such a short period of time.
This is VERY unfortunate.
As time goes on, the issue is becoming more politicized. That can easily lead to polarization and consequent greater difficulty in coming to the right conclusion as positions harden. At least four different political groupings have spoken up about this issue. One even proposed legislation modifying the RoA’s mining laws. It was quashed in parliament. Russia (obviously not a disinterested or clean-handed party) is reported to have “wondered” why American and British interests should extract gold from Armenia and take it out of the country. One commentator went so far as to describe the Amulsar mine issue as a matter of national security, arguing that any high point (the mountain is in a range whose elevations range upwards from 8000 feet) has military significance.
But all of this can be made simpler. It turns out RoA law permits no activity that may negatively impact Lake Sevan and its ecosystem. Lydian’s Amulsar threatens Sevan. How? In time, toxic water, created by the substances exposed due to mining, will work its way through underground flow and man-made tunnels to Sevan. The argument is made by those favoring mining that these will be so diluted by the time they get to Sevan, they won’t make a difference. Yet the review of the environmental documents prepared for this project by ELARD, a company hired to examine them, state that this assumption of no harm to Sevan is based on COMPLETE mixing of the toxic waters with those of Lake Sevan. The LOCAL effect, where the concentration of the poisons would be highest as they enter the lake, is not examined and addressed in the environmental review.
Which brings us to another very salient fact. ELARD’s 190-page review is replete with phrases such as, “This approach is clearly incorrect for the Project,” “are uncharacterized and cannot be assumed to have the same,” and “The fluxes from the pit seepage modeling are incorrect” along with specific descriptions of inexact or inappropriate assessment methods and tools used throughout Lydian’s documentation. Here, I must correct something I had written in my previous piece whereby I cast suspicion on ELARD by noting it might have a conflict of interest. The amount of criticism in its review removes that concern.
But the bottom line is the potential harm to Lake Sevan, even if other risks can be mitigated. The government of the RoA can use that as grounds to stop this mine.
Perhaps one way to get this across to Pashinyan is to hold up placards reading “Save Amulsar, Save Sevan” and other, similar slogans when he speaks to the Armenian community in Los Angeles on September 22. Who’s up for it?