Mining resumes at controversial Sakdrisi Gold Mine

International archaeologists have been excavating Sakdrisi oldest gold mine since 2006. Photo from RFE/RL, 15 Dec 2014 - 16:22, Tbilisi,Georgia

Establishing the historical importance of Sakdrisi Gold Mine in southern Georgia is in doubt after the Government approved RMG Gold to resume mining at the controversial site.

Mining resumed on Saturday – one day after the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and the National Agency of Cultural Heritage Protection approved RMG Gold’s request to resume mining at the site, which is believed by some experts to be the oldest gold mines in the world, dating back almost 5,000 years.

The mine was only discovered in the early 2000s and excavations began in 2006. It was initially given the status of cultural heritage site but this was revoked by the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection in 2013.

In March 2014 the Ministry gave RMG Gold permission to conduct large-scale mining at the site however this decision was overturned by Tbilisi City Court and RMG Gold was ordered to halt mining works until the final verdict had been made.The Court has not yet delivered its verdict.

News of reestablishing mining at Sakdrisi Gold Mine was harshly protested by one part of society, who said RMG Gold did not have the right to continue working at the site as Tbilisi City Court was still discussing the Ministry’s notion to revoke the mine’s status as a cultural heritage site.

On Saturday and Sunday a group commonly known as the Sakdrisi Protectors held a protest which began near the Sakdrisi Gold Mine. They demanded action to save the historical artifact from being permanently destroyed by mining.

Conversely, a small group of people who lived in Kazreti township, near Sakdrisi, applauded the move to resume mining and said if RMG Gold stopped working at the site, jobs would dry up and they would be unemployed again.

On Saturday RMG Gold resumed mining operations, which involved controlled explosions in the hills of the mine territory.

After this, Sakdrisi Protector Irakli Lomidze said the explosions would have "completely destroyed” the historical mine and "there was no point protecting it any more”.

Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II publically condemned the explosive mining technique and condemned the action in the name of the Georgian church.

"We condemn this fact and the people who did this. We call on the Georgian Government to conduct an investigation and determine appropriate punishment for those responsible,” the Patriarch said.

Georgia’s Minister of Culture and Monument Protection Mikheil Giorgadze, who on Friday signed off on the deal to let RMG Gold resume mining, personally responded to the Patriarch and said he would "definitely” introduce Ilia II with details of the Sakdrisi Gold Mine case.

Giorgadze said that as the country’s Minister of Culture, he took full responsibility for this issue.

"The Patriarch’s opinion is of great importance to me and I will definitely inform him about the details. In addition, I will tell him why the Cultural Heritage Agency made its decision to revoke the Sakdrisi Gold Mine’s status of [being] a cultural heritage. This decision was made in full compliance with the law,” he said.

Meanwhile today the Georgian Public Defender called on the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection to create a working group to discuss the Sakdrisi Gold Mine controversy.

Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili told journalists that every interested party should be given the opportunity to engage in the activities of the working group.

"The Office of Public Defender continues working on this issue. As you know a court debate is still going on about revoking the [cultural heritage] status of the monument,” he said.

"Despite this, on December 13, RMG Gold renewed mining works, which is really unfortunate. The fact that the issue is still in the court has not been foreseen,” he said.

Sakdrisi Gold Mine is believed to be one of the oldest gold mines in the world, dating back almost 5,000 years. The ancient mine, which stretched 50metres deep, was discovered only a few years ago by Georgian and German archaeologists, who began excavating the site in 2006.

Several experts believed the gold mine was the oldest mine in the world however Georgia’s Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection would not confirm if the gold and golden ores being mined dated back to the prehistoric era.

In 2013, the Ministry revoked the Sakdrisi Gold Mine’s status of a place of cultural heritage, citing the site had been enlisted through procedural violations. The Ministry decided the site should retain as an archaeological site status but after three months this status was also removed.

RMG Gold then applied to the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection to allow mining to continue at Sakdrisi Gold Mine. This was protested heavily by archaeologists.