WATERTOWN, Mass.—The #PeaceForArmenians cleats that broke NFL records have made the news again as the winning bidders on January 6, 2021 were revealed to be Michele Kolligian and Bob Khederian of Boston. Kolligian and Khederian were on a mission to acquire these cleats, not for themselves, but to support the Armenia Fund and to raise awareness about another genocide taking place in Artsakh. POWs remain imprisoned by Azerbaijan and innocent Armenian civilians are being tortured and killed and displaced from their homeland, and these atrocities have not been widely reported in the news.
Kolligian, President of the Board of Trustees of the Armenian Museum of America, and Khederian, Vice President, are donating the cleats to the Museum. The dynamic duo have devoted their time and effort to keep the Museum at the forefront of Armenian and non-Armenian communities. Proud and committed to the Armenian Museum’s mission, this recent gesture speaks to their generosity and passion for their Armenian heritage and the legacy left behind by the Museum’s founders 50 years ago.
During the auction, Kolligian and Khederian knew they were up against another determined bidder. At one point, they were about to put a pause on their bidding but with less than three minutes left to go, they entered one final bid of $40,300, which sealed the deal. “It felt like we had just won the Armenian Super Bowl,” said Kolligian and Khederian.
“It was an exciting campaign and a record for the NFL’s charitable campaign. We give credit and our sincere thanks to Berj Najarian and the Patriots family for making this campaign a success in raising awareness about Artsakh,” said Kolligian. “In the end what made us most proud was to support the ongoing humanitarian efforts in Armenia and Artsakh and to be able to give the cleats a permanent and prominent place in the collection of the Armenian Museum. The icing on the cake is that the cleats will remain in New England, home to the Patriots! The cleats will be featured in a Family Case in the Museum and we will be using them in a creative way to raise additional funds for the children of Artsakh whose lives have been drastically impacted by this war.”
The Armenian-themed cleats belonged to Armenian-American Berj Najarian, the Patriots’ director of football and head coach administration. The NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign was initiated in 2016 as a way for players to use their voices and their influence to build support for social causes.
“The entire experience went above and beyond my expectations and was incredible and humbling to be a part of this. I was just the middleman for the extreme generosity and was thrilled to learn that Michele and Bob were the winners,” Najarian recalled.
When the war in Artsakh broke out on September 27, the typically quiet and behind-the-scenes Najarian realized he had to speak up, and he started a campaign using Instagram. One of the first videos he posted was of his boss, Coach Bill Belichick, expressing concern about human rights abuses being committed against Armenians in Artsakh.
Soon thereafter, Najarian announced the auction of the one-of-a-kind cleats—which would close on Armenian Christmas—designed by Massachusetts-based artist Joseph Ventura. The shoes featured a church, khachkar cross-stone, Mount Ararat and the tricolors of the Armenian flag. They were worn by Najarian on the field during three Patriots games. The shoes became a cultural phenomenon and broke NFL records for attracting the most bids in the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, even surpassing cleats auctioned by all-star quarterback Tom Brady.
The Patriots are a tight-knit team, even described as a family by team captain Matthew Slater, who posted words of support for Armenians on social media along with linebacker Chase Winovich, wide receiver Julian Edelman, defensive back Devin McCourty and even former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
While Belichick has supported Armenians before, notably by wearing an Armenian pin during a visit to the White House in recognition of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, the awareness around Artsakh started when Najarian made a presentation about his heritage and the history of the Armenians as part of the team’s internal social justice campaign. In preparation for this talk and his social media postings, Najarian reached out to the Armenian Museum of America for resources and advice.
“I’m fortunate and thankful to work for the Kraft Family and Coach Belichick, and to be around the players. It was a collective effort of rallying around each other. It was special. I’m already looking for what’s next. There is a lot more work to be done for Armenia,” Najarian said.
In a statement issued after the war, the Armenian Museum along with other influential organizations such as the Getty Museum and The MET, expressed, “We are concerned about the Armenian monuments, artifacts and buildings that are now threatened in areas under Azerbaijani control. This is a part of Armenia’s heritage, but it is also a part of the world’s rich culture. The Armenian Museum of America has doubled down on its mission to protect, preserve and share Armenia’s heritage so it will forever endure.”
The Armenian Museum of America is the largest Armenian museum in the Diaspora. It was founded in 1971 and has grown into a major repository for all forms of Armenian material culture that illustrate the creative endeavors of the Armenian people over the centuries. Today, the Museum’s collections hold more than 25,000 artifacts including 5,000 ancient and medieval Armenian coins, 1,000 stamps and maps, 30,000 books, 3,000 textiles and 180 Armenian inscribed rugs, and an extensive collection of Urartian and religious artifacts, ceramics, medieval illuminations, and various other objects. The collection includes historically significant objects, including five of the Armenian Bibles printed in Amsterdam in 1666.