Yesterday an article was published by RFE/RL confirming that a controversial plan to exploit gold mines near Lake Sevan’s shores was going ahead as planned. And supposedly the government is uninformed about it.
Villagers in the area are rightly up in arms about it since Lake Sevan has already been jeopardized by toxic waste flowing in from polluted rivers. The environmental threat could get a lot worse if this Russian mining company, GeoProMining, continues forward with its profit-seeking ventures damning the future of Armenian ecology in the wake of its efforts.
The area around Sotk has substantial gold deposits that are controlled by an Armenian subsidiary of the Russian industrial group GeoProMining. The company called GPM Gold started building an ore crusher there in February. About two dozen workers could be seen at the construction site on Tuesday.
Environmentalists accuse GPM Gold of violating an Armenian law that bans any manufacturing activity in the vicinity of Sevan that involves toxic emissions. They also say that work on the facility got underway without a mandatory authorization from the Armenian Ministry of Environment Protection.
Such an authorization can be obtained only as a result of an impact assessment conducted by ministry experts. A ministry spokesman, Artsrun Pepanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that GPM Gold never asked the ministry to gauge environmental consequences of ore-crushing operations at Sotk.
Last November, the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber urged the government to revoke the company’s operating licenses for what it called mismanagement and serious legal violations. GeoProMining rejected the accusations and said it will take the parliamentary body to court.
The Armenian government has yet to respond to the recommendation made by the Audit Chamber. The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Wednesday that it is still looking into the chamber’s arguments.
Hetq has written extensively about the environmental risks facing Lake Sevan and its environs as well as in other regions of Armenia. Unfortunately Hetq’s archive section is under development after the relaunch of the web site, but I did manage to find some cached articles when doing a search. Below is a segment written by Astghik Khachatryan from April 2009:
Simon Papayan, Deputy Minister for Nature Protection, stated to the participants that his office has never received any official correspondence from GeoProMining. He added that, “Article 10 of the “Lake Sevan Law” prohibits such operations at the Sevan basin and we are guided by this law. In the past, such a petition was made when the mine belonged to the Indians but we denied their request.”
When asked by “Hetq” what then was reviewed at the March 2 meeting, Mr. Papayan responded, “There was no review meeting. There was a reception where the company presented its vision of how to operate the mine site.”
So in terms of lack of communication, nothing has changed in two years at all. The government still turns a blind eye to what’s going on in Sotk.
We’re talking about Lake Sevan here, the pride and joy of Armenia, one of the most revered vacation spots in the country. Lake Sevan is legendary all over the world, and thousands of Armenians in the diaspora who have yet to visit Armenia, including my brother who was named in honor of that natural wonder, only dream of seeing it. Now the government is standing idly by as the lake faces total destruction. Fish supplies have already dwindled and some subspecies have even gone extinct due to overfishing.
Here’s an excerpt from a follow-up article written by the same reporter in June 2009:
At a press conference held today Boris Gabrielyan, Director of Institute of Hydro-Ecology and Ichthyology of the National Academy of Sciences stated that Lake Sevan no longer has viable fish stocks for commercial use.
He said that besides a fish locally called “karas”, an undesirable species that competes with others for food and habitat, there are few other native species that reproduce naturally.
Mr. Gabrielyan said that two subspecies of Lake Sevan “ishkhan” fish has disappeared all together.
He pointed to the fact that this wasn’t the case 100, 50 or even as late as 10 years ago.
“The government is allocating funds to restock certain species with 3 year-old fingerlings. But their efforts are mostly in vain since much of the restocked fish, once they reach adulthood, are illegally being trapped and fished for commercial purposes. There is no adequate oversight,” Mr. Gabrielyan argued.
Referring to plans by GeoProMining to build a processing plant for Sotk gold on the shores of Lake Sevan, Mr. Gabrielyan said that their studies of the matter or continuing but that they hadn’t given a green light for the project.
So there you have it. No oversight by the government while Armenian businessmen do whatever they want at the expense of the livelihood of rural citizens barely getting by to earn a living, not to mention irreversible environmental damage. Some people are giving polluted water to their cattle due to the reckless dumping of toxic waste. And no one in the government seems to care. The recklessness goes on unabated. No one in politics seems to be complaining about it–either in pro-government or opposition camps. Once word gets out that the operations indeed go forward as planned tourism to Sevan will taper off. And the reason for this catastrophe is the same story: “The country’s not a country.” When does it start to become one?