On September 20th the 245th anniversary of the Mine Enrichment Plant (MEP)was celebrated in the town of Akhtala, located in the Lori Marz. On hand to participate in the festivities was Armenia’ Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan. Before the official celebration got underway we tried to ask the residents of Akhtala what they thought about the Haylur TV broadcast of September 18th that showed Serop Der-Boghosian, the principal owner and CEO of the MEP drinking a glass of water flowing from the tailings dam of his factory and which ended by jokingly asking that an ambulance be immediately dispatched to the scene.
“Hetq” has often written about how poisonous wastes from the plant flow directly into the Debed River without first passing through the tailings dam. (See: “The Armenian Government is Obligated to Shut Down the Akhtala Mine Enrichment Plant” , “What Causes the Waters of the Debed River to Turn White”, “They’re Gobbling up Land at 25 Drams Per Square Meter to Mine Gold “ and “Metal Prince is Being Sold”.
Resident “S. M.” of Akhtala, wished to remain anonymous since her husband works in the mine and receives a monthly salary of 70,000 drams. Regarding the tailings that flow into the river she said, “I saw the Haylur program but didn’t really notice that Mr. Serop actually drank any water. I always go to the woods through that area and I can tell you that the water’s not fit to drink. You can’t even stand next to it. How can Mr. Serob have drank that stuff?”
What also didn’t escape the gaze of the Akhtala residents was the fact that during the program the dried-up vegetation and barren land alongside the tailings stream was edited out of the program. In fact, Serop Der-Boghosian vociferously protested when residents showed the visiting Prime Minister actual photographs of the pipe spilling out wastes into the Debed River. “This lady has photographed the pipe as being big on purpose,” Mr. Der-Boghosian is to have decried. The question remains why was Mr. Der-Boghosian so incensed over the size of the pipe if the material flowing out of it isn’t toxic?
During the celebrations Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan read a proclamation by President Serzh Sargsyan addressed to the employees of the MEP. In his proclamation President Sargsyan congratulated the MEP workers on the occasion of the plant’s anniversary and noted that, “Today, some two and a half centuries after its founding and when the imperative of the day is the continued development of our country, I set my hopes on the dedication you have shown and thanks to which Akhtala and the entire region is witnessing a rebirth.”
Let’s not forget the following fact when discussing the contribution of Serop Der-Boghosian in terms of “the country’s continued development”. The Metal Prince Corporation is still avoiding paying the Akhtala Municipality 5 million drams it owes as property tax.
During his speech Serob Der-Boghosian stated, “Honorable Mr. Prime Minister, with your help the Metal Prince Corporation will continue its work to develop the mining sector in the various regions of Armenia, in Akhtala, Stepanavan and Dastakert and will participate in the economic and social policies directed at the regions of Armenia.” During the festivities an official awards ceremony also took place. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan awarded Serop Der-Boghosian, the MEP Chairman, with a commemorative Prime Ministerial medal on the occasion of the 245th anniversary of the mine and for his active contributions towards developing the mining sector in Armenia. On the road leading to the Sourb Astvatzatzin Church both the Prime Minister and the Chairman of MEP answered reporters’ questions.
Related specifically to the Mine Enrichment Plant, Serop Der-Boghosian said, “550 workers are employed at the plant and the average salary is 137,000 drams. Since the beginning of the year we have produced some 250 tons of ore per month and we hope that in three months time we will produce from 1,000 - 1,3000 tons.” It turns out that what is produced isn’t being exported. “We don’t export, we sell. The buyer comes to Armenia and purchases it from us and transports it to eastern Europe, to be forged at the foundries in Rumania, Bulgaria.”
When asked by reporters about the tailings dam Mr. Der-Boghosian stated, “It’s said that we don’t have a tailings dam. The working dam only has 2-3 months to go. The third tailings dam will be some 8 kilometers behind this hill.” The dam he refers to is situated between the villages of Ayrum and Jojkan, something he has inherited from the Soviet period. In the area trees some one meter tall stand. The pipes connected the dam to the plant no longer exist, having been dismantles long ago.
Answering our questions the Mayor of Jojkan stated that, “A few times people from the Ministry of Nature Protection came and took photos. They asked us questions and left. Even though the dam belongs to Mr. Serop it’s been abandoned.”
At the request of reporters the Prime Minister touched on the environmental issues in the area. “We are following such issues. Are you aware that last week we had a meeting with some NGO’s and reviewed the results of the work proceeding at the Alaverdi factory? We have a joint program with the NGO’s and by the end of the year we will be taking joint steps regarding acceptable environmental norms. This will also become a subject for public discussion.”
As to the question why the operation at Teghut was granted to the owner of a plant which doesn’t maintain adequate environmental standards in Alaverdi, Prime Minister Sargsyan responded, “You’re not asking a question but making an evaluation.” As to the possible closing of the Alaverdi copper foundry, the Prime Minister stated, “The question of the closing of the foundry will only come up if it doesn’t fulfill the responsibilities it has assumed. Currently, we are reviewing a business plan and the issue of the plant maintaining envisaged environmental standards as defined by that plan. The public will be informed if there are any deviations from the plan.”