Mining in Armenia Creates Danger of Toxic Bi-products

Moises Torres, Staff Writer

Armenia’s vast landscapes and mountain chains are now under siege as private mining companies deplete the country’s natural resources.

According to Suzy Petrosyan, a coordinator for Pan Armenian Environmental Front, Armenia’s ecosystem is rich in natural minerals and precious metals, making it a bedrock of financial profit.

These minerals and metal are mined, generating wealth for foreign companies. A plethora of toxic elements are created as a byproduct of mining. There are 670 mines currently registered in the Republic of Armenia.

During her presentation to attendees on March 5 in SR 138, Petrosyan said that Kapan, a city that is torn between two mining operations, does not receive any of the monetary profit that is generated by Deno’s Gold, a Canadian mining company.

People in these villages are unemployed and their families are starving, so they must take jobs offered by Deno’s Gold, where they suffer human rights violations and are exposed to dense toxic minerals. The workers have virtually no health care if they get sick, and if they quit or lose their jobs, they are easily replaceable.

The government privatized a mining plant in the town of Agarak for only $600,000, with a Russian company now owning 100 percent of the shares.

Kajaran, a small city where a mining plant operates more than 1,000 feet deep into the ground, generated up to 17 million tons of ore in 2007, which is substantially more than the 12.5 million tons they are authorized to extract.

The mining of metals poses the largest threat, creating toxic waste as a bi-product. Without regulation and tougher taxes, more than 300 million tons of poisonous elements are drained into toxic waste dumps.

These toxic waste dumps eventually find their way into rivers, lakes, and valleys where they become toxic deposits that poison every facet of the surrounding ecosystem.

The contamination of these precious water systems disrupts the food environment of the people. The hazardous residue permeates the soil, which in turn pervades the plants, animals, the people, and the air.

“This is very, very serious,” said Petrosyan. “I’m hoping it doesn’t get worse. In 15 to 20 years, it won’t be able to be inhabited.”

Yet, the Armenian government claims mining as their its major source of revenue.

In 2004, the government sold copper for $132 million to a foreign company. A year later, the company that purchased it, generated $190 million in annual profit.

“Banks provide millions upon millions of dollars in loans to fund mining operations,” said Petrosyan.

The Armenian government increased the scope of privileges towards private companies and has few regulations capping private companies. They are allowed to dump toxic waste and mine on deforested land, which is already an issue, having to pay virtually nothing.

The goal of private mining companies is to maximize profit in the least amount of time, taking “the sooner, the better” kind of approach. This short-term monetary plan benefits the Armenian government and private companies more than it does the people.

A lot of the money generated by mining is exported to offshore accounts, leaving Armenia without any real monetary benefit.

Armenia has become a country that generates wealth for other countries through the depletion of its natural sources.

“The environment is going to be a toxic waste dump for many years to come and it’s going to cost millions to stop this,” said Petrosyan.