Mining industry causes lasting damage to Syunik environment
by Hakob Sanasaryan
Published: Tuesday January 25, 2011
Yerevan - I am in Artsevanik village of Syunik Marz [region]. I have been in this place dozens of times in the past, before the devastating earthquake (of December 1988) and the political and economic quakes of no less magnitude, which followed the earthquake. It has been 20 years since my last visit here.
The attraction for me was the miraculously beautiful nature of this region, also Artsevanik's marvelous agate [silica mineral] scattered in streambeds, in gorges and on mountain-slopes. The agate here distinguishes itself from agate of other locations in Armenia by its delicate lines and rich coloring, often resembling a human eye with its lines, resembling eyelids and iris.
The location of Artsevanik village is also very unique. The village is set on a high slope, overlooking the surrounding mountain-chains. Here, during any season, the environment is always draped in a multitude of colors, wrapped in mystery, emanating an inexplicable magnetic power and warmth...
A memory from the past has stirred up in me: cutting through a thick fog, we reach the rocky edges of the [old monastery] of Yeritsvank, and suddenly leave the darkness behind. The first sight unfolding is the carpet of crocus covering a field, a field without snow. Above, the sun shines bright in the blue sky.
Below us, instead of a never-ending steep slope, we find the peaceful surface of an ocean of a milky fog, out of which juts the sole peak of the Khustup mountain...This was 27 years ago, in the beginning of December.
The once pristine gorges of the Artsevanik river and its streams, where I had gathered unique and multicolored samples of agate, are now filled with the toxic industrial sludge waste from Kajaran's (also called Zangezur's) copper-molybdenum plant, the volume of the waste growing daily.
These gorges have been turned into reservoirs of waste, the largest of which is called the Artsevanik Reservoir. Now, I believe, no agate seeking Armenian will be seeking agate in the vicinity of these reservoirs.
True, the mountains are still there, but no one can guess the fate of these mountains, if certain mineral deposits are discovered there. If that happens, then the so-called "practical" world will blow-up the remaining mountains, break and crush the rocks, grind the stones into dust, like the dust [mixed with the water], which was dumped and is being dumped into Artsevanik's reservoir, after certain amount of metals have been extracted from it; this dust is the "mine tailings".
Once, this dust was part of the beautiful natural landscape, which is now gone. Still, Artsevanik's environs are not all destroyed, but the dangers of its mine tailings reservoir loom in the minds of those who are aware of the current practices [of unregulated and voracious mining], and people fall into depression and despair, unable to see an exit.
Lucky are those countries with scarce mineral deposits, also those countries, where the laws are created for the benefit of the people...
The people of Artsevanik, once joyful and hospitable, have now become morose and sad.
Artsevanik's Tailings Reservoir
Already in 1989, when the mine tailings dumped into the valley here occupied a much smaller volume than today, the inhabitants of Artsevanik village had sent a letter, dated April 27, 1989, to the Soviet Armenian Council of Ministers, to the Academy of Sciences, to the Environmental Protection Committee and to the Ministry of Health regarding their valley. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
"The Kajaran copper-molybdenum plant's tailings dump at Artsevanik has seized the village community's most productive arable lands and the lands adjacent to the inhabitants' houses into its monstrous claws.
After ten years when the result is in, we are witnessing a violation of the environment of such magnitude that it will be a crime toward ourselves and toward our progeny to accept the reality...
Already, the reduction in productivity of the community's arable lands and orchards is obvious, and is clearly observed on lands adjacent to those houses, which surround the tailings reservoir. The incidences of disease among domestic animals have increased (e.g., leukosis, poisonings, infections, etc.).
The forests neighboring the tailings dump are drying out... The increase in incidences of gastro-intestinal, endocrine, respiratory diseases and of ulcerous inflammations has become very obvious without an epidemiologic study...
We consider the crucial requirement of the day to be the taking of measures to cease the dumping of tailings into the valley of Artsevanik and the taking of steps toward a speedy remediation."
Luckily, I was carrying a copy of that letter-petition with me (3 pages, 152 signatures), and, I handed it to one of the village inhabitants. He said that he will raise the issue again with other villagers and maybe will send a new petition to the National Assembly and to the Government of Armenia. The same fellow also showed me the official answer that the village had received 21 years ago (dated 8.06.1989), in which the Soviet Armenian State Committee of Nature Protection had stated:
"To the inhabitants of Artsevanik village of Kapan region...visual studies made it clear that plants growing on lands adjacent to the tailings dump have not suffered from the tailings content (in the gullies, there is lush growth).
According to the statistical data of Kapan's regional sanitation-epidemiologic station, no increase in domestic animal disease incidences have been observed during the last [few] years...
The Soviet Union's Ministry of Metallurgy has performed detailed and multi-faceted studies; no chemical elements, that can be hazardous to human health, were discovered among the tailings' constituents ...
There is no existing threat to the health of the inhabitants of Artsevanik village. We too, value the village of Artsevanik and the fate of its inhabitants."