Armenia’s largest gold mine partially closed over shelling from Azerbaijan

Sotk gold mine, Gegharkunik region, Armenia

By Mark Dovich

The Russian company that owns Sotk, Armenia’s largest gold mine, said last week it had indefinitely suspended open-pit operations at the site, citing shelling from Azerbaijan.

“Further work at the Sotk open pit has become impossible due to circumstances beyond the company’s control,” GPM Gold was quoted as saying last week by Sputnik Armenia.

The company said that more than 700 people who work at the mine had been placed on unpaid leave. It was not immediately clear if operations would also be halted at the company’s gold smelting plant in the town of Ararat, which could lead to more job losses.

The governor of Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik region, where Sotk is located, has confirmed the mine’s partial closure.

“Work in the mine’s open section has been suspended for safety reasons, but work continues in the closed section. The Sotk mine is working partially,” Karen Sargsyan told reporters Tuesday, according to Armenpress.

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The Sotk gold deposit straddles the border between the Gegharkunik region and the Kelbajar district, which Yerevan ceded to Baku after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. As a result, a large portion of the mine came under Azerbaijani control, while GPM Gold continued to operate the part that remained under Armenian control.

Since mid-April, violent clashes have repeatedly broken out between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces around Sotk, the largest gold deposit in the South Caucasus. Shelling last month near the mine left casualties on both sides.

In response, a State Department spokesperson said fighting around Sotk “undermines the progress made by Armenia and Azerbaijan toward a durable and dignified peace” and called on the two countries’ leaders to “distance their forces along the border.”

Armenia has substantial deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum, and the mining industry is one of the country’s biggest sources of employment and government revenue. Many of Armenia’s mines are owned by Russian companies.

The company that owns Sotk is a subsidiary of GeoProMining, which also operates two copper and molybdenum mines in Armenia’s south. GeoProMining is controlled by Roman Trotsenko, one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs.