Second Betrayal Brewing?

art- Second Betrayal Brewing-pic 2- dead fish
Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN

Roughly two months ago, the government of the Republic of Armenia enacted a flat tax whose regressive effects will hurt those least able to afford it. This betrayal largely hit the same people who supported those who came to power through a popular uprising in Spring 2018, then consolidated their success through elections at year’s end.

Now, there is a palpable fear that they might harm not only their supporters, but everyone and the country, the land, as a whole. The risk comes from a proposed gold mine which would decapitate a mountain at Ամուլսար/Amulsar. Those who write about and analyze Yerevan’s action seem to believe the government is inclined to approve this mine. Indeed, Prime Minister Pashinian said as much a few days ago, though developments since then give some hope that the battle’s not lost yet.

The RoA is no stranger to mines, and poorly or irresponsibly operated, severely polluting ones at that. Forget about the horrible mining legacy of the Soviet era. Just a few years ago, despite extensive protests, warnings, discussions, publicity, etc. the Թեղուտ//Teghut mine in the north was allowed to proceed. Its tailings (the toxic sludge which is a byproduct of the mining process) dam failed early in 2018, poisoning local rivers, and almost no-one said a word about it.

But Amulsar is in a class of its own with the hazard it poses, impacting a huge portion of the tiny fragment of our homeland still under Armenian control.

Predicted underground toxic flows from Amulsar gold mine

The widespread concern that the government is poised to approve the mine is based official Yerevan’s responses to the recently released report by ELARD, a Lebanese outfit it had hired to audit Lydian, against whom court proceedings had been initiated based on concerns that it had not obeyed the law. The report evidently finds that Lydian followed the rules.

But…

There are reports that ELARD had dealings with Lydian previously, meaning it has a conflict of interest, and may not be the kind of unbiased evaluator needed in a situation like this. Plus, record of government discussions show that Prime Minister Pashinian wants to initiate a new environmental review (referred to by its Armenian acronym ՇՄԱԳ/ShMAC), but the law doesn’t allow it. Also, this latest report was not intended to address the mine’s safety, rather Lydian’s actions and if they followed the rules.

The good news is that a new ShMAC isn’t necessary. The original provides all the information necessary to shut down this process now. Here’s how.

Lydian’s ShMAC documents that in about 130 years pollutants generated by the mine will reach Lake Sevan, the country’s jewel, source of irrigation, fish, recreation, tourism… simply, LIFE. How will this happen?

Fish killed by a gold mine’s toxic leakage in Armenia’s Lori province

It turns out that the routes water takes underground (see the accompanying diagram), starting at the mine lead it to cross the Vorotan tunnel which moves water from the Spendiarian reservoir to the Կեչուտ/Ketchut reservoir. From there, water is moved via the Arpa-Sevan tunnel to Lake Sevan. You may recall the tremendous hoopla in 1981 when this project was completed to save the lake whose levels were dropping dangerously because too much water was being drawn from it for various uses. Ironically, this “savior” might end up delivering poison to its intended beneficiary if Lydian is allowed to proceed.

You might be wondering why any of this is a problem. So what of the poison from the mine crosses the tunnel, right? An unfortunate fact of life is that tunnels leak, both in and out. So the poison from the mine would penetrate the Vorotan tunnel’s walls then proceed to the lake as described above.

You are rightfully wondering “What is this poison?” As with any metal, gold usually is not in its pure form when being mined. It is mixed up with other materials and substances. That’s why the stuff that is mined is called “ore” and must be separated into its parts so the gold (or other metal) can be extracted and purified. In Amulsar’s case, part of what accompanies the ore is sulphates. These are naturally occurring and are mostly buried and harmless. Some of them near the surface are oxidized and stable. But, when a huge pit is dug exposing the sulphates to the elements, specifically water from rain and snow, the stuff becomes sulphuric acid, a very strong acid. This is the poison that would leach into the groundwater and end up in Lake Sevan, probably killing off fish and other life in the lake, rendering it unswimmable and its waters unfit for irrigation. Also, with the waters exiting the lake used to generate a significant portion of the country’s electricity, I have to wonder what effect the acidified water would have on the turbines used in that process.

