Better Policies. Better Future.




March 12, 2012

I have intentionally used Western Armenian pronunciation and an otherwise differing spelling of a very threatened forest’s name. I have to address a minor point that’s a major irritant to me. It’s one thing to use Eastern Armenian pronunciation to transliterate Armenian words to English. It is, after all, the official, linguistic, convention to do so. No problem there. What’s ridiculous is the rendition, in this case as Teghut instead of Teghoot, leading to a pronunciation similar to the first part of the word “utter,” and looking like a Turkish mutilation of one of our place-names!

On to the substantive stuff— Teghoot, a forest in the north-eastern part (Lori Provice) of the Republic of Armenia (RoA), was last in the news half a decade ago. But it seems the money ran short in the land-rapists’ pockets until recently, and the problem went dormant. The issue is mining of copper and molybdenum in what is now an old growth forest with all its attendant biodiversity and natural service provision (clean water, food, recreation, etc.). And, to my best understanding, it would be a strip mining operation.

Policy Forum Armenia (PFA) addresses the Teghoot issue in a recent publication on environmental issues in the Republic of Armenia. Between that, some blog postings on Armenian Environmental Network’s website, and the panel discussion organized by the ARF Shant Student Association last Sunday (for full disclosure— I was a speaker at that event), I’m left with a heightened sense of disgust and inclination to fight this abomination-in-the-making.

The consequences of this mining operation would be devastating to the agrarian economy of the area— the villages of Shnogh & Teghoot, and the ecology— destruction of the forest, mining wastes and tailings stored untreated and unsafely, pollution and other damage of the rivers in the area. Of course, there is an up-side. There would be a roughly two-decade period of employment for the locals, but… then what? The ruin of their environment would leave future generations bereft of any viable local economy, leading to more rural-urban (Yerevan) migration) and subsequent expatriation. Is that what we want as a nation?

Yet, the locals’ desire for jobs is very legitimate, understandable, and reasonable. We must support the area through eco-tourism, and fast. All those traveling to Armenia this summer should make it a point to go there, spend some money, and be sure to make known to the locals that it’s the local beauty which attracted you. In the longer term, more structured trips with hikes, animal watching, perhaps water-sporting, even hunting, etc. must be organized. Meanwhile, massive public pressure must be brought upon the government of the RoA, both internally and internationally. PFA cites dozens of laws and international agreements being violated by this mining project as currently being implemented, so there’s a good basis for heat to be applied.

But that’s not enough. The greed that leads to this kind of destructive behavior must be checked. The anticipated income over the life of this project is well above $20 billion. Yet the benefits to the country are a paltry $600+ million. Meanwhile, the hastily and inadequately prepared Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would lead to locals being compensated in pennies for their lost trees, property, and livelihood. The full glare of public scrutiny and sunshine on these outrageous inconsistencies is another avenue of slowing down this process to a manageable pace. If there’s mining to be done, let it be done in a safe, environmentally sound, human-health-neutral, and non-destructive way.

There’s also shadiness to this whole proposition. The outfit that will do the mining is Armenian Copper Program. It is a subsidiary of Vallex which, in turn, is owned 19% by Valeri Mejlumyan, and the rest… Who knows? It is registered in Lichtenstein (think about what you know of how money is “hidden” in Switzerland), therefore ownership is masked. Rumors, impossible to confirm or refute because of the secrecy enabled by Lichtenstein, attribute some interest in this firm to President Sarkissian’s family. Meanwhile, the EIA was prepared by Lernametalurgiai Institute cjsc (LMI), which evidently has a de facto monopoly on preparation of these documents for all mining projects in the RoA. It is also a wholly owned subsidiary of Vallex Group and ACP. Can you say “conflict-of-interest”?

You get the idea. It’s sickening how a project that could be a boon for all concerned— local population, RoA’s economy, and its investors— can be perverted into a monster.

Applying public pressure, insisting on full application of the appropriate procedures (relevant laws seem to be in place in RoA), and exposing the greed and shadiness of the companies proposing to implement this project, buy time to develop viable, sustainable options and alternatives while educating all concerned about them.

Watch for action alerts emanating from the homeland and the Diaspora. Start contacting RoA’s diplomatic establishments (embassies, consulates) in your area expressing your concerns. Let’s build a movement to save this forest, provide for the locals, and build up and entrench the rule of law in the RoA. After all, a despoiled, desolate country is useless as a homeland. We can stop this ruinous process!