Mining development transforms village in Nagornyy Karabakh

Golos Armenii web site, Yerevan
27 Jul 04


The village of Drmbon in Nagornyy Karabakh is being transformed thanks
to the development of the copper and gold deposits in the region, says
the writer Aris Kazinyan. The population of the village has risen from
460 before the war with Azerbaijan to the point where 820 are engaged
on working at the plant which produces 14,000 t of ore a month. The
following is the text of the article "14,000 t of ore in four shifts",
posted on the Voice of Armenia web site on 27 July; subheadings
inserted editorially:

Transformation of a village

The village of Drmbon, which lies in the foothills of the Mrav on the
picturesque shores of the Sarsangskiy reservoir, is today one of the
largest and rapidly developing regions of Martakertskiy District in
the Nagornyy Karabakh Republic. The village, which during the war
experienced all the horrors of Azerbaijani aggression, is now being
transformed and is expected to be given the status of an urban-type
settlement in the very near future. The wonderful natural setting of
the area clearly lends itself to a project which is being developed to
create a holiday resort centre. The construction of the North-South
trunk road, which is due to be completed in 2005, will provide the
necessary communications, and from April of this year work began on
laying the route for a 23-km section from Kichan to Drmbon.

The work of the Karabakh-Telecom company, which is providing permanent
mobile communications with the outside world, is worthy of special
mention in the development of the village and its integration into the
Armenian economy. At the present time one in three houses in Drmbon
has its own mobile telephone. This company has become a most important
boost to the economic development of the whole of
Artsakh. Karabakh-Telecom began operating in February 2002, and by
August the open joint-stock company Base Metals, which develops the
copper and gold deposits of Drmbon, had been set up. This mine is now
the hub of the village's activity and the main guarantee of its
long-term development. "Before the war the population of the village
was just 460," says local school director Sirush Alaverdyan. "When the
main fighting was over, about 320 of the villagers who had been
scattered all over came back and started rebuilding their homes.
There are now 630 people here, and half of them are specialists at the
ore-dressing combine who were invited from all over Armenia."

Background to mining development

Armenia is one of the world's first centres for copper mining and
working, and much of its latest output comes from deposits which were
either old or discarded for various reasons. It is significant that
from the middle of the 1980s Azerbaijan began carrying out geological
surveying at the Kyzylbulag mine (the Turkish name for the deposit),
which was completed in 1990. It was supposed that it would only be
worth commissioning the copper and gold deposits once the indigenous
Armenian population had been banished during the war. It was precisely
for this reason that the documentation on the gold reserves at
Kyzylbulag (13.5 t) was presented to the USSR state commission for
mineral reserves and protected in 1991, which was a most difficult
year for the people of Nagornyy Karabakh. Here one should remember
that the authorities of Soviet Azerbaijan, who had no doubts about the
swift deportation of the Armenians, insisted on a return for the use
of the mine and the foundation there of a dressing combine in
disregard of the position of the state commission which claimed that
there was already a similar factory in the region in Ararat, and there
was no need for another one. Virtually the whole of the powerful Baku
party apparatus was involved in the process of the "technical-economic
basis" for the use of the mine and attracting funds from the
centre. In the end the state commission gave in to the Azerbaijani
functionaries.

Clearly, such activity over the issue of the commissioning of Drmbon
could not occur in past periods of the development of the USSR:
moreover, similar prospecting, carried out for the first time by the
Azerbaijani leadership in 1934, because of the "populating of
Armenians" in the region, was immediately brought to a halt. The
motive for the suspension of the work was the same - "the time is not
right". The time did come in August 2002, when Base Metals opened in
the already independent NKR, and which, as well as carrying out
geological surveying, also started to build an ore-dressing
combine. By April 2003 the first consignment of ore had been produced,
and the plant's construction was completed in September. According to
company director Artur Mkrtumyan, the mine's reserves are such that
industrial activity can be predicted for a period of 20 years. At the
present moment prospecting work is also being carried out in the
region of Tsakhkashen, where there are layers of precious metals.

"Today virtually all the able-bodied population of Drmbon is engaged
at the plant," one of the workers, Armen Stepanyan, says. "The face of
the village is changing before our eyes and it is growing into a
settlement, providing work not just for us, but also for the people of
the neighbouring areas, as well as Armenian families who have moved to
the NKR. There are now 820 people working at the plant."

Every month 14,000 tonnes of ore is extracted at the gold and copper
mine, and the same amount is being processed at the plant which works
around the clock in four shifts. The concentrate is in the main sent
to Armenia, from where the gold-bearing copper goes to the European
market. Some 7m dollars have been invested in the development of
Drmbon's mines. The monthly wages fund is 10m drams.

More jobs and more schools

"The flood of people coming to Drmbon is, of course, great for the
overall economic development of the village," the school director
says. "Families from Armenia, for example, are renting homes, often
repairing them, from which each villager gains. I am not even speaking
about the work at the plant, where the average wage is over 250
dollars. The strengthening of our area means we can think about
building a new school, because more families are moving to Drmbon.
This work today is being carried out by the All-Armenian Ayastan
foundation. The children of Drmbon will see in the new academic year
in a well-appointed modern school."

The economic development of Drmbon, of course, annoys Azerbaijan. In
particular, the head of the National Geological Surveying Service of
the Azerbaijani Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources Shakhbeddin
Musayev has said more than once that "Armenians should be grateful to
Azerbaijan for carrying out the geological survey work in the Soviet
period and the idea of creating the plant". At the same time, of
course, he forgets to name the true reasons for Baku's jealousy
regarding the start of the project at the beginning of the 1990s. He
also draws attention to the "scandalous ecological situation in the
region, which is the consequence of using cheap technology". A
different view is held by specialists, including specialists from
abroad visiting the mine, who are not afraid of telling Baku that the
technology of the Drmbon mine meets all modern criteria.