Sunday, 23 September

They’re Gobbling up Land at 25 drams per Square Meter to Mine Gold

Mr. Serop Der-Boghosian, a Diaspora-Armenian, is purchasing land from the residents of the village of Aranis at 25 drams per square meter. Aranis is one of the neighborhoods of the town of Stepanavan even though it is frequently mentioned as a village, in its own right, in official memorandums. It is here, starting in May of this year, that the residents of Stepanavan and neighboring villages were thrown into a state of alarm by the operation of a gold and multi-ore mining concern.

After the opening of the mining operation a visitor to Stepanavan could have heard a variety of stories about manifestations of yellow rain, about uranium wastes being dumped in the river, explosions and about swimming being prohibited in the Dzoraget River. None of the residents wish to offer explanations or pass judgment on the matter. Public hearings, as envisaged by the law, haven’t been organized.

The Lori eco-group has directed a set of questions to the operators of the mine, to the Mayor of Stepanavan and to the Ministry of Nature Protection. None has seen fit to provide answers to these queries or to offer clarifications regarding the matter. In fact, the Ministry of Nature Protection has turned into one of the most insular of state bodies. We haven’t been able to illicit any answers whatsoever to our written questions sent to that office for months on end. It is no secret to anyone that Aram Harutyunyan, the Minister of that body, has absolutely no connection with nature preservation.

He is the owner of numerous businesses and naturally is more concerned with the daily operation of his restaurants and door/window production facilities than the protection of Armenia’s environment. Otherwise, he would attempt to at least resolve one of the environmental problems the country faces during his term in office.

For years on end waste products emanating from the Akhtala Mine Enrichment Plant (AMEP) operated by Serop Der-Boghosian’s Metal Prince Company have been directly dumped into the Debed River rather than in a tailings dam. Tens of villages use the river water to irrigate their lands and gardens. The produce grown on these lands winds up on all our dinner tables. Minister Harutyunyan is aware of what’s going on but it hasn’t once occurred to him that he is thus obligated to shut down the operations of Metal Prince.

The operators of the Aranis mining concern have erected some of their buildings adjacent to the last home in the community. Down below, flows the Dzoraget River. This is exactly the spot, atop the river banks, where village residents say a tailings dam will be built. It’s as if another location wasn’t able to be found for a tailings dam.

Residents of Aranis have been split into two camps. Those who have found work at the mine are pleasantly content; the rest aren’t. Today, residents of Aranis are primarily concerned with the explosions occurring at the mine. One resident who wished to remain anonymous since he’s employed at the mine stated, “They don’t give any warning before they set off an explosion. They’re strong blasts, and shake the place even more than an earthquake, which only lasts a sort while.”

Elina Harutyunyan says, “Yes, they don’t warn us about the blasts. Furthermore they tell us that once they get down deeper the blasts will be stronger yet.” She goes on to say that, “Only 2 or 3 villagers work there. We derive nothing from that mine, only they do. You know what is good? They have to fix the roads and supply gas to their mine. We’ll benefit from this need of theirs and soon have gas ourselves.”

The walls of several village homes have been cracked by the explosions. No one seems willing to compensate the home owners however. One portion of Aranis residents own parcels of land on the mine territory. The mine owners swindled some of these residents into selling their land to them at 250,000 drams per hectare.

Resident Sergey Hunanyan states, “We own 3 hectares of land next to the mine. They’ve torn up and closed the upper road and the mine director has placed his bee hives on the lower road. It’s as if he’s intentionally turning the screws on me so that I sell the land to him at the price he wants. They’ve done the same to a few of us already. They’ve purchased one hectare for 250,000 drams from some residents but I don’t want to sell at that price. Why should I? They claim that’s the going price. Take us to court if you want to. I have a dilapidated building here that I’ve privatized. They tell me to either repair it or they’ll tear it down. I don’t know what they’ve agreed to with the mayor, perhaps they’ve rented it. They state that they’ve purchased that area and that your building is on that land and that they’ll knock it down. They’ve already purchased some 20-30 hectares of land from villagers at 25 drams per square meter. But we went down to the Mayor’s Office and found out that the going price is 5, 280,000 drams per hectare. This works out to less than 5% of market price.”

One of the workers at the mine stated, “I also have land there and I sold it when I wasn’t working at the mine. All of us went to court and declared that these are our lands. The court replied to go and settle the matter amongst ourselves. Those guys turned around and said this is the amount we’re paying. Will you sell to us at this price? And we sold the land to them. No big loss. That land’s all dried up and dusty anyway. You can’t grow anything there.”

School teacher Nuneh Grigoryan asks, “The mine hasn’t given anything to the village. Only a few of us work there. Workers mostly come from the city. We aren’t informed about anything. At least they should warn us before they start blasting but they don’t. All of us are frightened from the explosions, especially the kids. Lately, the blasts have decreased in number but there was a time when they set of charges several times daily. The blasts are pretty strong and rattle the houses. There are cracks to prove it. I repaired my home after the earthquake and the walls are 60-70 centimeters thick but they’re cracked in five spots due to the blasts. I went to see Vardan Papyan, the Mine Director. He told me to stop making up stories. I retorted that he should come and see the damage with his own eyes and that he’d run out of the house during the blasts from fear. To whom or where must I go to complain?”

The Aranis mine is operated by the Sagara LLC. There is not one iota of information about this company at the National Registry Service attached to the ROA Ministry of Justice. How the company is able to operate remains a mystery. One clue might be the fact that Sagara is owned by none other than Serop Der-Boghosian himself.

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