By Paul Post,
WATERVLIET, N.Y. >> Bill and Cathy Hedberg might not be connoisseurs, but they appreciate a tasty dish just the same.
They were among the hundreds of Capital Region residents who enjoyed a wide variety of delicious menu items, lively music and fun at the Armenian Festival on Saturday.
The event, at the St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church at 100 Troy-Schenectady Rd., continues Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
“We’d give it five stars,” said Bill Hedberg, who tried a medley dinner consisting of three different kebobs — chicken, lamb and losh (ground beef and lamb). “It’s very tasty and lovingly prepared.”
“I had the lamb burger,” Cathy Hedberg said. “As you can see it’s gone. We also got the Sangria.”
The festival promotes the faith, culture and ethnicity of the Capital Region’s roughly 10,000 Armenian residents. Many of their ancestors began settling locally about 100 years ago, refugees of the Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of 1.5 million people beginning in 1915.
St. Peter, the largest Armenian church in the area, was founded in Green Island, in 1899, before moving to Troy and then Watervliet in 1971.
Festivals such as this are deeply rooted in Armenian history, the Rev. Stepanos Doudoukjian said.
“There are images that go back centuries,” he said. “There’s something innate in the Armenian people about doing picnics. Churches were always located on a hill. On Sunday afternoons, people would gather in the valleys for music, dance and grilling kebabs. It’s a way to say thank you to God for the gifts he’s given us. We enjoy being stewards of this great land he’s given us.”
Today’s congregation at St. Peter is keeping that legacy alive.
“They enjoy putting something like this on for the greater community,” Doudoukjian said.
Beef, lamb and chicken are extremely popular, so it’s no surprise that Armenians ran many of the Albany area’s leading meat markets during the early- and mid-20th century, he said.
“It’s one thing to sell meat,” he said. “They knew how to cut it.”
Green Island-based Reliable Brothers, founded in 1935, is a fourth generation firm still run by the Buchakjian family.
David and Marcia Dowen, of Green Island, also found plenty of good things to eat on Saturday such as jajik, a cucumber and yogurt dip.
“It’s fabulous,” Marcia Dowen said.
“We used the lemon-garlic sauce to dip pita bread in,” her husband said.
There’s plenty for children to do at the festival, also, as several bounce houses are set up for romping around in.
“I wish I had told my friends with kids,” Marcia Dowen said.
Beneath the grilling tent, men labored hard to keep a steady supply of meats coming for long lines of people waiting to make a purchase.
Lena Hoglund prepared an item called eech that’s new on the menu for vegetarians. The recipe was handed down to Hoglund by her mother and aunt. The dish is comprised of bulghur, a grain, that’s mixed with a combination of tomato sauce, spices, peppers, parsley and scallions.
“It’s a traditional Lenten vegan meal,” Hoglund said. “It’s one of my favorite meals to make. It’s refreshing and light, a great side salad.”
She attends the event each year.
“It brings awareness to the Armenian community in the Capital District,” she said. “There’s more than you would think.”