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EARTH DAY | Georgian environment, heritage at risk as RMG Gold exploits Sakdrisi

The world's most ancient gold mine

April 21, 2015

The Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies will hold a talk on the Sakdrisi Gold Mine Environmental Controversy on April 27 at 2:30 pm in Thomson Hall 317. This talk will feature Tibilisi-based expert Oliver Reisner, Project Manager for the European Union Delegation to Georgia. All are welcome.

By Sarah McPhee

Most people remember the story of Jason and the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece. What most people do not realize is that the setting of the myth is substantiated by the discovery of the Sakdrisi Gold Mine. The Bronze Age mine was acknowledged to be 5,000 years old in the early 2000s, the oldest known gold mine in the world. Sakdrisi was declared a cultural heritage site archaeological and scientific excavations began in 2006 by Georgian and German academics. This status was revoked in 2013 by the Georgian Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection in order to allow RMG Gold, a Russian-owned mining company, to exploit the site for the remaining gold. RMG contributes to approximately 10% of the Georgian economy.

Above: Protesters camp nearby the entrance to the site, while archaeologists carefully excavate the mine. Below: RMG Gold has been engaged in exploiting the mine without regard to the environment or historical treasures within.

Above: Protesters camp nearby the entrance to the site, while archaeologists carefully excavate the mine.
Below: RMG Gold has been engaged in exploiting the mine without regard to the environment or historical treasures within.

Sakdrisi is also in close proximity to a copper mine which has also been exploited by RMG. According to a statement  by the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network:

The Madneuli copper and Sakdrisi gold mines and their on-going and planned activities are well known to society due to the large scale of their environmental impact. Mining of copper and gold at these deposits was started at the end of the 1970s and is still ongoing, despite the political and economic changes that occurred during this time. The damage caused to the environment as a result of improper performance, and the absence of an adequate response, is significant.

The non-profit group explains that all mining carries environmental risks, but due to improper procedures and numerous environmental and safety violations, highly concentrated heavy metal dust is spreading over agricultural lands, leading to soil pollution and posing a threat to human health. Mine waste, including acid rock drainage, leaks into both the ground and surface water supply.

The dust produced by improper mining is toxic to fauna and flora.

The dust produced by improper mining is toxic to fauna and flora.

The greatest concerns, beyond the fleecing of the ancient gold mine, revolve around the long-term environmental, social, and economic impact to Georgia and the Caucasus region. The damage to the region will be difficult to reconcile to the profits. “The state will most probably induce results that hamper long-term economic development such as post-mining environmental restoration costs that considerably exceed revenues from improperly planned and designed industry activities.”

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Environmental groups have doggedly opposed the destruction of Sakdrisi.

The mining and explosion within Sakdrisi’s most interesting archaeological area has sparked numerous protests from student, environmental, and nationalist groups within Georgia, drawing not only local celebrity support for the protesters and international attention, but also condemnation by Patriarch Ilia of Georgia.

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We demand the government to investigate this incident and punish those who committed it. — Patriarch Ilia

 

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Marine Mizandari and her former boss.

Many local residents, who are primarily concerned about employment, applaud the mining. Nevertheless, the mining has cost Deputy Minister of Culture Marine Mizandari her position. She was sacked shortly after voicing her opinion that the cultural heritage status of Sakdrisi should be restored, but the ministry claimed it was for “making arbitrary decisions” and not sharing the opinion of the Minister Culture, Guram Odisharia. 

On April 27th at 2:30 in Thomson Hall 317, the Ellison Center will host Oliver Reisner, an independent scholar based in Tbilisi and Project Manager for the European Union Delegation to Georgia. Reisner will offer a talk about Sakdrisi as a case study for development in a hybrid society, as well as what influence external actors may have. His talk will focus on the coexistence of different social formations and practices, the cleavages in Georgia, and the relationship among its generations. The talk is free and open to the public.

The Ellison Center

Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
University of Washington
Box 353650
Seattle WA, 98195-3650