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.