RFE/RL Armenian Report – 08/15/2019


Major Mining Project In Armenia Not Risky, Says Environmental Audit

        • Artak Khulian

Armenia - Gold mining facilities constructed by Lydian International company at 
Amulsar deposit, 18 May 2018.

A multimillion-dollar gold mining project launched in Armenia by an 
Anglo-American company but disrupted a year ago does not pose serious 
environmental risks, according to an independent study commissioned by the 
Armenian government.

The company, Lydian International, started building a massive gold mine at the 
Amulsar deposit in the southeastern Vayots Dzor province in August 2016 after a 
lengthy licensing process.

All roads leading to Amulsar have been blocked since June 2018 by several dozen 
people protesting against gold mining operations there which they say would 
contaminate air, soil and water resources in the mountainous area.

Lydian, which claims to have already invested $400 million in the project, has 
dismissed these concerns, saying that it will use modern and safe technology. 
The company has repeatedly demanded an end to what it considers an illegal 
blockage. It openly threatened international legal action against the Armenian 
government in March.

Around that time, the government hired a Lebanese environmental consultancy, 
ELARD, to conduct an environmental assessment of what would be one of the 
biggest foreign investment projects ever implemented in Armenia. Prime Minister 
Nikol Pashinian and other officials have since indicated that Lydian’s renewed 
operations depend on the findings of that audit.

ELARD was specifically tasked with looking into the project’s potential impact 
on Jermuk, a famous spa resort located around 20 kilometers from Amulsar, and 
the more remote Lake Sevan.

The Investigative Committee on Wednesday publicized a 200-page report submitted 
to it by ELARD. The head of the law-enforcement agency, Hayk Grigorian, 
presented its key findings at a cabinet meeting held in Yerevan on Thursday.

Grigorian stressed, in particular, that the audit found that underground water 
at Amulsar has no physical “connections” with mineral water sources in Jermuk 
or rivers and canals flowing into Sevan. The ecologically vital lake might only 
be contaminated with “insignificant” quantities of toxic waste from Amulsar in 
case of a powerful earthquake, he said.

Gold mining poses greater environmental risks for other rivers flowing through 
Vayots Dzor, Grigorian went on. But they can be minimized if Lydian takes 
“mitigating measures” recommended by ELARD, he said, citing the study. The 
official added that the company is ready to take virtually all of those steps.

Grigorian further made clear that based on the audit the Investigative 
Committee has no grounds to indict anyone in its criminal inquiry into a 
government agency that gave the green light to the mining project in April 
2016. The probe was launched in July 2018.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Pashinian said that the government will 
closely examine the ELARD report. He did not specify whether it will order 
law-enforcement authorities to forcibly restore Lydian’s access to the would-be 
mining site.

Armenia -- Protesters block a road leading to the Amulsar mine, July 2, 2018.
As Pashinian chaired the meeting about two dozen environmental activists 
rallied outside his office to warn the government against enabling Lydian to 
resume its operations. They insisted that mining at Amulsar would inflict 
severe damage on the country’s ecosystem.

The protesters demanded an urgent meeting with Pashinian. An aide to the prime 
minister told them that he will receive them later this month.

Meanwhile, Lydian cautiously welcomed the audit’s basic conclusions in a 
statement released on Wednesday. “We are relieved that the Audit Report has 
been made public, as the Government of Armenia has repeatedly conditioned 
Lydian’s ability to advance the Amulsar Project on its results,” the company’s 
interim chairman and chief executive, Edward Sellers, was quoted by the 
statement as saying.

“We look forward to reading the full text of the Audit Report and are confident 
it will confirm Lydian’s prudential approach to environmental stewardship,” 
added Sellers.

The Amulsar project has been supported by the U.S. and British embassies in 
Yerevan. U.S. diplomats have warned that continued disruption of Lydian’s 
operations could scare away other American investors interested in Armenia.

Lydian is registered in a British tax haven, headquartered in the U.S. state of 
Colorado and listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Its shareholders include 
U.S., Canadian and European investment funds as well as the European Bank for 
Reconstruction and Development.

The company planned to produce 210,000 ounces of gold, worth over $315 million 
at current international prices, annually at Amulsar. It also pledged to create 
about 800 permanent jobs and pay about $50 million in annual taxes.

Pashinian Sacks Top Aides

Armenia- Arsen Gasparian, chief adviser to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, 
speaks to RFE/RL in Yerevan, March 6, 2019.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian dismissed his two chief advisers and another 
aide on Thursday.

Pashinian’s executive orders posted on an Armenian government website gave no 
reasons for the sacking of the advisers, Arsen Gasparian Aram Gharibian.

