MAC: Mines and Communities

Protests against Chinese-owned iron project in Armenia

Published by MAC on 2011-11-21
Source: Azatutyun (2011-11-09)

 

 

Protests Continue Against Iron Mining

By Karlen Aslanian

http://www.azatutyun.am/

9 November 2011

Opposition politicians and environmental activists joined on Wednesday about two hundred residents of the central Armenian town of Hrazdan in protesting against the opening of an iron mine which they believe would have grave ecological consequences.

Protesters destroy drilling samples at a would-be iron mine near Hrazdan
Protesters destroy drilling samples at a would-be iron
mine near Hrazdan. Source: http://www.azatutyun.am/

The crowd rallied in Hrazdan's central square before heading to a nearby hill rich in iron ore in a convoy of buses and cars.

Bounty Resources Armenia Limited (BRAL), a company partly owned by a Chinese firm, plans to launch open-pit operations there and in two other, larger iron deposits elsewhere in the country in the coming years. A team of geologists hired by BRAL is currently working there to ascertain iron reserves hidden underground through test drilling.

Environment protection groups are strongly opposed to iron mining in the area, saying that it would pollute air, agricultural land and the Hrazdan river, the main supplier of irrigation water to the fertile Ararat Valley in the country's south.

Many Hrazdan residents share these concerns. Some of them already demonstrated against the project late last month.

"There is a ghost town in China near a similarly exploited mine," said one woman taking part in the protest. "We would have the same situation here."

Miasnik Malkhasian, a geologist coordinating test drilling at the site, dismissed such concerns as he and his workers were confronted by the angry crowd. "There is no danger whatsoever," he said.

The protesters remained unconvinced. Some of them smashed wooden boxes containing drilling samples. Police officers monitoring the demonstration did not intervene.

"Such criminal decisions are not made in Hrazdan," Karine Hakobian, a leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, told the protesters before the march. "They are made in Yerevan, at the presidential palace and the government building. They have turned us into slaves in our own country."

Sasun Mikaelian, a Hrazdan-based former parliamentarian affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), singled out former Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian for blame.

The Hetq.am news service reported last January that by Ayvazian and his family at least partly control BRAL. The ex-minister, who now chairs one of the standing committees of the Armenian parliament, did not deny that.

The Hetq report followed the announcement by the Chinese company Fortune Oil that is has paid $24 million to acquire a 35 percent share in BRAL. Fortune Oil has the option of raising the stake to 50 percent for an additional $16 million.

Ayvazian had considerable regulatory authority over the mining industry when he served as environment minister from 2001-2007.


Residents Protest Iron Mining Near Armenian Town

By Naira Bulghadarian

http://www.azatutyun.am/

25 October 2011

Several dozen residents of the central Armenian town of Hrazdan marched on Tuesday to a nearby hill rich in iron ore to protest against the launch of open-pit mining operations there which they believe would wreak havoc on the area.

They also announced plans to file a class-action lawsuit against an obscure company that controls this and two other, larger iron deposits elsewhere in Armenia.

The company, called Bounty Resources Armenia Limited (BRAL) and partly owned by a Chinese firm, plans to extract 50 million tons of ore from the site 1.5 kilometers from Hrazdan over the next 20 years.

The project is strongly opposed by Armenian environment protection groups who say that, if implemented, it would pollute air, agricultural land and the Hrazdan river, the main supplier of irrigation water to the fertile Ararat Valley in the country's south. Many Hrazdan residents share these concerns.

"I know for sure that the health of my children would be destroyed by this project," one of the protesters told RFE/RL's Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) as they walked to the mining site covering a big hill.

A team of geologists hired by BRAL is currently working there to ascertain iron reserves hidden underground through test drilling.

"I understand your concerns and demands," the team leader, Arman Avetisian, told the small crowd. "I will inform my bosses and they will respond to you."

The protest organizers warned that they will rally a much bigger crowd if the test drilling is not discontinued by the end of next week. They also said that they are currently collecting documents to sue the company.

Karine Danielian, a prominent Armenian ecologist and former environment minister, backed the protest.

"Air above Hrazdan is already contaminated by dust and that would worsen further [after iron mining,]" she told RFE/RL's Armenian service. "We have no positive experience in Armenia of the environment not being polluted by open-pit mining."

Danielian argued that the area around Hrazdan is also a major source of drinking water supplied to Yerevan.

The mining project is proving highly controversial also because of lingering questions about the integrity of BRAL's operations and ownership. The Armenian government granted the company, without a tender, the exclusive right to develop the iron mines in 2007, during or shortly after the tenure of former Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian.

The Hetq.am investigative news service reported last January that BRAL is at least partly owned by Ayvazian and his family. The ex-minister, who now chairs one of the standing committees of the Armenian parliament, did not deny that.

The Hetq report followed the announcement by the Chinese company Fortune Oil that is has paid $24 million to acquire a 35 percent share in BRAL. Fortune Oil has the option of raising the stake to 50 percent for an additional $16 million.

Ayvazian had considerable regulatory authority over the mining industry when he served as environment minister from 2001-2007. In 2006, a U.S. company mining gold in Armenia publicly accused Ayvazian of demanding a $3 million bribe from it. Both the minister and the Armenian government denied the allegations made by the Connecticut-based Global Gold Corporation.

The three BRAL-controlled deposits are estimated to contain a total of some 1.8 million tons of proven or probable iron reserves. The largest and least explored of them is located near Svarants village in the southeastern Syunik province.

According to a Fortune Oil statement issued in January, mining operations at the Hrazdan site are scheduled to start in 2014.

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