Tag Archives: armenian ecosystem

Syunik village mayor resigns over mining project

Upper Syunik, Armenia
Upper Syunik, Armenia (photo Christian Garbis)

Reading yesterday’s headlines I came across a major news story of a Kajaran mayor in Syunik, Rafik Atayan, resigning from his position and from the Republican party in protest to the government’s decision to confiscate 181 hectares of land in the area. The land will be turned over to the German-owned mining company, Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC). The lands will become an “open-pit mine,” meaning that all the dust created in the excavation process will drift and pollute the surrounding areas. Water supplies and agricultural lands will be ruined as well. The Armenian MP living the village, a former executive of the mining company, is obstinately indifferent.

The mayor’s protest is admirable but will ultimately prove nothing since his replacement will obligatorily sign the paperwork formalizing the new mining initiative.

Land has already been given to the Chinese in Syunik in a different government-backed plan, ironically nit to far from Tatev, which was anticipated to be Armenia’s top tourist attraction when it opened just over a year ago. There are still other controversial projects that are stalled or about to get underway in Teghut and Hrazdan.

The justification for opening the mine (and others) is the following, quoted from an article published by RFE/RL:

The German group [Cronimet, the parent company] insisted that the planned expansion of the ZCMC’s mining operations stems from “a number of agreements” with the Armenian government. That will also boost Armenian exports and “economic stability in the country, it said.

These types of statements have become totally laughable and even insulting. The monthly minimum wage in Armenia is absurdly low at 32,500 dram ($83) and a bill introduced by the ARF last month to nearly double it was shot down by the Republican controlled National Assembly. In other words, most people in Armenia — factory or mining workers being no exception — live hand to mouth. Most people can’t save up and have little or no pocket money to spend to benefit the economy.  ZCMC prides itself as supposedly being the top tax paying corporate institution in Armenia (untold sums of collected taxes are, in turn, eaten), but that doesn’t mean government officials will not reap the benefits of kickbacks from profits. The money made in this deal (and others) will not be vested in the Armenian economy realistically simply because it will end up in several peoples’ pockets and foreign bank accounts instead at the expense of Armenia’s fragile environment. That’s the way things work in capitalist Armenia.

So let’s stop kidding ourselves that high exports in metals are good for the economy. When rural areas are still underdeveloped in and around Armenia, with some new settlements in Armenian-controlled territories doing without roads, running water and electricity as I wrote in a previous post, these statements from government officials are paradoxical. Mining businesses benefit the elite, while the rest of the country’s potential along with its ecological longevity suffer.

Time to wake up.

Saving Teghut Forest

06_07-teghut-1

There is an excellent, concise article on Hetq Online briefing readers about the situation surrounding the threat to the Teghut Forest, located in the northern part of the Tavush region.

As you may know, the forest is scheduled to be felled in a business plan absurdly approved by Armenia’s Ministry of  Nature Protection. Three organizations which will argue their case against the plan are going to court–they are the Transparency International Anti-corruption Center, the Vanadzor Office of the Helsinki Civic Assembly and EGODAR.

The article points out that 357 hectares of forest are to be cleared to make way for a copper mining project taken on by the Armenian Copper Programme (ACP). Many species of endangered wildlife that make Teghut their home have been cited in the “Red Book” published  International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and they even appear in the Armenian Red Book listing endangered species. Rare species of plants and trees will also be affected by the felling.

Here’s an excerpt:

Teghut and the surrounding area are home to several animal species listed in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Book. There are also 7 bird, 7 mammal and 2 reptile species listed in the Armenian Red Book that make Teghut their home.

It should be safe to say that there is some kind of link between Armenian government officials and the management of ACP, as the Ministry of Nature Protection would logically never agree to such a plan assuming the people there were actually doing their jobs for the benefit of their own country, especially when endangered wildlife species are at stake. I can’t understand how that ministry would actually approve such a business plan that would wreak havoc on Armenia’s ecosystem.

Although that at least 1,000 people are expected to be put to work by the ACP, which I doubt will be long term, I can’t justify the further disintegration Armenia’s fragile ecosystem for the sake of business and employment.

Armenia Tree Project five years ago estimated that the total forested area coverage of Armenia was only around 6 percent. At the beginning of the 20th century it was something like 20 percent. By the time Armenia became part of the Soviet Union that figure dropped to 11 percent.

Armenia cannot afford to turn into a desert. The northern parts of the Teghut and Lori regions are blanketed by rich forests which are essential to the survival of Armenia’s ecosystem. The country’s forests have been suffering from illegal cutting to stuff the pockets of money grubbing oligarchs and greedy men in government for years. Can you imagine what Armenia would be like without forests one day? We can’t let that happen.