“The task of the governments of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh should be to rouse the interest of foreign investors,” said Armenia’s prime minister, Andranik Margaryan, at the September 2 celebration of the twelfth anniversary of Nagorno Karabakh’s independence in Stepanakert. Margaryan lauded the growth of the local economy, acknowledging that it would be even better if Nagorno Karabakh weren’t considered a risk zone. Indeed, the government of Nagorno Karabakh has created favorable conditions for investment. People who have already launched businesses here point to favorable laws and tax breaks, in particular.
Last year, Moscow resident and owner of the Alaverdi Copper Plant (ACP) Valery Mejlumyan launched an unprecedented investment project in Karabakh, investing $4.5 million within a year to reopen the copper and gold mine in the village of Drmbon in the Martakert region, under the name Base Metals Company. Construction is moving at an impressive pace.
“We started work in July 2002,” says executive director Arthur Mkrtumyan. “As of today we’ve opened one mine shaft, and we’re still in the experimental stage, excavating 200 metric tons a day. We plan to increase this to 600-800 tons a day. You can already see the processing mill being built, which will produce up to 150,000 tons of ore annually. And it’s possible to increase production up to 250,000 tons.” 600 people work at the Drmbon mine today. Most of come from six nearby villages, and some 40 % are engineers and technicians from Armenia, with experience in similar ventures. The average salary is 100,000-110,000 Drams (about $170-195).
The total investment project is $15 million. A recreation zone is also planned, with cottages near the Sarsang reservoir, for tourists as well as employees. The mine is on the North-South highway being built by the Hayastan Pan-Armenian Fund, and the new road is of great importance for the development of the plant. “The highway is the prerequisite for the export of our product from Karabakh,” says the director. “I must admit that we’ve been able to build a complex like this only thanks to the highway. Unfortunately it’s not finished yet, but it will be within a year or two. That will make our work easier.”
When I asked the director if the owner of the Drmbon mine would take part in Hayastan Pan-Armenian Fund’s November telethon in Los Angeles to raise money for the completion of the North-South Highway, the answer was an unambiguous yes. The mine has already produced 15,000 tons of ore, 10,000 tons of which was sold to ACP. While ore from Alaverdi contains only copper, Drmbon’s has high concentrations of gold as well. Known reserves alone are enough for the mine to function for 8-10 years, and the owner is considering exploring and opening other mines in Nagorno Karabakh. The geological department is already hard at work.