The Armenian National Committee UK (ANC) has criticised Anglo Asian Mining for “exploiting” a long-standing conflict on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for its financial gain.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, named for the region in south-western Asia between the two countries, has persisted since 1988, when Armenia demanded that the Soviet Union transfer control of the region from Azerbaijan to Armenia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with both ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis calling the area home, hostilities have continued between the now-independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan, alternating between guerrilla wars and full-scale conflicts.

On October 27, Anglo Asian applauded what it called the “liberation” of the Zangilan region of the area, a mineral-rich area that contains the Vejnaly mining area, which the company and Azerbaijan have agreed to mine. The Zangilan region was reported have close to 3,000t of copper and 29 mullion cubic metres of building stone in 1993 by the state’s National Geological Survey, and while the conflict has prevented more recent mineral exploration work, Anglo Asian is optimistic that the region will prove to be a profitable investment.

“Vejnaly is held under the company’s existing production sharing agreement (PSA),” explained Anglo Asian in the October press release. “However, the PSA will only commence in respect of Vejnaly upon notification by the Government of Azerbaijan to the company of the cessation of all hostilities and that it is safe to access the district.

“This notification will therefore ‘reset’ the PSA to year zero for contract areas in the occupied territories. Accordingly, the company then has the right to explore the contract area for up to five years and then develop and produce for 15 years with two five-year extensions allowed.”

However, Anglo Asian’s support for potential mining development in the region has seen the company receive criticism for its economic interest in what many consider to be a humanitarian crisis. The ANC in particular has taken issue with the miner’s use of the word “liberation” to refer to the removal of Armenian forces by Azerbaijan, which it argues ignores many of the valid Armenian claims to the region.

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“It is sad that a London-listed company should think it appropriate to put out a press release celebrating the ‘liberation’ of land that it plans to exploit for commercial gain,” said the ANC. “That ‘liberation’ has come about through the expulsion of the ethnic Armenians who lived there.

“We believe Anglo Asian Mining is taking advantage of the war and exploiting an unstable region to maximise profits for its investors, and without a care in the world for how the conflict is impacting civilians. This is shameful.”

The ANC also pointed out that belligerents in the conflict have been accused of committing war crimes for their targeting of civilians in the region. Azerbaijan claims that since fighting ramped up in September, 91 civilians have been killed in regions it controls, while Armenia has claimed that 47 people have been killed, including 45 in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.

While the UN has not been able to verify these figures, the body separately reported that on October 28, an Armenian rocket attack that killed 21 and injured 70 others had used cluster munitions, a form of explosive banned by over 100 countries, including Australia and the UK.

Despite these uncertainties, Anglo Asian has appeared steadfast in its support for Azerbaijan and has no plans to abandon its mining licences in the region.

“The company welcomes these developments and is in close contact with the Government of Azerbaijan regarding co-operation on the future development of the Zangilan district,” announced Anglo Asian. “However, the timeline for any investigation and commercial exploitation of Vejnaly is unknown as it depends, inter alia, upon safe access to the Zangilan district and security of the contract area. However, once secure, the company plans to immediately start work at Vejnaly.”