Peter Koutoujian to run for Congress

– Tom Vartabedian profiles an Armenian American now serving as a county sheriff in Massachusetts and who on July 1 announced plans to run for U.S. Congress.

CHELMSFORD, MASS. – What started out as a routine day ended pretty much the same way for Peter Koutoujian. But sandwiched in between was a page out of the Wild West for the jaunty Middlesex County Sheriff.

June 1 began with the former state representative serving as parade marshal for graduates at the Harvard University School of Government, where he graduated from 10 years ago.

There he was at his alma mater with top hat, tails and ceremonial scepter in what has become a standard role for the sheriff. It even led to a bear hug from TV personality Oprah Winfrey, who was there as a commencement speaker.

One might have assumed it was Koutoujian and not the starlight receiving the honorary degree. Hours later, the sheriff found himself in Harvard Square en route to some office business before heading out to Chelmsford for a fund-raising reception tendered by Armen and Sossy Jeknavorian for the Merrimack Valley Armenian Genocide Monument Committee.

As circumstances prevailed, Koutoujian embarked upon a raucous scene where a woman was being assaulted in broad daylight. The chivalrous sheriff needed no posse for this call. He rescued the damsel in distress and order was quickly restored in the square during the mid-afternoon bedlam.

Koutoujian pursued the assailant and brought him down with very little fanfare and strain, given his Herculean frame. It was all in the line of duty, he admitted modestly.

“I don’t think it was a heroic action or anything brave,” he revealed. “It was just an instinct.”

The unexpected transformation from Ivy League opening act to Cambridge’s Wyatt Earp was taken as nothing larger than a grain of salt.

“I was wearing a badge and a very formal-looking morning suit,” Koutoujian added. “People couldn’t tell what I was doing there.”

That evening Koutoujian found himself in a more sedate role among Armenians of Merrimack Valley, serving as honorary chairman of a monument committee bent on constructing a $33,000 memorial by Lowell City Hall.

The sheriff appeared at the reception unflustered and gave no hint to his rigmarole, much less the commencement. The focus was on greeting guests and encouraging their support for the project.

Koutoujian was also an instrumental figure in the completion of a $6.5 million memorial on the Rose Kennedy Greenway and helped to sponsor genocide activities during his term in public office with sidekick Rachel Kaprielian, now Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

He may be back in elected government if he runs for Congressman Ed Markey’s seat after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in the special election on June 25. [Editor’s note: the article was written before Koutoujian’s announcement on July 1.]

In referring to the backlash other cities have received from the Turks with their monuments, Koutoujian presented a more benign approach to any potential rebuttals. A crowd of 40 was there to welcome the Sheriff and heed his words.

“We should just remain calm and not do anything to incite dissention,” he told the gathering. “This monument is a testament to all immigrants who settled in the Merrimack Valley and defied the genocide. It’s a tribute to all who served their heritage so generations could follow.”

The evening raised $7,500 which included an $850 bid for a painting donated by noted Chelmsford artist Daniel Varoujian-Hejinian. The craftsman designed this monument to show hands weaving lace, synonymous of mill workers plying their craft as newly-arrived immigrants to Lowell.

Koutoujian also pledged $500 toward the project to arouse more sentiment.

Among others attending were former Lowell mayors James Milanazzo and Rita Mercier, who’ve embraced the project since its inception a year ago. But in the end, it was a nightcap Koutoujian welcomed dearly.

“Despite the tensions he faced earlier in the day, Peter engaged everyone at the reception with a warm smile and a handshake,” said Dr. Ara Jeknavorian of Chelmsford, a project activist. “He never let the emotions of the day interfere with the matter at hand. That says a lot for his personality.”

And what about that fabulous embrace from Oprah? That was very special indeed!

“I got to give her a hug,” he said. “As I finished adjourning the ceremony, I looked over and she was smiling at me. She put out her arms. I didn’t even have to ask for it. It was a really nice moment.”

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