Belichick’s Armenian Flag Pin at Obama Meeting Takes Center Stage att St. James Men’s Club Talk


By Stephen Kurkjian


WATERTOWN — Berj Najarian has been at the side of New England Patriots football coach Bill Belichick for 15 seasons, through the winning of four Super Bowls and through the controversies of Spygate in 2007 and Deflategate this year. Although he doesn’t assist in the coaching of players, Najarian, as director of football/head coach administration for the Patriots, handles everything else for Belichick on and off the field. As the New York Times wrote in 2012, Najarian is said to have spent more time with Belichick than Tom Brady or even members of Belichick’s family.

So it was no surprise that the two men were at one another’s side as about 100 members of the Patriots entourage — team members, coaches and officials — got ready to enter the White House last April 15th to be honored by President Obama for winning the 2015 Super Bowl.

Belichick noticed that Najarian was wearing a pin displaying Armenian flag on his lapel and knowing Najarian’s family history, particularly that his grandfather, Papken Kechichian, was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, congratulated him for wearing it.

Knowing that the team’s head coach would be receiving much more press attention during the visit than he would be turned to Belichick and asked him if he would be willing to wear the pin. In a moment’s time, Belichick took it from Najarian’s lapel and put it on his own.

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As Najarian hoped, that the Patriots’ head coach was wearing the Armenian flag as he shook Obama’s hand and greeted one another was not lost on the press corps. Several wire services reported on it, but the question of how it had happened or its significance was never explained.

That is until Najarian made a rare public appearance speaking to a sold-out audience at the St. James Armenian Church Men’s Club on Monday night, June 1. By agreement with Bob Semonian, who arranges the schedule of speakers for the club, Najarian said he would not be able to answer any questions about the controversy over the Patriots’ allowing deflated footballs to be used in the AFC championship game leading up to the Super Bowl, but he was proud and eager to explain what had happened at the White House.

“It was no-brainer,” Najarian, 45, said of his decision to ask Belichick to put on the pin. “He knew the pin, and recognized it. I’ve told him about my grandfather, and my history here in Watertown, Camp Hayastan and all.”

It’s unknown if Obama noticed the pin on Belichick’s lapel or remarked upon it with the head coach when the two men shook hands during the ceremony’s official receiving line. But Najarian was intent on making sure that he called the Armenian Genocide to Obama’s attention when he shook the president’s hand in the receiving line.

Looking him in the eye, Najarian said to Obama that he hoped the president would recognize the Genocide in his official statement that was soon to be released by the White House. Although he pledged during his first presidential campaign that he would recognize the Genocide if he was elected, Obama has deferred to pressure from Turkey’s government and refused to use the word to describe the events of 1915.

“That’s a tough one,” Obama responded, before going on to shake the hand of the next person in the receiving line. “I am trying to prevent future genocides.”

But Najarian wasn’t done. “Well, what about the Pope?” he asked Obama, a clear reminder to what had taken place three days before in Rome. In a Mass commemorating the centennial of the Armenian Genocide at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica Pope Francis did not hesitate to use the word “Genocide” to reference the mass killings of more than a million Armenians and the forced migration of the survivors from their ancestral home in eastern Turkey.

“In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies…The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ struck your own Armenian people,” Pope Francis stated.

Najarian’s remark stopped President Obama in his track, and looking back at him he said, “Well, the Pope doesn’t have a government to run like I do.”

A week later, the White House released its official statement on the Genocide. And for the seventh consecutive year, President Obama expressed sympathy to the Armenian people for what had taken place and called on Turkey to make a “full, frank and just acknowledgement” of what had taken place. But recognition of the Genocide was again missing from his statement.

Najarian ended his remarks in a thrilling fashion. He had gained the approval of Patriots owner Robert Kraft to bring along the 2015 Lombardi Trophy that the Patriots had won for its Super Bowl victory and for a few moments he showed the trophy to the appreciative crowd.

But it was his White House experience and his receiving line exchange with Obama that he cited as the most memorable of his career. “Those 40 seconds at the White House were pretty special,” he said.


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