By Abdul Kerimkhanov
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has very little time left to make a choice between his own population and foreign investors.
Recently, a noisy and large-scale rally was held near the Armenian parliament. Opponents of restoration of work of the Amulsar gold mine protested in front of the parliament building.
The Amulsar project is the largest industrial project in Armenia for the development of the Amulsar gold ore deposit with a total value of $370 million. The Amulsar mine is located in the town of Jermuk. Lydian Armenia, a subsidiary of Lydian International, has been exploring the field since 2007 and received a production permit back in 2015, but due to additional environmental requirements, it was not allowed to start production.
Earlier, Armenia’s Jermuk residents and other citizens who joined them gave the Armenian PM ten days to make a decision that would suit the people. This deadline expires on September 20, which means that Pashinyan has almost no time to think.
"We declare September 20 as the day of environmental mobilization and justice. We urge everyone to prepare for this day. Join us, take to the streets, hang flags in the windows to protect Amulsar," – such calls were made during the protest in front of the parliament building.
Thus, mass disobedience will begin on September 20, and Pashinyan was informed about this.
Lydian Armenia concluded Amulsar gold mine management agreement with previous Armenian authorities, which were not even concerned about environmental safety. Therefore, with the start of operation, local residents began to have problems. In particular, the town inhabitants say they have brown water in their homes.
After seeing that the Armenian government is not going to solve the problems of the population, Jermuk residents began blocking ways to the mine from the summer of 2018.
Pashinyan advocates for the exploitation of Amulsar and calls for the unblocking of roads leading to the mine, saying that resolving issues by blocking roads is damaging Armenia’s reputation. However, when Pashinyan says blocking the streets is the wrong method and that everything should be done in the legal field, the question arises: was it legal to block the streets and overthrow the previous authorities as Pashinyan did last year?
Pashinyan had only a week left to resolve the situation. However, it is practically impossible to resolve it due to the amateurism, incompetence and populism of the revolutionary Armenian government.
The work of the Amulsar mine has been suspended since February 2019 due to the need to obtain an expert assessment of environmental impact. Environmentalists and ordinary citizens are concerned that the operation of the mine could lead to pollution of groundwater in Jermuk and Lake Sevan, causing an environmental disaster.
Following a recent videoconference with Lydian Armenia representatives, Pashinyan announced the identification of new circumstances requiring additional study and evaluation.
Thus, Pashinyan took a step back under the population’s pressure. The repeated examination claimed by him is an attempt to delay the issue’s resolution.
Pashinyan is cornered, outraged crowds stand outside the windows of the parliament, and Lydian threats Armenia with a huge fine. Besides, the opposition has showed up. Although Pashinyan is able to ignore opponents in parliament, he cannot ignore the opinion of the extremist Sasna Tsrer Pan-Armenian Party.
Recently, the Armenian PM met with the top management of the radical group. He was refusing the meeting for many months, but after his appeal to the citizens about the need to unblock the road to the mine, the party’s members insisted on a meeting. This time, Pashinyan could not avoid it.
Objectively, the development of the Amulsar mine really threatens the Jermuk resort, famous for its mineral water.
Four years ago, when construction work at the mine began, the Armenian media warned that Jermuk was in the zone of influence of Amulsar. It operates in an open way, ore is mined by explosions, and gold-related elements, heavy metals and active chemical compounds spread in the air with dust.
Lydian has already invested $400 million in Armenia, the company works legally and therefore requires the Armenian authorities to comply with their obligations under the contract. Whether the Armenian people want it or not, the company has the right to work on Amulsar and the Armenian authorities can’t break the contract at the request of the crowd.
Meanwhile, the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia (AmCham) has recently addressed a letter to the Armenian PM. The letter expressed indignation that Lydian Armenia is currently the only company in this industry that has been imposed three audits, but the road leading to the mine’s territory continues to be illegally blocked for more than a year.
Lydian is the largest foreign investor for Armenia today. Therefore, potential investors may conclude that since the country's authorities treat partners like this, Armenia is not a good country for investments.
So, the prospects for the Armenian economy and the influx of investments are becoming even more vague now.
When Pashinyan allowed the illegal blocking of the mine, he only thought about populism and hoped to abandon all debts and obligations of Armenia. However, the misunderstanding of the realities was a huge mistake of Pashinyan. Now he must make a difficult lose-lose choice.
Abdul Kerimkhanov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @AbdulKerim94
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