Foreign and International Actors
As already mentioned, several foreign mining companies are operating in RA. Among these companies are GeoPro Mining (Russia), Global Gold (US), Lydian International (UK), Cronimet (Germany), and FLSmidth (Denmark). As is the case with Armenian mining companies, ownership is not always clear as subsidiaries are frequently registered offshore. It is generally assumed that foreign companies have to maintain friendly relations with high-ranking government officials to receive and maintain business licenses. It is thereby understood that to maintain friendly relations, significant bribes have to be given to these officials (Aghalaryan and Ayvazyan, interviews) (Aghajanian 2012; Aghalaryan and Ayvazyan 2013 interviews).
Among the many international governmental organizations that have offices in RA are the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the EU, and various organizations of the United Nations such as the United National Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It appears that the international financial organizations in particular have assumed an ambiguous position towards mining. On the one hand, they stress the need for sustainable economic development and mining regulations that are more protective of the environment. On the other hand, their involvement in the most recent revisions of the mining codes has not led to tougher environmental regulations. It should be kept in mind that as large lenders to the RA government, they are interested in the repayment of the loans and mining is still considered one of the few lucrative economic sectors in RA (Amirkhanian 2013).
The EU has also been hesitant to address the mining business in RA. RA and the EU have maintained close economic, social, and diplomatic relations since the mid-1990s. The EU has also sponsored numerous environmental programs in RA. Programs that are currently active or were active in the past 12 months have focused on a variety of topics. The majority of funded projects have addressed issues of biodiversity, climate change adaptation, and safety of nuclear power plant operations. Other projects focus on agricultural land resources, basic drinking water supply and sanitation, waste management and disposal, and environmental education and training. The EU has spent more than 10 million Euros on these projects. It is noteworthy that not a single project has addressed environmental degradation caused by mining (European Union External Action n.d. e).
The diplomatic representations of EU member states and other Western countries have also avoided publicly criticizing the RA government and mining companies. In March of 2014, the RA government and the World Bank, with the support of the International Finance Corporation, EBRD and the embassies of the US, UK, Canada, and Germany, organized a joint conference on “Responsible Mining” in RA. Although it was one of the declared goals of the conference to “explore various perspectives on responsible development of the mining sector in
RA, including improvement of social and environmental management,” representatives of the major NGOs and grassroots movements involved in the mining area were not invited (Responsible Mining Conference 2014). In response, these groups staged a protest in front of the conference venue and organized a counter-conference entitled “Irresponsible Mining in Armenia,” considering the official conference “an attempt to legitimize the widespread pillage of Armenia’s natural resources and an effort to disguise the catastrophic effects of mining on human health and the environment” (Save Teghut Civic Initiative 2014).
In short, an informal pro-mining coalition of government officials, politicians, and oligarchs supports the rapid exploration of mining sites in RA with little respect for the environmental impact, using legal and illegal ways to do so. However, local environmental NGOs and movements, with some support from international actors, have attempted to stop irresponsible mining in RA. International financial organizations as well as Western governments and the EU appear to sit on the fence, publicly condoning environmental groups without putting any pressure on the pro-mining coalition.