Reaching agreement on what Eurasia means, as a geographical
or political concept, has long been a thorny problem.
The region has been variously defined as stretching from
Portugal to the Ural Mountains, from the most westerly tip of
Europe to the Bering Strait (bounded by Siberia and the
Mediterranean Sea), or, more narrowly, as a group of countries
that straddle Eastern Europe and the western edge of Asia.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development
(OECD) concentrates its Eurasia activities in 13 countries,
extending from the borders of the EU to the Far East. These are
Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Turkey has traditionally been considered the frontier where
East meets West. But in recent years, and despite some
wavering over its geopolitical affiliations, Turkey has come
to be considered more European, in economic terms, than its
eastern and Black Sea neighbors.
Turkey’s industrial minerals mining industry
has also been among the most successful in the Eurasian region,
setting it apart from countries such as Armenia and Georgia,
which are struggling to revive what were once fairly profitable
|Meerschaum pipes are synonymous with Eurasia.
They are smoking pipes made
from the mineral sepiolite, which is found floating on
the Black Sea
According to online database Turkish Minerals,
Turkey’s mineral exports were worth close to
$4.8 billion in 2017, the most recent year for which data is
Around $2 billion-worth of this material was natural stone
– such as limestone, marble and aggregates for the
Among the rest, a huge range of non-metallic minerals
accounted for a significant slice of Turkey’s
mineral export revenues.
These included borates (worth $265.5 million), feldspar
($176 million), magnesite ($101.1 million), quartz ($76.2
million), bentonite ($64.7 million), gypsum ($45.2 million),
perlite ($27.7 million), salt ($25 million), barite ($24.2
million), sulfur ($17 million), pumice ($16.2 million), emery
($5.1 million), clays excluding kaolin ($4.7 million), kaolin
($4.4 million), dolomite ($2.1 million), talc (1.3 million),
natural graphite ($966,500) and mica ($120,000).
With the exception of a few years following the 2008
financial crisis, production at Turkey’s mines has
been fairly active since around 2000. Recent currency
instability has generally worked in favor of mineral exporters,
which pay costs in Turkish lira but receive payment for orders
in US dollars.
Pressure on the lira has come from both short-selling in the
foreign exchange markets and from Turkish citizens converting
lira-denominated savings into foreign currencies, in an effort
to preserve them from devaluation.
But extreme levels of intra-day volatility in the value of
the lira, which hit a low of TRY5.76 to $1 at the end of March
2019, and the recession in Turkey have been less beneficial to
domestic consumption of Turkish mineral products, due to the
associated economic uncertainty and a high rate of
This situation has also made it expensive to import foreign
technology, which many concede is needed to help make
Turkey’s mining sector more efficient, clean and
Despite the recent economic turmoil in Turkey, the
country’s outward-looking mining executives remain
upbeat about their industry’s prospects, although
they generally agree that more needs to be done to maximize its
"One of the main advantages is Turkey’s
fortunate location, exactly on the Tethyan Belt, which is an
extremely rich area for minerals," Ali Emiroğlu, president
of the Turkish Miners Association, said in a 2018 report on the
Turkish mining sector.
The Tethyan Belt runs from Southern Europe through Turkey,
into Iraq, Iran and Pakistan and across northern India into
"So far, this potential has not been exhausted, as our
mining extractions have not reached deeper reserves yet,
although exploration has taken place. The government has shown
serious interest in supporting this cause by making analyses on
a meta-basis to locate minerals," Emiroğlu added.
"They achieved their target of 1 million meters of drilling
[in 2017] and [in 2018, they intended] to increase that to 2
million meters, and [in 2019 to] 3 million meters. Foreign and
private players are also doing a lot of research," he said.
According to Australian consultancy MinEx, exploration
expenditure in Asia Minor (comprising Turkey and Greece)
totaled just under $1 billion between 2006 and 2016. This was
less than was spent in other regions in the Tethyan Belt, such
as the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, but it yielded far more
But mapping Turkey’s minerals is only part of
what needs to be done to help the sector to grow and modernize.
