As sheriff, Koutoujian to continue Genocide awareness work
Published: Wednesday January 19, 2011
Chelmsford, Mass. - Peter Koutoujian, former State Representative and the newly-appointed sheriff of Middlesex Country has always considered state observance of the Armenian Genocide a priority during his elected office over the past seven terms. And he won't relinquish that tradition now.
Appearing at Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church on January 15 for a Merrimack Valley Armenian National Committee Freedom Award, Koutoujian said the observances will continue on Beacon Hill, even though he no longer holds public office and won't be directly involved in the statehouse matter.
He plans to hand over the responsibility to his close friend and colleague State Rep. John Hecht (D-Watertown) who is quite familiar with the undertaking. And Koutoujian will work by his side and be involved with the committee work.
Over the years, hundreds have turned out for the observance, paying tribute to the survivors and remembering the 1.5 million victims of 1915-1923.
"It's in good hands," says the Waltham Democrat, now in his eighth term of elected office. "My staff has become Armenian by osmosis. I've educated and motivated them all."
The timing was perfect for the Armenian community of Merrimack Valley. A day after getting the appointment from Governor Deval Patrick, Koutoujian appeared in Chelmsford for his award, being presented an ANC Freedom award, along with Sociology Professor Levon Chorbajian of UMass/Lowell.
Also honored that evening with community service awards were artist Daniel Varoujan-Hejinian, Armenian Genocide Education Committee of Merrimack Valley and Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Merrimack Valley. Accepting in their behalf were Dro Kanayan and Sossy Jeknavorian.
One of the first to call and congratulate Koutoujian was former legislative colleague Rachel Kaprielian, now the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. Together, the two co-sponsored these genocide programs at the state house and hosted a reception.
Two fellow Armenians receiving Gubernatorial appointments almost side-by-side remains unprecedented in our ethnic community. The genocide commemorations date back to the 1980s when George Keverian was Speaker of the House.
Since that time, any Massachusetts Armenian elected to public office has jumped aboard the bandwagon.
The 49-year-old Koutoujian fills the sheriff's seat vacated by James V. DiPaolo, who committed suicide last year. The position was pretty well predetermined by the governor, who considered Koutoujian a logical choice.
"As a former assistant district attorney and relentless advocate for both crime victims and social services, Peter brings a wealth of expertise, passion and know-how to this critical position," the governor said. "I look forward to working with him to re-strengthen our re-entry programs and reduce youth violence."
Koutoujian will not compromise his grip on Armenian constituents. If anything, he shall increase his visibility, given the expanded scope of his territory which covers residents in 54 cities and towns. Included in the district is Lowell, a hotbed of Armenian life.
"This is something I wanted, a good opportunity for me," said Koutoujian. "Any time you elevate an Armenian in public office, you lift up the community. I'll be able to reach Armenians on a larger scope than before. As far as any future political aspirations are concerned, we'll see where this job takes me."
Koutoujian pointed to his family as being an instrumental force in his heritage. His grandparents were genocide survivors from Marash and his parents were adamant in instilling Armenian values into their son. His father Peter was also involved in municipal affairs and has been his son's catalyst.
"They've embraced the culture and sent me to Armenian School when I was young," said Koutoujian. "My three children attend the Armenian Sisters Academy."
Koutoujian's passion at the moment is the Heritage Park Project on Boston's Greenway, site of a $5 million genocide memorial and educational conclave. When the project was staggering, he gave it a much-needed lift with help from the Knights of Vartan, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Governor Patrick and a cadre of Armenian activists.
"We didn't walk away from it," he said. "It was my Armenianism that kept the project going. When I leave public service in a few years, this will be my greatest legacy."
Koutoujian will serve as DiPaola's replacement over the next two years and plans on running for re-election when that term expires.
He was first elected to the state house in 1996 with the help of campaign manager Doug Rubin, the political advisor who went on to become Patrick's senior political advisor.
Koutoujian served as House chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, which handles banking and insurance matters. For years, he was known for pushing a bill that established statewide nutrition standards for schools. The bill was passed into law by the governor last summer.
Prior to his election to the House of Representatives, Koutoujian worked four years as an assistant district attorney for Middlesex County. He is a graduate of Bridgewater State University and New England School of Law. He holds a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Patrick's appointment was the latest decision by the governor to restore law enforcement agencies after a time of upheaval and intense public scrutiny in several state and county agencies.
The newly-appointed sheriff will conduct an audit of his department as immediate priority --- everything from the financial books to equipment, policy and procedure. He looks to being a fresh image to law enforcement under his jurisdiction, taking note of 1,400 inmates under his scrutiny.
"Promoting public safety is my top concern," he noted. "That includes making sure the public and prisoners are secure and working to make sure those incarcerated in our jails just don't end up coming back. We're not dealing with guys who are in for life, but those who will be released in a year or two. The best way to protect the public is to make sure they don't re-offend."