It seems to me all the government has to do is cite Lydian’s own report regarding this matter to shut down the operation. After all, why go through an environmental review process is the findings cannot be used to terminate a proposed project if it is found to be too dangerous?

As you read more about this issue, keep your focus on the sulphates-to-reservoirs/tunnels-to-Sevan problem. Other, lesser, hazards such as dust, local acidification, and other unavoidable mining nastiness can be remedied, they have engineering solutions (which is what should be implemented for other mines operating in the RoA). These are the problems being touted by some officials as solvable, ignoring the acidic elephant in the room.

But, you can’t stop water. It is a very insidious and powerful force. Think about the Grand Canyon in the U.S. Water created that massive channel. Think about the leaks you may have had in your own home, how difficult might have been to track down where they originated. Now think about whether it is worth risking a whole country for a very short term, and very small, gain. Much of the financial benefits of the gold extracted will not accrue to local villagers or the government, but to a few investors and a foreign corporate entity.

In case you need more convincing, take a look at the picture of the fishkill resulting from another gold mine’s leakage into the Tsoraked stream, a tributary of the Chknagh River in the Lori province of Armenia. That happened in late June.

What has to happen now is massive pressure. From the streets of Yerevan to Amulsar (where locals have set up roadblocks preventing Lydian’s entry for the past year or so) citizen action is required. From the corner of Lexington and Central in Glendale (where the Los Angeles RoA Consulate General of the RoA sits) to embassy row in Washington, D.C. and everywhere else in the Diaspora, demonstrations are necessary. This mine must not happen. I read that some action is already being taken in London, England. Good for our compatriots there!

If you’re too far from some of the places where such protest activities are likely to occur, write to your nearest diplomatic representation of our homeland.

It would be horrible to have survived Turkish attempts to exterminate us and extirpate us from our ancient homeland only to make it unlivable by our own hand through inaction and neglect in the face of corporate greed and corrupt governments that allowed this mining proposition to even get this far. Let’s enable this government to do the right thing and not betray us all a second time in to months.

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14 Comments

  1. Gurgen2 said:

    Thank you Garen for bringing forth some important issues from the homeland. I’ve really appreciated the wonderful work you’ve done over the last few years. I’d like to add that to extract gold from the ore will require millions of gallons of mercury solvents which will collect in large leach ponds. This toxic substance will then leach over the decades into both Jermuk mineral springs and Lake Sevan which is used to irrigate the Ararat valley for agriculture. It’s an absolute disaster. There’s approximately $3 to $4 billion dollars worth of gold at Amulsar in todays prices, not to mention massive amounts of silver and uranium, and not one once of which will remain in Armenia. Unfortunately Armenia will only be left with centuries of toxicity that will poison the water and food of future generations.

    The revolution was supported by the people so that the wrongs of the previous regime would be corrected but so far this new government has been continuing the mistakes of the past and in many cases making things worse. I partilally blame the current President of Armenia Armen Sarkisyan who has many contacts in Britain and who is rumoured to have initially been on the board of Lydian and who together with Serj Sarkisyan gave this mine the green light. This mine should not go ahead under any circumstance. If you recall Prince Charles’ visit to Armenia a few years back, it wasn’t because he’s interested in the Matenadaran, we now see the fruits of that visit. Lydian should take their investments and their threat of law suits and get the hell out of Armenia.

    • ardachece barseghian said:

      what needed to be answered on the threats and to have us informed about the involvement of the President and Serj Sarkissian in this commitment to high national dangerosite … Incredible. Mr Pachinian pledged during his political march, insistently, to listen to the people of the citizens

  2. Garo said:

    The mine is a catch 22. You dont allow it, fewer jobs in armenia. Due to limited employment, many are leaving. The other issue is as you say. Best solution is allow it with regulation to prevent any environmental probs.

    • ardachece barseghian said:

      So you’re ready to sell the very existence of our nation, with its citizens, for a small fist of dollars? Complete the genocide, this time ecological, for a few kilos of gold with irreversible genetic consequences?

