STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL) — An Armenian mining giant has built a new copper and molybdenum ore processing plant in Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the biggest business project implemented in the territory in more than a decade.
Vallex Group inaugurated the modern plant late last month shortly after launching open-pit mining operations at the nearby Kashen deposit in Karabakh’s northern Martakert district containing an estimated 275,000 metric tons of copper and 3,200 tons of molybdenum. The company claims to have invested $130 million in the new facilities currently employing more than 1,400 people.
The Kashen project was launched two years ago amid the depletion of copper and gold reserves located elsewhere in Martakert. Vallex’s Karabakh subsidiary, Base Metals, has exploited the Drmbon reserves since 2001, becoming Karabakh’s single largest corporate taxpayer and private employer.
According to officials in Stepanakert, Base Metals has paid an average of 4 billion drams ($8.3 million) in taxes each year. By comparison, the Karabakh government’s 2016 budget is worth 89 billion drams.
Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, underscored the Kashen project’s importance to the local economy with his presence at the inauguration ceremony. Sahakian said new jobs created by Vallex will contribute to economic growth.
Karbakah prime minister Ara Harutiunian told reporters that the non-ferrous metal reserves at Kashen will be enough to keep the new mining complex operational for at least 25 years. Harutiunian downplayed recent years’ substantial drop in international copper prices, saying that Vallex could even expand its mining operations in Karabakh in the coming years.
Vallex plans to extract and enrich at least 1.75 million tons of ore annually. It says that the Kashen deposit contains about 56 million tons of ore.
The company, which has bigger mining operations in Armenia, has hired not only Armenian but also foreign specialists to build and run the new facility. “I hadn’t heard of a country called Karabakh before I came here,” Johann Murray, a South African mining engineer, told Karabakh television during the ceremony. “Karabakh Armenians are proud and decent people. I enjoy working with them.”
The Martakert mines have been a major contributor to robust economic growth recorded in Karabakh in the last several years. “The total number of employed people in Karabakh rose from 41,000 in 2007 to 50,300 in 2014,” Harutiunian said a year ago.
Thousands of other, mostly male Karabakh Armenians serve in the local military closely integrated with Armenia’s armed forces.
According to the authorities in Stepanakert, the Karabakh economy grew by over 7 percent in January-September 2015 on the back of a 32 percent rise in agricultural production.