For over 20 years, James Tufenkian has been committed to using his business ventures to better the lives of Armenians. His family immigrated to the U.S. from western Armenia following the Hamidean massacres in the 1890s and eventually settled in California and Oregon. James finished law school in 1985 and then began a successful business introducing a modern aesthetic to traditional Tibetan carpets.
A self-described “born-again Armenian,” James visited Armenia toward the end of the Soviet era and was amazed by the beauty of its land and the spirit of its people. After the USSR’s collapse, he resolved to return to the land of his ancestors and participate in the development of a new and independent country. In 1993 he launched a handcrafted carpets business there, employing as many as 1000 workers, and creating a carpet-manufacturing infrastructure which quickly attracted other entrepreneurs to begin productions of their own, and employ still more Armenians. In the process, he helped to revive the ancient Armenian art of carpet-weaving, which had been all but lost during the Soviet years. At that time it was considered crazy to invest in infrastructure in the country at all, and even more so in the dilapidated countryside. But with such an opportunity to impact development of the country, to create a warm reception for the Armenian Diaspora waiting to discover their homeland, and to help create a vocabulary of New Armenian design for the 21st century, James boldly stepped in.
By 1999, with his carpet manufacturing running smoothly in Armenia, James searched for the next opportunity to earn money while doing something of importance for the development of the country. Eventually he came upon the inspiration to build a chain of boutique hotels throughout the countryside. Trading on his experience as design director of his fashion-oriented carpets company, his many contacts in the interior design community, and his hands-on experience as a consumer of luxury tourism facilities, he seized the opportunity.
In 1999 he founded the Tufenkian Foundation to bring about changes in the country that market forces along could not accomplish. Under his stewardship, the Foundation’s activities have constantly evolved to address the most urgent needs of the nation, especially those which the international aid community is reluctant to take on. Thus, for example, the NKR branch is deeply involved in resettling refugees from Syria, Azerbiajan, and other disaster zones into abandoned areas of the country, and in developing an economic base in each to support the revival of communities. In Armenia, meanwhile, the focus has always included environment, social protection, and democratic development.
James currently divides his time between the US and Armenia, with significant interests in Asia as well.
Carolann S. Najarian, M.D., a native New Yorker, and the child of Armenian Genocide survivors, spent the major part of her medical career in private practice in Cambridge and Watertown, Massachusetts. In 1988, after Armenian’s devastating earthquake, she spearheaded medical relief efforts to that country. As president of the Armenian Health Alliance, Inc. she made more than 50 trips to the region to deliver medical aid to the destroyed region. In 1995, with funds raised through AHA, she established the first primary care center in Gyumri (providing care to needy residents and training to physicians) and the Arpen Center for Expectant Women, in Nagorno-Karabagh (providing food and vitamins to pregnant women). In 2014, she published her father’s memoirs, Avedis’ Story, which chronicles his family’s escape through Dersim, to Russia, and eventually to the U.S.
Dr. Najarian earned her M.D. from Boston University School of Medicine, class of ’80 and an MSc in Medical Anthropology from Brunel University, London, ’04. She also holds a BA in Music from Queens College, New York, ‘62. Her first book, A Call From Home; Armenia and Karabagh, My Journal (Arpen Press, 1999) based on her journals, chronicling her experiences and the people she met in Armenia and Karabagh.
Among the many awards and honors Dr. Najarian has received are The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 1999; the Humanitarian Award given by the Boston University School of Medicine Alumni Association, 2004; Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry Charitable Trust – presented in California and including citations from the State of California Legislature and the City of Los Angeles,2003; Armenian International Women’s Association Achievement Award, 1997; The Haystack Award for Charity, United Church of Christ, MA, 1996.
Dr. Najarian resides with her husband, George in E.Orleans, MA and Washington, D.C. Together they have endowed the Najarian Human Rights Lecture held each year at Faneuil Hall in conjunction with the Armenian Heritage Foundation and Park In addition to other philanthropic projects they sponsor scholarships for needy and qualify students.
Fred Hayrapet grew up in London, where he attended The City of London School. After gaining a B.Eng Honours Degree in Materials Science and Engineering at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, he followed a career in the trading of steel and related raw materials. This has entailed sourcing, buying, financing, shipping, and selling of steel internationally. He has worked with the biggest and most reputable companies in the business, including Japanese and European main trading houses. His career has grown through the sourcing, financing and movement of steel from the ex-Soviet states – something which gives him close access and experience with these newly independent countries and their financial/economic issues.
As a member of the London Armenian Community, he has been especially active in Homenetmen London. During his youth, he attended the Gevork Tahta Armenian Language School on Sundays.
From a young age, Fred has understood the importance of active participation. In London, he has served on the board of Homenetmen for four terms — once in the 1990s at the age of 21 and three terms from 2003-2007 as Chairman. In 2007 he was elected by the community as a member of the Armenian Church and Community Council (ACCC) for a five-year term. ACCC has been the main organization responsible for funding and running the community’s churches and the Sunday school, as well as coordinating and promoting activities of various organisations operating in the UK. Immediately following the 1988 earthquake in Spitak, Fred was involved in the logistics of huge charity airlifts of clothes, food, equipment and aid to Armenia.
His interest in the Tufenkian Foundation came not only through its reputation of doing first class work that matters, but additionally through the chance to get involved in agricultural businesses in Artsakh and the liberated territories. The subject of repopulating the liberated territories and providing homes, schools, and healthcare in these areas is one which is very important to Fred. Thus, alongside his trustee duties, he has become directly involved in the Arajamugh village, creating a pomegranate orchard as a mean of providing livelihoods to new settlers populating the village. The orchard is being run as a pilot scheme that can hopefully lead to larger agricultural projects as well as processing activities.
Currently Fred is involved in introducing special financing for agricultural projects as well as Swiss state development funding for projects within Armenia.
Fred Hayrapet joined the Foundation’s NKR trustees in 2011.
Antranig Kasbarian has been active in Armenian affairs for most of his life. Over the past 25 years, he has been a lecturer, activist and community leader in the Eastern US; having served as editor of The Armenian Weekly, while holding various positions within the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He has also worked regularly as a journalist, activist and researcher in Nagorno-Karabagh. He holds a PhD in Geography from Rutgers University, where his doctoral work dealt with the geography of nationalism in the former USSR, focusing on Nagorno-Karabagh.
He joined the Tufenkian Foundation in 2003, launching its Nagorno-Karabagh program, and served as Executive Director from 2007 until 2016. He now serves as a Board member and as Director of Development, supervising partnerships, fundraising, and special projects.
Andre Gumuchdjian is a Belgian-Armenian philanthropist and entrepreneur who joined our Board of Trustees very recently, in 2017. He was first involved in the Tufenkian Foundation's work in Artsakh in 2016, when he utilized his business experience to invest in a beeswax factory in the town of Berdzor, Kashatagh.
In his own words, Mr. Gumuchdjian joined the Tufenkian Foundation because he "wanted to participate in the development of Artsakh and contribute to its growth". He considers the economic development of Artsakh as the key to its resettlement and future security and prosperity, and is especially interested in contributing his expertise to projects that create economic value.