  3. Armen said:

    “Betrayal” is a toxic term and I think is best not used in intellectual or political discourse. Many Armenians in Armenia called the ARF’s actions of siding with Kocharian as betrayal (“Tavajan Tashnag Shner”), and now you are calling Pashinyan’s moves as betrayal. This is divisive term and Armenia does not need any more division at this point.

    • ardachece barseghian said:

      The country needs openness through international cooperation with economic, social, cultural, political and civil programmes. This requires women and men competent forms to write and implement these programs. It is probably not by pouring billions of dollars, we have seen for 30 years this ultra liberal policy applied by oligarchs, mafias who have pushed us into misere and exodus. The leaders of our party have miserably failed in Armenia, YES in truth, these leaders have been more than incompetent in terms of our legacy by our political history and the nobility of its ideals. But we must rebuild this cathedral in Armenia on a sound basis. For this, the diaspora must return to the country on the side of its fellow citizens still impregnated with Soviet culture to stimulate a new culture, far from nepotism, corruption as drinking, eating … Long live the Armenie where I’m installed and work my measure since 28, soon 80 spring

  4. ardachece barseghian said:

    Long live the Armenie where I’m installed and work my measure since 28, soon 80 spring

  5. Yes said:

    Is this satire? Grand Canyon and bathroom leakage? I have been following the news about Amulsar and I have never heard of any of these outlandish allegations raised here. If you are going to claim that ELARD has some sort of conflict of interest issue then at least provide some evidence to back what you claim. Any mining project comes with its risks and Amulsar is not an exception. If we are going to halt all mining since they are inherently risky to environment then we should say goodbye to our cellphones and laptops. You can’t even imagine a world without copper, aluminum or gold. When it comes to Amulsar, they are going to stick to such standards that has never been implemented in Armenia. So if we are going to close all mines then Amulsar would probably end up being the last. Strangely, the author almost makes no mention of the fact that the contract was signed years ago and Lydian has made hundreds of millions of dollars of investment since then. The new government is dealing with yet another catastrophe they inherited. Naturally, they are trying to find a way out of this without inflicting serious damage to Armenia. Lydian has already taken the first steps to RIGHTFULLY seek compensation in arbitration court. You can’t just sign a contract with investors, let them invest millions and one day kick them out since you just realized it has risks. So how many of you environment lovers are ready to donate your savings to a fund that will help the new government kick Lydian out of Armenia and not betray you? One more thing, that last analogy with the Armenian Genocide was just the epitome of absurdity. I wonder if the author made such ridiculous comparisons when the former government was signing this with Lydian.

    • Gurgen2 said:

      You want more copper and gold go mine them in your country. Armenia is only 26,000 Sq km in size with 400+ operating mines. Over two dozen of which are metal mines which have utterly poisoned the environment. That’s the highest density of mines in the world, and they’re all very close to population centers giving Armenia the 2nd highest cancer rate in the world. Sad thing is that neither the extracted metals nor the profits have remained in Armenia. Despite all the gold mines in Armenia ask the central bank in Armenia what their gold reserves are and try not to laugh. Screw Lydian, the British owned company and screw their investments. After all the so-called velvet revolution was largely funded by British and other western interests so they can eat the consequences of that “people’s” revolution should the mine be prevented. Sadly though I believe this prime minister will push the mine forward because he knows who’s put him on the throne and who can easily take him down. Let’s wait and see.

      • Yes said:

        Did I say I want more mines? You can not just calm down and express your thoughts?
        I raised some important issues and you failed to address any of those. You failed to say who is going to compensate for the hundreds of millions they have invested. You are going to do it? Fine. that is great. give them their millions and let them go.
        Apart from that, I have zero interest in your conspiracy theories about the revolution. Pashinian has yet to visit UK. Meanwhile he has been to Russia for like a zillion times, I lost the count. That I guess fits perfectly with your delusional narrative that Brits or Americans funded the revolution in Armenia.

    • ardachece barseghian said:

      We know, I mean scientists, mercury among others that treats the purte of gold has irreversible genetic consequences so I repeat my absurdity “do we need, this time, an ecological genocide?”

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