“It is difficult to express in words how deeply troubling it is that a historical and cultural treasure accepted by President Coolidge on behalf of the people of the United States may be being kept behind closed doors because of Turkish desire to keep discussion of certain historical facts out of the public discussion.” – Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) urged President Obama to reverse an earlier decision and allow the display of the Armenian Genocide orphan rug, noting that the Turkish Government should not be allowed to dictate whether this cultural treasure is available to the public, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In a letter send to the White House earlier today, Rep. Pallone stated that “the refusal of the White House’s to allow display of the rug without explanation denies the American people access to a national treasure and suggests that discussion of the events surrounding the Armenian Genocide is unwelcome. The Armenian American community continues to make valuable contributions to the United States and our government should be committed to helping the community explore their history, including the Armenian Genocide.”
“We want to thank Congressman Pallone for pressing the Obama Administration to do the right thing,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “It is a truly tragic testament to the depths of our Administration’s deference to Ankara’s angry and irrational genocide denial campaign that our White House – having been gagged into silence by Turkey on the Armenian Genocide – is now allowing this foreign government to dictate which works of art – U.S. property and part of our American history – we are allowed to display at the Smithsonian Institution.”
The full text of Congressman Pallone’s letter is provided below.
Congressman Pallone joins Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) in pressing the White House to allow display of the Armenian Genocide Orphan rug through individual letters. This week, Representatives David Valadao (R-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) launched a Congressional letter urging their colleagues to band together in petitioning the White House to release the rug for view. Both Representatives Pallone and Sherman have cosigned the letter along with a growing bi-partisan list of House Members.
The ANCA launched a grassroots campaign last week calling upon the White House and Congress to secure a prominent and permanent public display of the historic rug, woven by Armenian Genocide orphans and presented to President Calvin Coolidge on December 4, 1925 in appreciation for U.S. humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of Turkey’s murder of over 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923.
Armenian Americans can take action by visiting anca.org/orphanrug.
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 ten months to weave. A label on the back of the rug, in large hand-written letters, reads “IN GOLDEN RULE GRATITUDE TO PRESIDENT COOLIDGE.”
According to Missak Kelechian, an expert on this topic, the gift of the Armenian Orphan rug was widely covered in U.S. media, including in the New York Times in 1925 and the Washington Post in 1926. Kelechian describes the journey of the rug in the CNN clip below.
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.
Text of Letter by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) to the White House Urging Display of the Armenian Orphan Rug
October 30, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
I am writing to express deep concern over recent news that the White House has refused to loan a rug woven by orphans and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 to be displayed at an event associated with the Smithsonian. I understand that Paul Michael Taylor, director of the Smithsonian’s Asian cultural history program has informed Armenian American organizations that the White House has refused to lend the rug with no explanation as to the reason.
Rather than hiding this rug, we should be celebrating its origins and how it came to be presented to President Coolidge. The rug, known as the Ghazir rug, was woven by children at the Near East Relief orphanage in Ghazir, Syria, present day Lebanon. The Near East Relief was established in 1915 in response to calls from the U.S. Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau and others to assist in saving refugees from the attempted extermination of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire. The Ghazir rug was presented to the White House as an expression of gratitude for U.S. assistance during the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians resulting in the first genocide of the 20th century.
Considering the White House has refused to give a reasonable explanation for withholding this unique gift to the American people, the suspicion exists that the White House is once again capitulating to pressure from the Turkish government to prevent any discussion of the period in which the Armenian Genocide occurred. It is difficult to express in words how deeply troubling it is that a historical and cultural treasure accepted by President Coolidge on behalf of the people of the United States may be being kept behind closed doors because of Turkish desire to keep discussion of certain historical facts out of the public discussion.
The Ghazir rug would be displayed along with a new book entitled, “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug.” This would be an entirely appropriate and meaningful display of the rug. Yet, the refusal of the White House’s to allow display of the rug without explanation denies the American people access to a national treasure and suggests that discussion of the events surrounding the Armenian Genocide is unwelcome. The Armenian American community continues to make valuable contributions to the United States and our government should be committed to helping the community explore their history, including the Armenian Genocide.
Each year on Capitol Hill we observe the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and reflect on the need to prevent such atrocities in the future. While I remain disappointed that, as President, you have refused to refer to murder of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, allowing the Ghazir rug to be displayed serves to facilitate academic discourse and commemoration of America’s strong role in saving lives during a dark period of history. We cannot allow the government of Turkey to dictate whether this occurs.
I urge you to allow the Ghazir rug to be loaned out for display. In the event that there are practical challenges that would endanger preservation of the rug, I ask that you explain these obstacles to allowing its display. In the event that failure to loan the rug for display is based on concerns from the government of Turkey, I strongly urge you to side with historical honesty and integrity and reverse course so that the rug may be part of an open and educational dialogue.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
FRANK PALLONE, JR.
Member of Congress