YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Serj Tankian, the world-famous Armenian-American musician, on Monday called for boosting the rule of law and combating corruption in Armenia, saying that is key to addressing the country’s fundamental problems.
Speaking after his latest solo concert in Yerevan, the lead singer of the California-based band System of a Down also criticized a controversial mining project fiercely opposed by local environment protection groups.
He at the same time emphasized his belief that Armenia has done “pretty well” since gaining independence two decades ago.
“I think we need to establish the rule of law in this country,” Tankian told a public discussion organized by the Civilitas Foundation, a Yerevan think-tank, and the local office of Counterpart International, a U.S. civic development agency.
“I think having a rule of law in the country from top to bottom will alleviate a lot of concerns, whether it’s traffic tickets or taxes or wages or how many hours someone should work. It’s all connected to this one thing of enforcing the rule of law,” he said.
“And the efficiencies created by the lowering of corruption will actually really spur productivity in this country … and that will make it easier for foreign and local investment.”
Tankian drew rapturous applause from the audience when he singled out the need for a strict separation between business and politics. “In Armenia we have business and politics in the same seat,” he stated. “So one of them has got to get off the seat. You know, they can’t be sitting in the same space. Otherwise, it looks like an orgy.”
The rock star, who has mainly performed as a solo artist in recent years, addressed more than 200 civil society members at the end of a nearly weeklong visit to the country of his ancestors. The main highlight of his trip was an open-air concert late on Sunday dedicated to the inauguration in Yerevan of an information technology education center set up by a U.S. businessman of Armenian origin.
Tankian met with President Serzh Sarkisian at the sprawling TUMO Center for Creative Technologies ahead of the concert attended by some 10,000 fans. He received a medal of honor from Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian at a separate meeting on Friday.
An Armenian government statement cited Tigran Sarkisian as praising his vocal campaign for official U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. It said the premier, himself a rock fan, also pointed out that Tankian’s visits are important for promoting rock music in Armenia.
Tankian said on Monday that he discussed with Tigran Sarkisian plans by an Armenian mining company to develop Teghut, a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the northern Lori region covered by a 357-hectare forest.
The Teghut project, if implemented, will lead to the destruction of 128,000 trees. Critics say that would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s green areas that have already shrunk dramatically since the 1990s.
Tankian heaped praise on Armenian environmentalists campaigning against the project. “I think they are doing a great job,” he said. “I fully and firmly agree with their stance.
“I think open-pit mining is very dangerous in this country and everywhere else. I think we’ll be poisoning our lives by opening up that mine in the Teghut forest.”
The outspoken singer revered by Armenians around the world went on to advocate Armenia’s transformation into “a lot more self-sufficient” country because of its geographic location and uneasy relations with neighbors. He called, among other things, for more government subsidies to farmers and a strict ban on genetically modified agricultural products.
Tankian, who will turn 44 next Sunday, cautioned, however, that Armenians should be “patient” in expecting positive changes in their country. “We are a 20-year-old country and in retrospect, if you look at the whole situation, I think we are doing pretty well, despite everything that we talked about,” he said. “It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people. There is a lot of potential, there is a lot of energy.”
Tankian was also “really excited” by the ecstatic and mostly young crowd that turned up for his concert broadcast live by an Armenian TV channel. “It was something I’d never experienced before … It was a level of high that I’d never had before,” he said.