Occupy Teghut?: Year begins with new protest of mining exploitation

Occupy Teghut?: Year begins with new protest of mining exploitation


On January 15, a new initiative will be launched by "Let's Save Teghut Forest" environmental group, with the intention of reversing a government order to allow further mining exploitation.
ACP general director Valery Mezhlumyan

It has been more than four years -- since November 2007 -- that environmentalists have tried to stop the development of further copper and molybdenum processing near the village of Teghut in the Lori province, where even villagers who are employed by the Armenian Copper Program (ACP) Company have opposed further expansion. The Teghut and Shnogh villages of the Lori province are some four-six kilometers far from the mine; the population of Teghut is 769 people, of Shnogh is 3,139 people.

Gor Hakobyan, leader of the action group says a group of protesters will travel to Teghut on Sunday to present new objections to construction of a tailings depot that would consume about 357 hectares of forest. The blasting phase of open-pit mining is expected to begin in mid-spring.

On January 15, in the morning, participants of the initiative by buses will leave for Vanadzor, the Lori provincial center, where they will be joined by local activists. A short updating event will take place there, after which they will continue their journey to Teghut, where they will hold an action of protest walking about four kilometers. Hakobyan says that the new program of Teghut protection will be presented only on the day of their hiking tour.

Chairman of Armenia’s Union of Greens Hakob Sanasaryan says that a Government decision reached in November 2007 giving permission for the company to expand has no legal basis, and it has reached based on unsubstantiated documents.

“There are miscalculations, money misuse, and falsifications in the project. Public hearings have not been held,” Sanasaryan says.

Yet since 2009, environmental organizations have lodged a claim in the administrative court of Armenia, litigating the decision of the Government, as well as the ministries of Nature Protection, and Energy and Natural Resources. They cite violations of the Constitution of Armenia, state laws, and Armenia’s international obligations within the framework of the Aarhus Convention in the claim. The claim has been dismissed.

In 2010, the same environmental organizations appealed to the corresponding commission of the Aarhus Convention in Geneva. In 2010 they received a draft conclusion paper, stating that the Republic of Armenia had failed to secure efficient public participation in the process of decision making related to Teghut mining project.

Environmentalist Karine Danielyan, who heads the “For Sustainable Human Development” NGO, says that as a result of the environmental struggle a reforestation, ecological and compensation program has been drafted, however, it will not pay back all the damages that will appear when the mine is developed.

“The open-pit mining in such a unique forest area as Teghut proves that we have short-term thinking, and the short-term economic thinking is absolutely anti-ecological,” Danielyan says.

Unlike environmentalists, Minister of Nature Protection Aram Harutyunyan believes Teghut mining project is not a loss but rather an achievement.

“We are not wrong about Teghut, it is a project which is confirmed by law and it has passed all the instances. It will be implemented under our control and will secure big profits for our country,” Harutyunyan.

Eighty one percent of the company’s shares belong to the Liechtenstein-registered Valex F.M.Establishment Company, and 19 percent to Russia-based entrepreneur, ACP general director Valery Mejlumyan.

Mejlumyan said that more than $350 million will be invested in the construction project of Ore Processing Combine in Teghut and Teghut Copper and Molybdenum Mine development. The company has already invested more than $100 million in the construction works.

“The remaining $250 million will be drawn in the upcoming two years. In fact, in two years the Ore Processing Combine in Teghut will start running and it will produce about 28,000 tons of copper concentrate annually,” Mejlumyan said.

Currently about 23,000 tons of copper concentrate is produced in Armenia, a great part of which is produced by Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Plant in Kajaran, Syunik province. After the development of Teghut mine, more than 50,000 tons of copper concentrate will be produced in Armenia annually.

According to the State Revenue Committee, in 2010 about 116,000 tons of copper ore and concentrate were exported from Armenia, whereas in 2009 that index was less by 42 percent (81,500 tons). In 2010, at the expense of copper and other non-ferrous metals the volumes of export registered a 40 percent growth. In 2010, Armenia sold 210 million dollars’ worth of copper ore.

Wires, cable, devices, heat exchangers, forged and molding sculptures, jewelry, art and household goods, etc., are made of copper. Copper combination is also used in making inorganic paints, artificial silk, as well as for fighting against plant diseases and agricultural vermin. Copper is also used in leather and fur production and in medicine.

Environmentalists state that 170,833 trees will be cut as part of the company’s exploitation. There are as many as 55,000 rare and 45,000 valuable trees in the Teghut forests, as well as plants and animal species registered in the Red Book that could be endangered if the forests are destroyed.

According to environmentalists, 1,491 hectares of land area are given for mining, and about 82 percent of that land (1,232 hectares) is forest area. If the project is implemented then 357 hectares forests will fully be logged. The waste will be disposed of by means of tailings to the gorge of the Dukanadzor River. The development of the mine will result in creation of about 500 million tons of tailings and 600 million tons of other kind of waste.

Tailings, (also called mine dumps, slimes, tails, leach residue, or slickens) are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction (gangue) of an ore. Tailings are distinct from overburden or waste rock, which are the materials overlying an ore or mineral body that are displaced during mining without being processed. Land fertility is quite low in the areas which are polluted with tailings.

It is feared that the tailings depots which contain silver, rhenium, tin, arsenic, molybdenum, copper, zinc, sulfuric compounds, as well as other chemicals which are used in mining and ore procession will pollute the rivers in the region. (There are four rivers there.)

Helsinki Committee Chairman Avetik Ishkhanyan, who is worried about the Teghut issue, says that there is no mine development strategy in Armenia, and at least in 50 years the country will be fully robbed. There will be ruins in the places of the developed mines, and nothing will be left for future generations.

“I have personally promised that if Teghut mine in developed I will go, sit and protest. We must unite,” he concludes.