Interview with Armen Stepanyan, Lydian Armenia Vice President for Sustainability
- Mr. Stepanyan, following press-conference by the minister of nature protection, it has become clear that there is neither a Red-listed butterfly nor a plant species at Amulsar, whereas these two conclusions became a reason for Artur Grigoryan, head of the Inspection Department, to suggest suspending activities at Amulsar. Actually, these reasons no longer exist.
- Yes, it has turned out that the plant species identified during the first visit by the Inspection Team was not Acantholimon caryophyllaceum, and the area is not suitable habitat for the butterfly as we have always maintained.
We have conducted comprehensive studies and if there were any Red-listed species, the information was always publicly available. This was the case for Potentilla Porphyrantha. We have established a set-aside area with the project footprint to preserve the largest area of habitat for this species and relocated the remaining approximately 20% of the population to the Sevan Botanical Gardens. Lydian has invested 500,000 USD in the program to preserve, study and return the relocated plants to their natural habitat in cooperation with Cambridge University and the RA National Academy of Sciences. Noteworthy, is that Potentilla Porphyrantha is no longer classified as a serious issue by environmental protection groups. Now, they are looking for new “risks.” Lydian’s comprehensive studies governing these issues and the resultant conclusions were validated once again. Our biodiversity conservation and sustainable development programs have been presented to different audiences and conferences and has been well recognized and received many accolades.
- So, apparently, the expert who identified Acantholimon caryophyllaceum changed his opinion during the second survey.
- First of all, I have to state that the opinion was based on assumption. Secondly during the second trip that plant was not found. It was not an opinion, but an assumption and yes, she did acknowledge that she was incorrect, as facts superseded assumptions. Anush Nersisyan, the expert that found the species which she assumed was Red-listed Acantholimon caryophyllaceum Boiss was mistaken. Marine Hovhannisyan, head of the Department of Plant Taxonomy and Geography of Institute of Botany NAS RA, took several samples of the plant, that allegedly was a Red Book listed plant. She concluded that it as a plant species of the same family, but not a Red Book listed one. Hasty assumptions should be avoided, and it would have been better if the Inspection Team had scientific evidence to support their assumptions before formally documenting its opinions and raising false expectations in the public domain
However, the expert recorded what she literally called a “probable” Red Book listed species. It is important to understand why and on what grounds what the expert presented as a “probable” Red Book listed species, resulted in the public statement on August 27, 2018 that “Based on newly identified ecological factors the RA Ministry of Nature Protection recommended that the Expert Opinion BP-35 approved by RA Minister of Nature Protection to be no longer in force.” Acantholimon caryophyllaceum plant species have not been observed in that area since the 1950s. This was concluded during our previous studies and now has been proven once again.
- What about the opinion on the butterfly?
- During its working meeting with the Inspection Department, the Company, in a detailed presentation showed that the Amulsar area is not a habitat for this butterfly. Of course, a single butterfly could appear outside of its habitat for different reasons. However, as our experts repeatedly said this area is not habitat for this species due to flora and climate specifics. This visit has proved that the “new factors” declared by the Inspection Team are invalid.
- Do you mean that the Inspection Department will have to refute its resolution made a week ago?
- I cannot answer this question on behalf of the Inspection Department. However, I’d like to say that the Inspection Department should not have made public statements based on assumptions without checking the facts. Such behavior by a state agency may cause serious damage to the country’s image.
- What steps will the government take?
- Well, I cannot answer on behalf of the government. Nevertheless, conclusions from this case can be drawn. The resolution published by the Inspection Team did not even recommend additional studies. Instead, the head of the Inspection Department recommended that the Company’s permit no longer be in force. I do not think it is an acceptable practice by an important government agency, especially when it is considering such an important investment project that offers so many substantial benefits to the local communities, regional governments and Armenia .