Armenia’s PM calls on protesters to end gold mine blockade 'in national interest'

Armenia’s PM calls on protesters to end gold mine blockade 'in national interest'
Amulsar mine is located near remote mountain spa town Jermuk. Pictured is Hyatt Place hotel during construction.
By bne IntelliNews January 27, 2020

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has called on environmental protesters to end their 18-month-old blockade of foreign-owned Amulsar gold mine, saying that their protest is not in the national interest.

Anglo-American mining firm Lydian International has been developing the mine since 2016. Its investment stands at nearly $500mn to date. No legal or environmental requirements are breached by the mine, Lydian says, adding that if properly operational it would create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues. However, local residents and environmental activists have blockaded a road to the site since June 2018. They claim operations at Amulsar mine could pollute local water sources.

Minerals and metals make up around half of impoverished Armenia’s exports.

“I consider their [protesters] actions are not logical... and not in the interest of Armenia,” Pashinian told a news conference, Reuters reported. “This issue will not be resolved as long as the roads are blocked.”

‘Hidden economic interests’

Pashinian said he suspected that there were some hidden economic interests stirring up the protest. “They hope that some changes will happen in the stock exchange so they can get shares, but we will not let such processes happen,” he said.

Toronto Stock Exchange said earlier this month that it would delist Lydian from February 5 because the company did not meet requirements. The company has been permitted temporary protection from creditors’ claims as a result of the blockade. It said last year the blockade had forced the cutting of more than 1,000 jobs and caused losses of more than $60mn.

Some inhabitats of mountain spa town Jermuk, near which the mine is located around 170 kilometres (105 miles) southeast of the capital, Yerevan, have said that the mine would secure much-needed employment for their area.

Last November, Lydian said it planned to start fresh legal action after Armenia’s environment ministry rejected its application for a licence to draw 40 litres per second (l/s) from the River Darb. Lydian initially applied to use 43.5 l/s, but lowered its request after this was rejected in September. 

The company said it was challenging the ministry’s decision on the grounds that it failed to make a decision within 50 days of the initial submission. It planned to file an application with the Administrative Court of Armenia. 

“It is regrettable that Lydian must once again seek assistance from the Armenian judiciary to address unlawful attempts to interfere with Lydian’s legal right to develop and operate the Amulsar project,” said Edward Sellers, Lydian’s interim president and CEO after the legal move was announced.