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Marine Martirosyan

Tourism or Mines? Armenia’s Syunik Province Faces Another Clash of Interests

Ashot Grigoryan, a beekeeper in Armenia’s southern Syunik Province, is concerned that a mining company might put him out of business.

The company in question is Choudo Metal, and it plans to prospect for gold in an area where Grigoryan places his beehives during the summer.

“They’ll drill holes and the winds will bring dust. The bees won’t be able to work,” says Grigoryan, a resident of Shishkert, formerly a part of the rural community of Tsav, but now annexed to the town of Kapan.

Yesterday, at the Kapan Municipality, the beekeeper and a few residents of Shishkert and Tsav attended the third public hearing on the possible environmental effects that the company’s exploratory work will have.

Choudo Metal wants to prospect for gold and other mineral ores in a section of Tsav called Arjidzor (Valley of Bears) from 2018-2021.

At the hearing, Choudo Metal environmental specialist Vram Tevosyan said the prospecting would take place in two areas – one measuring 90 hectares, the other, 202 hectares. The first is 1.8 kilometers from Shishkert, and the second is 3 kilometers distant.

Vram Tevosyan (above photo; right), says the company must estimate the ore reserves at the site before deciding whether to invest in a mining operation.

He says that in general, only one out of ten, or even five, exploratory processes end in a productive mine being located and operated.

Tevosyan admits that drilling for ore samples does impact the surrounding environment and specifies the following three effects – top soil damage, noise pollution, air pollution form equipment diesel exhaust.

He says that the two sites earmarked for exploration are removed from forested areas, and that no trees will be felled.

The second public hearing lasted only 45 minutes. Only a few area residents attended. Choudo Metal company representatives and Ministry of Nature Protection staffers were in the majority, in addition to Kapan municipal employees.

This reporter saw no one from the local press or the civil society community.

At yesterday’s hearing, Seyran Zakaryan, the Tsav administrative rep, said the prospecting would negatively impact the environment, and pointed to the local river as being adversely affected. Residents farm the lands below the exploratory sites and use river water for irrigation. Zakaryan also told Hetq last year that Tsav residents drink the river water unfiltered.

“If they drill those holes and do other work, the topsoil will be damaged, and the rains will carry it down into the river,” Zakaryan told those at the hearing.

In response, Vram Tevosyan said that the company has taken this into account and the rainwater will be diverted in another direction. Zakaryan shrugged off the claim, saying that the river has gotten dirty in the past, causing him to be concerned today.

When Hetq asked Tevosyan to talk about the exploratory work conducted last year by Hrashk Metal (another company owned by Choudo Metal owner Ara Davtyan) in the Bombou Valley section of Tsav, the environmental specialist said he only started working for the company last month and had no knowledge regarding the environmental impact back then.

He did agree with my observation that last year’s experience could be instructive for the company this year. Tevosyan promised to search the company’s records.

According to Armenia’s State Revenue Committee taxpayer registry, both Hrashk Metal and Choudo Metal have temporarily suspended operations. Despite this, Choudo Metal, founded in 2016, seeks an exploratory mining permit.

In response, Choudo Metal consultant Aramayis Avagyan says that before presenting the preliminary appraisal tender, the company will sign a contract with the Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources at which time it will show the company license and notice regarding taxes. Avagyan says the company has done all this.

It is expected that the Experimental Center for Environmental Impact SNOC, a part of the Ministry of Nature Protection, will give a green light for the exploratory work.

Albert Grigoryan from Shishkert, who attended the public hearing, told Hetq that he remembers that in the 1960s, as a boy the land being surveyed in Shishkert.

“I’m opposed to a mine in Shishkert. It’s the cleanest village of Kapan. The air, water, everything. The government says the country must develop with science and tourism. They send tourists to Shishkert and now they want to open a mine? It’s a contradiction. Don’t damage our nature. Why are you damaging it?” Grigoryan asks.

Ashot Grigoryan, also from Shishkert, points to the environmental damage caused by a hydro plant built on the River Tsav.

“They built one hydro plant near us, and they took the water away via a pipe. I used to be able to net some fish and serve to guests. They’ve piped off the water. Where can I catch fish now? It’s the same with the mine. It’s all done in the name of personal gain,” he said.

Photos: Vahe Sarukhanyan