The Armenian government has granted a 29-year mining permit to Geghi Gold LLC, a company owned by former Syunik Provincial Governor Surik Khachatryan.
News of the permit can be found in a recent list of mining permits issued by the country’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.
To understand how Khachatryan received the permit for the Voskedzor (Gold Gorge) mine, in the area of the town of Syunik provincial capital of Kapan, we have to go back to 2008 when a company called BAMO Metal LLC was issued an exploratory mining permit.
At the time, Kapan residents protested the explorations, complaining that rusty water was flowing from their faucets.
In 2012, local NGOs sent a letter to then President Serzh Sargsyan, demanding that the exploratory permit be rescinded.
Interestingly, even Surik Khachatryan, who was serving as Syunik governor at the time, voiced his opposition to BAMO’s activities. He went so far as saying that the company was guilty of polluting the local water supply.
But Khachatryan’s “clean water” campaign didn’t last long. Bamo’s exploratory permit lasted until October 5, 2012. Two months later, on December 17, Khachatryan made his foray into mining by purchasing a 51% share of Geghi Gold. He’s the sole owner of the company today and serves as its executive director.
By 2013, Geghi Gold began its own exploration of the Voskedzor mine’s reserves, now estimated at 132,887 tons of zinc, 21,709 tons of copper, 325 tons of silver, and 25 tons of gold.
On July 22, 2016, Geghi Gold was issued a 29-year operating permit for the mine, which stipulates that the company build an AMD 292 million roadway to the mine in the first two and a half years. The company was also obligated to spend AMD 2.1 billion for the removal of rock waste.
In total, an estimated 12.8 billion drams were needed to get the mine up and running.
Geghi Gold was also obligated to invest 300,000 drams annually in the socio-economic development of the surrounding communities, and another 200,000 drams annually for stipends to needy families. It also had to allocate 150,000 drams per year to buy stationery supplies for the local school.
The permit also stipulates that after the mine closes, Geghi Gold must retrain workers seeking other employment, and take steps to foster small and medium sized business in the area.
Mining at Voskedzor poses substantial environmental risks, given that it’s adjacent to the River Geghi, the main potable water source for Kapan. The photo below shows the holding reservoir in the Adjabaj settlement of Kapan.
Kapan residents and environmental activists understood the risks and wasted no time to voice their opposition.
On June 15, 2016, even before Geghi Gold was issued the 29-year operating permit, four NGO’s sent a letter to then president Serzh Sargsyan, requesting that he intervene and stop work at the mine.
The company was issued the 29-year permit a month later.
Based on Hetq’s coverage of the mining sector, Armenia’s Environmental and Natural Resources Inspectorate launched an investigation of Geghi Gold’s operations at Voskedzor.
Levon Petrosyan, who heads the inspectorates Syunik branch, says the results of that investigation have yet to be compiled.