Asks White House and Congress to Secure Permanent, Prominent Display of this Powerful Symbol of Shared American and Armenian Heritage
WASHINGTON—Armenian-Americans across the U.S. are calling upon the White House and Congress to secure a prominent and permanent public display of a historic rug woven by Armenian Genocide orphans and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925, in appreciation for U.S. humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of Turkey’s murder of over 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The ANCA campaign was initiated after The Washington Post reported, earlier this week, that a planned December 16th Smithsonian Institution exhibit featuring the rug, organized in conjunction with the Armenian Cultural Foundation and the Armenian Rug Society, was abruptly cancelled when the White House, reversing an earlier affirmative decision, refused to lend the iconic symbol of American and Armenian shared heritage to the museum.
Washington Post staff writer and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Philip Kennicott, reported, “There was hope that the carpet, which has been in storage for almost 20 years, might be displayed December 16th as part of a Smithsonian event that would include a book launch for Hagop Martin Deranian’s ‘President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug.’ But on September 12th, the Smithsonian scholar who helped organize the event canceled it, citing the White House’s decision not to loan the carpet. In a letter to two Armenian American organizations, Paul Michael Taylor, director of the institution’s Asian cultural history program, had no explanation for the White House’s refusal to allow the rug to be seen and said that efforts by the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John A. Heffern, to intervene had also been unavailing.”
Kennicott described the controversy as “a sign of the Obama administration’s dismal reputation in the Armenian American community that everyone assumes… must be yet another slap in the face for Armenians seeking to promote understanding of one of the darkest chapters in 20th-century history.”
The White House response thus far has been vague – with National Security Staff Assistant Press Secretary Laura Magnuson offering the following comment to the Asbarez Armenian Newspaper: “The Ghazir rug is a reminder of the close relationship between the peoples of Armenia and the United States. We regret that it is not possible to loan it out at this time.” A statement with the same exact wording was released by the White House last week and included in Kennicott’s article.
“The White House should simply come clean,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “It’s time for the White House to open up about Turkey’s role, and lay out all the facts about its decision to block the Smithsonian’s exhibit of the Armenian Orphan Rug – a historic, Armenian Genocide-era work of art that speaks powerfully to the common values and shared experiences of the American and Armenian peoples.”
In a letter sent earlier today to President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian reminded the White House that “upon receiving the rug, President Coolidge wrote, ‘The rug has a place of honor in the White House where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.’ I ask you, in this spirit, to remove any obstacles to the Smithsonian’s display of this historic artwork and to secure a prominent and permanent public home for this powerful symbol of America’s humanitarian values and friendship with the Armenian people,” continued Hachikian.
Placing this latest controversy in context, Hachikian noted that: “since taking office, President Obama has not only failed to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but has actively blocked Congressional legislation (H.Res.252, 111th Congress) to commemorate this atrocity and, through his Solicitor General, officially opposed efforts in the U.S. courts (Arzoumanian v. Munchener Ruckversicherungs-Gesellschaft Aktiengesellschaft AG) to allow American citizens to pursue Genocide-era property claims. In addition, the Administration has regularly sent senior officials to speak at events organized by Armenian Genocide deniers, while refusing repeated invitations to simply attend Congressional observances of this atrocity. In these areas, and, sadly, many more, the President has not simply failed to honor his pledge, but rather – in both letter and spirit – worked to fundamentally undermine and reverse the very policies he pledged to pursue.”
According to Dr. Hagop Deranian, the Armenian orphan rug measures 11’7″ x 18’5″ and is comprised of 4,404,206 individual knots. It took the Armenian girls in the Ghazir Orphanage of the Near East Relief Society 10 months to weave. A label on the back of the rug, in large hand-written letters, reads “IN GOLDEN RULE GRATITUDE TO PRESIDENT COOLIDGE.”
Additional information about the history of the Armenian Orphan Rug is available in Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian’s book, “President Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” published on October 20, 2013, by the Armenian Cultural Foundation and soon to be available on Amazon.com.