Improving the industry’s health and safety record
is another hurdle that must be overcome to make the sector more
In 2017, 93 deaths were recorded at Turkish mining
operations, according to the Workers’ Health &
Work Safety Assembly (İSİGM). This was more than
during the same year in South Africa, which has a much larger
mining industry and employs considerably more people than
Turkey, and yet faces much sterner criticism of its safety
International lawyers who advise foreign companies seeking
to develop Turkish mines also talk of a litigious local
culture, with numerous disputes springing up concerning land
use, compliance with local laws and obligations to domestic
shareholders, as well as the need to deal with around 20
licenses and permits for a single mine.
Industry officials are, however, keen to stress that
Turkey’s mining industry does not depend on
international investors. They point to the
country’s large established mining companies and
its skilled labor force.
But they do acknowledge that there is a need to bring more
value-added mineral processing into Turkey, to make the sector
more profitable and to boost exports further.
In a speech on April 10, 2019, Turkish finance minister
Berat Albayrak said that the country’s government
intends to prioritize efforts to boost exports from the mining
industry, because it is a strategic sector for Turkey.
|An abandoned Armenian mine. Armenia
produces several low-cost industrial
minerals including basalt, pumice and olivine, but most
of its mining income is
generated through gold, copper and other precious and
Armenia, a small landlocked country wedged against
Turkey’s eastern border, faces several challenges
in terms of developing its mining industry.
Fostering industrial mineral development is particularly
tricky because, unlike precious metals, these products are
high-volume, low-value materials which are difficult to
transport without access to sea-ports.
According to a report on the Armenian mining industry
prepared by a consortium of international consultants for the
World Bank in 2016, the country is "situated in a
geopolitically complex and volatile region, which in turn means
that, at present, the only significant land-based routes for
trade in and out of the country run through neighboring Georgia
in the north and Iran in the south."
Unlike Turkey, which has an upwardly mobile population of
more than 80 million, Armenia is home to fewer than 3 million
people, which also limits the possibilities for domestic
Armenian industrial minerals production consists mainly of
diatomite, gypsum, limestone, perlite, bentonite and
Notable mines include the Akhtala barite mine in northern
Armenia, which forms part of a larger copper deposit. According
to public records, the mine has operated non-continuously for
250 years, having been closed during periods of economic
recession in the country.
According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), Armenia was
producing around 600 tonnes per year of barite until at least
2014, the last year when the organization surveyed the
The country’s ministry of energy,
infrastructure and natural resources says that ore concentrates
and metals have accounted for just over half of
Armenia’s exports in the past few years –
although most of this has been gold, copper and other precious
and base metals, rather than non-metallic minerals.
The 2016 World Bank report stated that, at the time of
writing, there were "about 440 permits for mining or
quarrying of industrial minerals [in Armenia], and the vast
majority are for dimension stone, aggregates, or materials
otherwise used for construction purposes."
Tuff is a type of rock made of volcanic ash and containing
crystalline minerals such as anorthite, olivine, augite and
hornblende. It is quarried in western and central Armenia and
is mainly used in domestic construction, although it also has
potential applications in nuclear waste storage.
Quarrying of basalt and andesite, pumice and volcanic slag
is concentrated in the area around the Armenian capital,
Efforts to establish new non-metallic mineral mining
operations, or to expand existing ones, have been slow to get
going and have not been helped by the fact that tensions are
rising in Armenia about the effect that mining is having on the
country’s natural environment.
"The success of mining and mineral processing projects in
Armenia, generally, will depend on the ability of the
government to provide a solid legal basis for reconciling the
often-contradictory goals of economic development and
environmental protection," a document prepared by the
Armenian government for the US Department of
Commerce’s International Trade Administration
The country’s ministry of energy and natural
resources stressed that it is "open to, and encourages,
discussion with interested investors about the possibility of
introducing new, efficient, environmentally friendly
technologies in the mining sector."
