Economy 16:36 08/03/2023 Armenia

Jermuk will become ghost town in case of Amulsar gold mine operation, ecologist warns

Jermuk will cease to be a spa town if mining operations at the Amulsar gold deposit restart, EcoLur Informational NGO President Inga Zarafyan told in an interview on Wednesday.

Armenia’s Ministry of Economy, the Eurasian Development Bank and Lydian Armenia, a subsidiary of the U.S.-British Lydian International, on February 22 signed a memorandum for $250 million to complete construction work at the Amulsar gold mine and purchase the necessary equipment.

The U.S. and Canadian investors have granted the Armenian government a 12.5% stake in the project in return for its pledge to manage the risks.

The Armenian budget revenues from the development of the Amulsar deposit are expected to be around 40 billion drams a year, officials claim. In addition, it will create hundreds of new jobs.

Ecologists and residents of the settlements near the gold mine have warned over the disastrous consequences of the mining project for years. The development of the gold mine will put Armenia’s water resources at risk. Springs and groundwater in Jermuk and Sevan will be polluted with heavy metals and won't be fit for use, threatening people's health.

Inga Zarafyan claims the Amulsar mining project poses not only environmental, but also security risks.

"After September 2022, Jermuk has become a border settlement. The government should have taken urgent measures to enhance the community’s security, but instead it gave the green light to the Amulsar project, which makes the area more dangerous," she said.

The ecologist noted that the economics minister only talks about the job openings, but remains silent on the damage to the nature and people’s health.

"Yes, new jobs will be created, but not for locals, because most of them currently work in Jermuk hotel complexes. I don't think they will leave their jobs and go to work at the mine. It means the people from other settlements will come there temporarily to work. The local residents, who have been developing and improving Jermuk for decades, will leave the town, while in several years the people who have temporarily settled there will return to their places of residence. Thus, Jermuk will be abandoned," stated the environmentalist.

Inga Zarafyan says Jermuk will face the same fate as Dastakert in Syunik Province, which was abandoned after the mine exploitation.

"Jermuk will become a ghost town like Dastakert," she added.

The environmentalist also dismisses the claims the international investments in the Amulsar project guarantee its safe operation as “manipulation”.

"For example, there are investments in the Sotk mine, gold is being extracted there now, but it repeatedly comes under Azerbaijani shelling, so it’s not protected either and investments do not play a role in this regard," she stressed.

Zarafyan called out the hasty government decision on the mine exploitation. She recalled that an independent study by the Lebanese company ELARD commissioned by the Armenian government in 2019 found potential environmental risks of the project, especially danger to the country’s water resources.

She said the government may have been pressured into signing the document

“I think the government has shouldered a heavy burden. Probably, this document was adopted under pressure. The whole process of signing the memorandum was kept closed. So, after the unexpected and quick adoption of the document, I have come to the conclusion that there was some pressure. It's strange how the government agreed to take such a risk," Inga Zarafyan said.

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