Chronology of protests in Soyudlu village: Citizens unite against controversial artificial lake amid intense police repression

Protesting mining in the South Caucasus: What drives people to the streets?

by Irena Gonashvili and Agshin Umudov 
Chronology of protests in Soyudlu village: Citizens unite against controversial artificial lake amid intense police repression
Image: Meydan TV (

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the three South Caucasus countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – ended up in an economic crisis without a clear plan for recoverypdf, 896 kb · de. While the seeds of environmental activism were planted in the late 1980s in ArmeniaExternal link and GeorgiaExternal link (and less so in AzerbaijanExternal link), the challenging transitional period and territorial conflicts left little room for them to flourish. From the early 2000s on, activism drawing attention towards various environmental issues has (re-)emerged in Armenia and Georgia. The authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan has significantly tightened its grip on the civil societyExternal link, discouraging people to voice environmental concerns as well. On 20 June 2023, however, the protests against a mining company in Söyüdlü village in Azerbaijan made headlinesExternal link. This blog post takes a closer look at the unexpected turn in Azerbaijan, and also looks at the motives behind the most prominent mining-related protests in the two neighbouring countries.

On 20 June 2023, Azerbaijani society witnessed the first environmental protest in independent Azerbaijan, directed against the construction of a new artificial reservoir in Söyüdlü village of the Gadabay region, intended to store waste from a nearby gold mine. The villagers, spearheaded by local women, walked towards the police station with environmental slogans such as “Don’t poison us”External link and “The Kur River is being poisoned” to protest against the planned construction of the second chemical waste reservoirExternal link. It is worthwhile to note that already in 2012, Söyüdlü residents expressed their complaintsExternal link to the government about the construction of the first waste reservoir in the village due to ecological concerns. Environmental grievances, accompanied with growing health and economic concerns, turned into anti-mining protests when locals learned about the construction of the second reservoir. Residents of the Söyüdlü village claimed that the rate of oncological diseases in the surrounding areas of the waste reservoir has increased, and they have lost their pastureland and bee farms to cyanide contamination since the UK-based Anglo Asian Mining companyExternal link started mining gold in the village in 2009. Several village residents were arrested, police used disproportionate force against the protestors, and the village was blockaded by the police forces.

Demonstrations in Söyüdlü gave rise to a strong resonance in the country. On 2 July 2023, a solidarity rallyExternal link was held in Baku calling for the release of the arrested residents and to stop the construction of the new waste reservoir. President Ilham Aliyev justified the violent actions of police forces against the protesting locals, but at the same time accused the Minister of Ecology and Natural ResourcesExternal link of not taking proper supervisory actions. He ordered the latter to set up a commission to investigate the issue of possible environmental risks in the area. The construction of the second waste reservoir was halted and gold mining was suspendedExternal link during the ecological investigation. On 28 September 2023, the commission announced the results of their investigation: even though the cyanide concentration found in the water exceeds the acceptable norms, it is not a concern of  “significant threat to the environment or human healthExternal link”. On 7 November 2023, the Azerbaijani government issued a permission for Anglo Asian Mining to resume gold miningExternal link in Söyüdlü.

In Armenia, which has been profiling itself as a “mining-friendlyExternal link” country, we come across  several enduring cases of protests against mining companies. One of the most prominent examples is the activism against the Teghut copper and molybdenum mineExternal link, which started in 2007 and lasted until 2014. The main concerns were the destruction of the Teghut forest and its ecosystem, and the contamination of water and agricultural land. The protests around the Hrazdan iron ore depositExternal link in 2011 and the fierce demonstrations against the Amulsar gold mine in 2018External link were both focused on environmental issues and their ramifications on human health.

In Georgia, major  environmental protests have been mostly centred around large hydropower plantsExternal link. However, there have been some significant cases around mining issues as well, yet not all of them were specifically motivated by environmental concerns.  For example, in 2014 workers of the Kazreti gold and copper mine protested against unsafe working conditionsExternal link. Later that year, a dilemma over the excavation works of the Sakdrisi mine, presumably the oldest known gold mine in the worldExternal link, led to protest camps on site. The most recent and prominent protests were organized by manganese miners in Chiatura and the residents of the nearby village of Shukruti. These protests had two main dimensions: the employees of the Georgian Manganese company demanded secure and fair working conditionsExternal link, while the locals desperately sought compensation for the destruction of their housesExternal link.


Mining protests in Azerbaijan were mainly driven by concerns for the loss of livelihood, health risks, and further environmental pollution. In the case of Armenia, the underlying reason for the anti-mining protests has been mostly environmental concern, which is also interlinked with human health and the loss of agricultural land. In Georgia, anti-mining protests were triggered by various motives ranging from environmental issues to property and labour rights.

What we observe in all three countries are reactionary protests once a certain project is threatening or is expected to threaten a certain community, contrasted with larger mobilized campaigns against a specific kind of mining or against the industry in general (e.g. brown coalExternal link). Unsurprisingly, despite the large public outcry, the protests against mining companies have proven to be unsuccessful in competition with the excessive financial interests prevalent in the industry. The latter often compels local governments to neglectExternal link human rights, turn a blind eye to environmental pollutionExternal link concerns, or loosen laws and regulationsExternal link.

Still, there is a glimmer of hope that in the upcoming decade Armenia and Georgia will make certain progress with regard to environmental pollution from mining. Through the EU-Georgia Association AgreementExternal link and the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership AgreementExternal link, Armenia and Georgia have pledged to implement the EU Directive 2006/21/ECExternal link to “prevent or reduce … any adverse effects on the environment, …, and any resultant risks to human health”External link emerging from the management of the waste from the mining industries. Moreover, a whole paragraphExternal link of the directive is dedicated to public participation in the stages of preparation and issuing permits for the waste treatment. Harmonization of laws, not to mention their implementation, will certainly take time, yet there is an intention to start.


Further References

Grossman, Gene M. & Alan B. Krueger. 1995. “Economic Growth and the Environment.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 110(2): 353–377.


Author Bios:

Irena Gonashvili is a doctoral researcher in the JENA-CAUC project. Her research focuses on the Europeanization of environmental policies in Georgia and Armenia.

Dr. Agshin Umudov is a senior fellow for the JENA-CAUC project, investigating the EU resilience building policies on climate change in the South Caucasus.



Peer reviewed by: Dr. Beril Ocaklı, Researcher, Zentrum für Osteuropa- und internationale Studien (Centre for East European and International Studies).