WASHINGTON—The White House on Wednesday confirmed earlier reports that it will, in fact, display the Armenian Genocide Orphan Rug as part of an exhibit at the White House Visitors Center, which will run from November 18 to 23, reported Representative Adam Schiff.
The exhibit – entitled “Thank you to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad” – will showcase the Orphan Rug, also known as the Ghazir rug, as well as the Sèvres vase, given to President Herbert Hoover in appreciation for feeding children in post-World War I France, and the Flowering Branches in Lucite, given to President Barack Obama in recognition of American support of the people of Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2010.
However, the display of the rug erupted into controversy late last year, when the White House abruptly and inexplicably decided reversal of its agreement to lend the rug for a December 16, 2013, exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, organized in cooperation with the Armenian Cultural Foundation and the Armenian Rug Society.
In an interview with Public Radio International (PRI), Washington Post Art Critic Philip Kennicott, who broke the news of the White House’s change of mind, noted that while the White House has not offered an explanation for the reversal in decision, it is likely due to the U.S. government’s deference to Turkey’s international campaign of genocide denial.
The White House response at that time was vague – with National Security Staff Assistant Press Secretary Laura Lucas 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 to the Washington Post at the time.
Schiff and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) sent a letter along with 31 other Members to President Obama last year urging the Administration to allow exhibition of the rug. The full letter is below, and can be found here, and in the letter they stated: “The Armenian Orphan Rug is a piece of American history and it belongs to the American people. For over a decade, Armenian American organizations have sought the public display of the rug and have requested the White House and the State Department grant their request on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, Armenian Americans have yet to have their requests granted. We urge you to release this American treasure for exhibition.”
“The Armenian Orphan Rug embodies the resilience of the Armenian people through their darkest days and serves as a poignant reminder of 1.5 Armenians who were murdered in the first Genocide of the 20th Century. It also reminds Americans that our government was a central player in efforts to call attention to the plight of the Armenian people and provide relief to survivors,” said Rep. Adam Schiff. “Since first raising this issue with the White House, we have worked to find a dignified way to display the Rug so that Americans can come to see this important artifact, and learn about an important chapter of the shared history of the Armenian and American peoples. I want to thank the White House for working with us, and look forward to seeing the rug displayed at the White House Visitors Center.”
In light of the controversy surrounding the exhibit, the Armenian National Committee of America on Wednesday called on President Obama to characterize the rug in its proper manner.
“The President has a clear choice to make. If President Obama’s decision to publicly exhibit the Armenian Orphan Rug is to represent a symbol of real progress, the White House Visitor Center Exhibit will clearly and unequivocally reference the still unpunished crime that led to its creation – the Armenian Genocide,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
“If, on the other hand, the exhibit purposefully evades the rug’s proper characterization, the President’s decision to display this artwork will be seen as yet another cynical substitute for the very progress he promised the American people and will be further evidence of his continued enforcement of Turkey’s gag-rule on speaking truthfully regarding the Armenian Genocide,” added Hamparian.
Armenian-American Congressional Caucus co-chairman Frank Pallone called the White House decision to display the rug “an important step in recognizing historical accuracy.”
“The White House has taken an important step in recognizing historical accuracy by displaying the Armenian orphan rug. The rug was presented to President Coolidge on behalf of the Armenian people to honor the U.S. assistance provided during the Armenian genocide. As a result, this cultural treasure has become a symbol of the strong and historic ties between the United States and Armenia,” said Pallone in a statement on Wednesday.
“I sent a letter to President Obama urging him to allow this unique gift to go on display in a place where all Americans could view it. I believe that past attempts to keep this rug behind closed doors were fueled by the Turkish government’s desire to prevent any further dialogue about the Armenian Genocide. It is my hope that the rug’s exhibition will facilitate academic discourse and allow the American people to reflect on our positive role during a dark period of history,” added Pallone.
The Armenian Orphan Rug was woven by orphans of the Armenian Genocide in 1920, and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 as a symbol of gratitude for American aid and generosity for U.S. assistance during the genocide. The rug, which measures 11’7″ x 18’5”, has over 4,000,000 hand-tied knots and took the Armenian girls in the Ghazir Orphanage of the Near East Relief Society 10 months to weave.
President Coolidge noted that, “The rug has a place of honor in the White House where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.” The rug – which has been in storage at the White House for decades – will be displayed from November 18 to 23 in the White House Visitors Center.