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As a member of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Armenia is politically and economically closely linked to the European Union. As most former Soviet republics, Armenia has inherited a host of environmental problems. Since independence, Armenia has done little to address these problems despite the country’s willingness to sign and ratify numerous international environmental treaties and conventions. Environmental destruction is especially apparent in the mining sector, one of Armenia’s few thriving economic sectors. Domestic laws and enforcement are wholly insufficient to regulate the country’s mining industry, which pollutes ground, water resources, and air and devastates Armenia’s pristine nature. Some of these acts are illegal under Armenian law. Yet insufficient law enforcement and adjudication as well as widespread corruption contribute to an atmosphere of impunity. Yet most environmentally harmful behaviour is even legal under domestic law. The reason for lax environmental legislation is thereby collusion between powerful economic players and the government. The country’s oligarchs who are politically well connected dominate the mining sector that consists of mostly foreign (including, European) companies and their Armenian subsidiaries. Since corruption and collusion prevent the passing of more stringent environmental legislation, it is questionable if a narrow legal approach to environmental crime in Armenia’s mining sector suffices to analyse, understand, and address the problem. Mining companies pollute the environment primarily for financial purposes. Yet the collusion of political and economic actors also hints at the underlying political goals of corrupted state officials who depend on the political and financial support of the country’s oligarchs. The very collusion of public and private interests is thereby the main facilitating factor for environmental crime in Armenia’s mining sector. The main victims are the people living close to the hundreds of mining sites in the country. Yet pollution also affects Armenians further away as well as the citizens of Armenia’s neighbouring countries due to water and air pollution and the contamination of agricultural products. Moreover, other economic sectors such as the country’s tourism industry suffer. Mining in Armenia is an important driver of the economy for the moment. Yet it is also a wholly unsustainable economic sector. At this point, environmental NGOs and citizen movements are the only viable actors in Armenia that have had some success in limiting harmful mining activities. Their principal means are thereby the naming and shaming of politicians and business people. Their attempts to stop mining activities in local courts have however largely failed. The Armenian government is thereby in clear violation of several international treaties it signed (e.g. the Aarhus Convention). This is the arena in which the EU and its member states could exert some leverage. They could remind the Armenian government of its international obligations and put some diplomatic and economic pressure on it. They could support the country’s environmental groups through technical training, financial resources, and diplomatic support. So far, European actors have largely failed to do so.
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1. Alen Amirkhanian, Director of Acopian Center for the Environment, American University of Armenia, interview by Christoph Stefes, Yerevan, 11 November 2013.
2. Inga Zarafian, President of Ecolur (Armenian environmental NGO), interview by Christoph Stefes, Yerevan, 2 December 2013.
3. Kristine Aghalaryan, journalist, Hetq, Investigative Journalists of Armenia, interview by Christoph Stefes, Yerevan, 3 December 2013.
4. Sona Ayvazyan, Environmental Policy Expert at Transparency International Anti-corruption Center, interview by Christoph Stefes, Yerevan, 5 December 2013.
5. John Barker, International Aid/Cooperation Officer at Delegation of the European Union to Armenia, interview by Christoph Stefes, Yerevan, 4 December 2013.
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- Armenia: A Case Study on Mining
Christoph H. Stefes
- Palgrave Macmillan UK
Systemische Notwendigkeit zur Weiterentwicklung von Hybridnetzen