NEW YORK—It was a festive occasion as friends, colleagues and supporters gathered to celebrate the Tufenkian Foundation’s 20th Anniversary. Held at the Tufenkian Carpets showroom in Manhattan on Sunday, May 19, the event featured presentations by James Tufenkian, Varant Meguerditchian, and special guest Serj Tankian, who addressed Armenia’s numerous environmental concerns, focusing especially on mining.
The program opened with welcoming remarks by MC Marisa Mesropian-Fisher, who recounted the Foundation’s accomplishments in promoting social protection, civic activism, and cultural enrichment in Armenia, as well as borderland resettlement and economic development in Nagorno-Karabagh. She then introduced Foundation trustee Antranig Kasbarian, who gave an overview of the afternoon program, as well as the Foundation’s larger, overarching mission.
“From the outset, our goal has been not simply to provide assistance, but to help people help themselves,” he noted. “We have also sought to pursue a venture role in our philanthropy. We often take on projects that others can’t or won’t—filling vacuums and planting seeds, helping various effective actors to grow, realize their potential, and hopefully take off for the benefit of the country,” said Kasbarian.
Kasbarian then invited special guest Serj Tankian to the podium. Best known as front-man of the musical group “System of a Down,” Tankian has gained additional notoriety for his outspoken activism and social criticism on a range of Armenian issues. In a heartfelt presentation, Tankian pointed out that mining, when practiced irresponsibly, has brought severe environmental and public health consequences, often disrupting life in local communities throughout Armenia. He commended these communities for their growing activism in defending their environment and holding mining interests accountable.
Tankian was followed by Varant Meguerditchian, Executive Director of the Mining Legislation Reform Institute, based in Yerevan. In a detailed slide show, Meguerditchian explained the need to reform Armenia’s mining laws, which are often weak or fail to conform to international best practices. As a result, mining companies have been encouraged to act irresponsibly, whether in terms of abusing the natural environment, creating unsafe public health conditions, or failing to contribute sufficiently to state revenue.
The final speaker was Foundation President and Founder James Tufenkian. In a direct and personal appeal, Tufenkian argued that Armenia must value its mineral assets in a way that will truly benefit the country. To date, the state coffers have been enriched very little by mining activity, which creates an imbalance between the public costs borne by the country versus the material benefits the country can receive.
He concluded by exhorting the crowd to join MLRI’s upcoming lobbying efforts, which will require nearly $400,000 during the next two years, “I can’t imagine a better return on investment than spending a few hundred thousand dollars, and succeeding in developing a revenue stream that will bring tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions to the state budget,” he argued. “If we accomplish this, we will immeasurably help Armenia to address the numerous social, defense, public health, and other challenges it urgently faces.”
The program concluded with a lively and challenging question-and-answer period.