Persecution of the Youth Democratic Movement In Armenia

ARMENIA/2016
Children of the plant workers demonstrating in Argel
PHOTO: Youth Democratic Movement

In 2016 a basalt stone processing plant in Argel, was built and put into operation in the Kotayk region of Armenia, located about 30 km north from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Soon a group of local people started to organize themselves and point out the devastation of the environment that the plant is causing. Their main concern was the waste water from the operation of the plant, which is released directly into the River Hrazdan, which is used by locals to irrigate their fields. The waste is also polluting the nearby water springs and more than five sources of drinking water. The local people are therefore cut out of their rights to access drinking water. They were also worried about the emissions in the air, which often exceed the binding limits.

Local activists from the unofficial “Youth Democratic Movement” initiative aimed to inform residents about the impacts of the operation of the plant. For this they are facing prosecution and their initiative cannot be officially registered because they would be immediately shut down by the responsible authorities.  

Activist Mariam Avetisyan, together with experts, appealed to the Armenian Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Health, informed the state authorities about the harm done both to the environment and to the health of factory workers, and promoted a discussion among the factory employees which led to a strike of 150 workers. In addition to its violations of occupational safety, the factory did not pay their salaries for six months.

Soon after that Mariam and her colleagues experienced threats and blackmail and were even offered bribes in exchange for their silence. Somebody broke into the office of the “Youth Democratic Movement” and took all the photos and videos, some of their phones were wiretapped, and some of the members of the movement were expelled from universities because of their activities. According to the activists, the people behind this are the top managers of the plant, oligarchs from Russia and Armenia and local crime bosses.  

As a result of the activists’ activities, workers’ strikes, and alleged economic problems, the plant stopped its operation temporarily. According to the local media, the plant is up for sale in order to pay salaries to the employees. At the same time, there is information that the plant still operates at night and that in the near future its operation will officially start again.