The British government supported a London-listed mining company that stands to profit from the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, openDemocracy reported.
The British embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, offered to help Anglo Asian Mining after diplomats learned that the company was set to secure access to mining concessions in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh [(Artsakh)] and other adjacent districts.
The UK’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, James Sharp, met with Anglo Asian at the height of the conflict, according to email correspondence released under Freedom of Information. After the meeting, Anglo Asian sent Sharp a follow-up email containing information about gold deposits in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories.
Embassy officials later offered to discreetly raise issues and questions on Anglo Asian’s behalf at a meeting with Azerbaijan’s state-owned mining company.
The story of the friendly relationship between Anglo Asian and the embassy emerged from email correspondence released under Freedom of Information rules. The British government has heavily redacted the emails, refusing to disclose their full contents as they could not only harm the company’s interests, but also “harm the international relations of the UK and both Azerbaijan and Armenia and the interest of the UK in these countries.”
“The UK has been consistently clear that we support the OSCE Minsk Group’s work to facilitate a lasting end to the conflict,” the Foreign Office said in a statement to openDemocracy, referencing the international body that mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan. “Greater prosperity across the region is an important part of securing a sustainable solution to the conflict.”
In November 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of “possible war crimes” in the conflict zone – and further reports have emerged of brutal treatment, including the extrajudicial execution of Armenian civilians and captured soldiers. Baku has also retained a number of Armenian prisoners of war since the conflict, and has subjected them to cruel and inhumane treatment.
“The UK government has failed to front up to the truth that the pursuit of global trade and investment opportunities can clash with its obligation to protect human rights,” said Tom Wills, corporate accountability and trade project manager at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.
In a statement to openDemocracy, Anglo Asian said: “The British Embassy does not give us any ‘support’ outside of the normal course of their embassy responsibilities.”
On its website and in other promotional materials, Anglo Asian maintains that Azerbaijan is a “politically stable democracy” with “a good human rights record.”
Azerbaijan’s gold mining sector has been dogged by allegations of nepotism. In 2012, Azerbaijani investigative journalists revealed that their country’s government had awarded stakes in gold fields to a shell company ultimately owned by the daughters of President Ilham Aliyev.
As the crisis deepened, the British embassy in Baku resumed contact with Anglo Asian Mining, which had sought to calm investors’ nerves over the war’s impact on its operations with a public announcement.
Prompted by the embassy, Anglo Asian sent officials an update on 14 October. In the email, much of which has been redacted, Anglo Asian sought a meeting with either an unnamed embassy official or Sharp, the ambassador.
Zangilan [(Kovsakan)] region is home to the Vejnaly goldfield, which Anglo Asian holds exclusive rights to explore and exploit, and which had been previously operated by a Swiss-Armenian businessman.
On 27 October, Anglo Asian issued an update to its investors on Azerbaijan’s “liberation” of Zangilan, adding that it was in talks with the Azerbaijani government over the future development of the site. Two days later, Sharp met with Anglo Asian for what the Foreign Office described as a “catch-up over coffee”.
Anglo Asian also told openDemocracy that it has carried out a “short site visit” to its Zangilan concession, but that it currently lacks access to its mines in Nagorno-Karabakh and Kalbajar [(Karvachar)].
On 10 November, Armenia and Azerbaijan eventually signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire.
As Azerbaijan’s commitment to the ceasefire came increasingly into question in the weeks after it was signed, grainy footage circulated on social media on 26 November apparently showing Azerbaijani troops amassed on a snow-covered mountain pass above Sotk gold mine.
On 28 November, two days after the Sotk footage emerged, Anglo Asian sent an update on its operations to the UK ambassador. The email has been heavily redacted.