It is hoped that by encouraging international investment
into the country, and the use of modern mining technology,
Armenia’s mining industry can grow cleanly and
The World Bank report recommended that Armenia work toward a
future for its mining sector "where there are fewer mines and
quarries, but that these have considerably larger production
Further, the report recommended that "operations should be
more mechanized and modern, and perform in an environmentally
responsible way, and with adequate concerns for the health and
safety of their workers."
The country of Georgia, which sits to the north of Armenia
and Azerbaijan and south of Russia, is not well-known for its
mining industry. But like Armenia, this is something Georgia is
trying to change, with the help of policy advice from
The German Economic Team Georgia (GET Georgia) is a
consultancy that advises the Georgian government and other
Georgian state authorities such as the National Bank on a range
of economic policy issues. It says that, although the mining
sector in Georgia only accounts for a small share (0.8% in
2014) of gross domestic product (GDP), around one-quarter of
Georgia’s total exports are related to mining
"The mining sector in Georgia… is essentially
comprised of two parts: extraction of relatively inexpensive
construction materials such as stones, which is carried out by
a multiplicity of often small companies and on numerous sites;
and mining of relatively valuable metals and minerals, which is
concentrated on a small number of relatively large extraction
sites run by large companies," GET Georgia said in a policy
paper published in 2015.
The group recommended a simplification of the
country’s mining laws to help boost investment in
"The current regulations create unnecessary obstacles to
investment in mining. These deter investors from increasing
activities in Georgia," GET Georgia said, referring to the
country’s system of licensing publicly owned
natural resources to private companies.
Since then, things seem to have improved, and there have been
examples of significant investment in Georgian mineral
In May 2018, Georgia’s ministry of economy
announced that it had issued a license for the development of a
calcite deposit in Mekveni, in Georgia’s Tskaltubo
municipality, where a sum of at least 30 million Georgian lari
(equivalent to about $11.1 million in April 2019) was due to be
Calcite, a form of limestone, is mainly used in
construction, but it also has uses in abrasives, agricultural
soil treatments, pigments and pharmaceuticals.
Exports of mineral-based fertilizers to neighboring
Azerbaijan were also reported to be increasing, and in early
2019 there was a series of announcements concerning investment
to expand all of Georgia’s existing and future
Black Sea ports, improving the country’s
connections to global maritime routes and increasing its export
One of the most significant investments was being made by the
EU, which has agreed to allocate €233 million ($262.5
million) to expand Georgia’s Anaklia Deep Sea
Port, as part of the bloc’s Trans-European
Transport Network initiative.
Like other Eurasian countries, Azerbaijan has a reasonably
well-established precious and base metals industry, but its
industrial minerals sector has lagged behind.
The USGS credits Azerbaijan as being a reasonably significant
producer of bromine and iodine, as well as large quantities
of limestone, bentonite, gypsum and salt.
Most of the domestic and international investment in
Azerbaijan is concentrated on its energy industry, however,
and mining appears to be less of a priority than it is for
some of its neighboring countries.
An uncertain future
Whether the various Eurasian countries follow the
recommendations of international consultants, regarding how
they can increase the size and value of their mining
industries, will depend partly on political will, partly on
social license, but more importantly on economic
For many countries in the Eurasian region, the strength of
Turkey’s mining sector, coupled with its
recession, has cast a shadow over them, although Turkish
companies are among the most important investors in the wider
region’s mining industry.
The removal of economic sanctions against Iran in 2015
generated real hope that a major new market would open, but the
re-imposition of trade restrictions by the United States in
2018 has largely stifled Iran’s potential as an
investor or consumer of foreign products.
Significant international projects such as the China Belt and
Road initiative, as well as continued EU investment in
greater European integration, could yet create a better
future for Eurasia’s mining industry, but the
prospects for this often-overlooked continental land bridge