Gasparian is a former diplomat who lived in Russia after resigning from the 
Armenian Foreign Ministry in the late 1990s. He joined Pashinian’s newly formed 
staff in July last year.

Gharibian has held the government position since June 2018. His dismissal will 
take effect on September 2.

Also fired was an assistant to Pashinian, Mher Sahakian. A relevant order 
signed by the prime minister said Sahakian is relieved of his duties at his own 

Pashinian already fired his chief of protocol and two other senior members of 
his staff in April.

One of them, Margarit Azarian, headed the human resources department in the 
prime minister’s office. Azarian is the mother of Artur Vanetsian, the 
influential director of Armenia’s National Security Service.

A spokesman for Pashinian said at the time that the three officials were fired 
because of their “inadequate execution of the prime minister’s orders.” Azarian 
claimed, however, that she herself decided to quit.

Minister Defends Resignation Incentives For High Court Judges

        • Gayane Saribekian

Armenia -- Justice Minister Rustam Badasian speaks to journalists, Yerevan, 

Justice Minister Rustam Badasian on Thursday defended a controversial 
government bill that offers members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court financial 
incentives to resign.

Under a bill drafted by the Armenian Justice Ministry, Constitutional Court 
judges will continue to receive their salaries and other benefits if they 
tender resignations by October 31.

One of those judges, Alvina Gyulumian, rejected the lucrative offer as 
unethical on Tuesday. She suggested that her colleagues will also decline it.

The bill has also been criticized by some legal experts and the government’s 
political opponents. They say that it amounts to a legal “bribe.”

Badasian insisted, however, that his ministry has simply devised a legal 
mechanism for voluntary “early retirement” of judges adopted in many other 

“It’s a common practice for transitional periods and that’s what our bill 
envisages,” he told reporters. “We are awaiting constructive proposals.”

“Any solution contains certain political elements,” said Badasian. “But it 
doesn’t mean it’s a partisan decision. It’s a political decision which cannot 
and does not transcend the boundaries of a rule-of-law state.”

The bill was publicized late last week following Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian’s harsh criticism of the Constitutional Court’s chairman, Hrayr 
Tovmasian. In a July 19 interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Pashinian 
implicitly demanded the resignation of Tovmasian and other judges appointed 
under the country’s previous governments.

Tovmasian rebutted the verbal attack, warning Pashinian’s government against 
trying to force him and his colleagues to quit.

The idea of financially encouraging resignations from the Constitutional Court 
was first floated in June by Vahe Grigorian, the court’s newest judge elected 
by Armenia’s government-controlled parliament. Grigorian suggested it after 
challenging the legitimacy of seven fellow judges installed before amendments 
to the Armenian constitution took effect in April 2018.

The court’s eight other members, including Tovmasian, dismissed Grigorian’s 

Ara Ghazarian, a lawyer and expert on international law, also denied on 
Thursday the existence of a “constitutional crisis” in the country. Still, he 
said the “early retirement” tentatively offered by the government is not a bad 
idea in principle.

“I don’t think it’s a bribe,” Ghazarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “In 
essence, it’s a deal. The practice of a deal exists in jurisprudence.”

“The question is what this would be done for,” he said. “If the idea is to get 
Constitutional Court judges to quit because [the government thinks] there is a 
crisis in the court, I don’t see such a crisis.”

The government, Ghazarian went on, would be wrong to try to get rid of some 
judges for purely political reasons. “If that is the aim of the deal I believe 
it does not reflect an objective necessity,” he said. “Political expediency is 
not an objective necessity.”

Press Review

Lragir.am comments on fresh skirmishes on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan 
which left one Armenian soldier wounded. “All this happened when Russian 
Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev was in Armenia,” writes the 
pro-Western publication. It says that during their meetings with Patrushev 
Armenian officials again expressed concern over Russian arms sales to 

“Aravot” reports that an international economic forum will be held in Yerevan 
on September 30 during a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The 
conference will focus on ways of utilizing “the transit potential of the 
Eurasian continent.” “It is expected that the conference will discuss pressing 
issues related to transport and logistics in the continent, prospects for the 
development by regional states of new and large-scale infrastructure projects 
and the implementation of projects that are already being implemented,” writes 
the paper. It says that with this conference Pashinian hopes to make the EEU 
summit more “lively.” He has invited the president of Iran and the prime 
minister of Singapore to the summit for the same purpose, according to the 
paper. “One should now wait and see how Russia reacts to official Yerevan’s 
efforts,” it says.

“Hraparak” predicts a “heated autumn” for members of Armenia’s parliament which 
is now in summer recess. In particular, the says, the National Assembly has to 
debate and pass several dozen bills envisaged by Armenia’s Comprehensive and 
Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union. One of those bills 
calls for major structural changes within the Armenian police.

(Lilit Harutiunian)

Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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