Operation of Amoulsar Gold Mine is Yet Another Disaster to Armenia
Call Upon All Armenians To Reject Any Support For Mining in Amoulsar (Jermuk)
Amoulsar is one of the peaks of the Armenian highlands, a mountain 3000m above the sea level, located between Vayots Dzor and Syunik regions of Armenia and only 10 km away from one of the gems of Armenia, hydrological wonder Jermuk.
When gold exploration started in 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 the civil society and local communities for over 3 years. Since 2011, 3 scientific conferences, 5 official public hearings, as well as many press conferences have been organized on mining of Amoulsar during which many geologists, hydrologists, economics, 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 fact 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.”
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 Amulsar, 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 be included in Jermuk National Park, a protected area that will be created soon, but overpasses the mountain for obvious reasons.
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 2 complaints from Armenia, one from 9 organizations and another one from 200 members of Gndevaz community with a request to revoke financial support for this project, as it does not meet international standards promulgated by their own institutions.
For all those who will have to hear the nicely-packaged PR of Lydian International, here are some guidelines to the risks of gold mining in Amoulsar.
- Amoulsar mountain and its surrounding area are of strategic hydrological importance for Armenia and are included in the water basin of Lake Sevan. Arpa and Vorotan rivers originate from this mountain and strip mining will not only disrupt formation of streams falling into these rivers, but will inevitably result in pollution of these streams and subsequently of these river basins with heavy metals already on surface (more than 1000 ha of land will change their landscape) . The fact that strip mining of Amoulsar is a threat to Lake Sevan was recognized by the Special Governmental Committee on Lake Sevan in 2012. Any activity with a possible negative impact on the ecosystem of Lake Sevan is prohibited by the Law on Lake Sevan. The open pit mining will also affect Darb river, which waters many vineyards and agricultural lands and feeds fish-farms down the stream. Please be aware that this is not yet processing of ore and the cyanide leach-pad which is yet another risk to the environment.
- No assessment is made on how the intensive explosions will affect the rock formations of Jermuk and its underground water resources (hot springs), located from 2km to 10 km away from the mine. It is also not assessed how the explosions will affect the highly vulnerable Vorotan-Arpa tunnel built specifically to save Lake Sevan. Jermuk hot springs have made Jermuk an international hot spring resort and not only will its reputation as a clean environment conducive to health recovery be at stake, but also the entire industries of agriculture, fish-farming, mineral water bottling and tourism.
- Amoulsar is in a high radiation zone, the ore samples show that concentration of radon exceeds 400 Bq/m3. Geological scientific data also show that Amoulsar mine is also rich in uranium. The company has presented no plan of managing this situation. The gold mine is also located only several km away from a large uranium mine. It is not assessed how the explosions will affect the highly dangerous uranium deposits. It is also not assessed at which depth does the uranium concentration increase. Overall, seismic assessments are not conducted for this mining project whereas the area is located in a 10-point Richter scale zone.
- The impact of dust rich in heavy metals is not assessed at all. The measurement of wind direction is also falsified and is only measured in a wind station located in a gorge where there are only 2 directions, while in Amoulsar there are at least 4 directions for the wind. It is not assessed what impact the 700 tons of dust rich in heavy metals and generated on a yearly basis for 10 years will have on people’s health, pastures, agricultural lands and biodiversity. Overall, no health impacts are assessed.
- Mining in Amoulsar will eventually be illegal as it is banned to mine in any area where there are Red-listed species of fauna or flora, as well as cultural and historical assets. It is a proven fact that this area has rich biodiversity with red-listed species, including 1 plant, 18 species of birds (this is by the way an International Bird Area), reptiles and butterflies and 4 mammals. These facts have been proven by WWF Armenia and are confirmed by the environmental impact assessment of the company itself. The area is also rich with archaeological assets dating as back as the 3rdmillennium B.C. and they will be irreparably damaged as a result of explosions. No transfer of such cultural monuments has ever happened in Armenian mines.
- Gold concentration in the ore is officially only 0.8g per 1 ton, wherein larger amounts of lead, cadmium, arsenic and other toxic metals are going to be dumped in the air through dust and accumulated in a tailing dump or so-called “leach-pad”. It is planned that more than 122mln tons of solid waste and more than 342mln tons of liquid waste rich in cyanide will be deposited in one of the richest agricultural and touristic areas of Armenia. Their possible negative impact is not assessed and presented to the public. It is planned that during the 10 years of mining operation, more than 20,000 tons of highly toxic cyanide and 10,000 tons of hydrochloride acid is going to be transported and used for processing ore. And this is all for allegedly 60 tons of gold.
- The costs and benefits of mining Amoulsar are not assessed at all, it is not assessed how much Armenia will lose economically from loss of agricultural lands, touristic industry and ecosystem services. In fact, mining is only a “heaven” for companies which pay miserably low taxes for profit, do not pay anything for the millions of tons of mining waste, do not pay environmental fees etc. Taxation of mining in Armenia is one of the lowest in the world, and environmental regulation and inspection, one of the worst.
- The local communities will be under a strong social challenge by losing their traditional means of livelihood; agriculture, tourism, fish-breeding, they will engage in mining for only 10 years and after 10 years they will never be able to return to their previous livelihood: their lands will have been seized and under mining infrastructure, their environment will be polluted and no longer good for agriculture and tourism, the women of the communities will be left jobless while the men will only work in the mines for 10 years. The community of Gndevaz is under the threat of resettlement, however neither the company, nor the government speak of this. This village will only be less than 2 km away from the gold processing plant and all heavy trucks will daily transport the rocks through the village, which inevitably will make the village uninhabitable.
Aside from these facts, all potential investors should bear in mind that we, as civil society aspiring for democracy, rule of law and the right of our population to live in a healthy and prosperous environment, will do our best to deter operation of this and other mines by removal of potentially corruption-backed systems and regimes.
Therefore, 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