WASHINGTON–Sources close to the Obama Administration report that, after months of Congressional and community pressure, the White House is set to announce the display of the Armenian Orphan Rug, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian offered the following comments in anticipation of the announcement.
“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, he will speak clearly and fearlessly about the horrific and still unpunished crime that led to its creation – the Armenian Genocide.
“If, on the other hand, the President’s decision to display this artwork represents yet another cynical substitute for the very progress he promised the American people, this will be immediately evident through his continued enforcement of Turkey’s gag-rule and offensive use of euphemisms and evasive language.”
The ANCA will provide additional information as soon as it is available.
The Armenian orphan rug measures 11′ 7″ x 18′ 5″ and is comprised of 4,404,206 individual knots. It took Armenian girls in the Ghazir Orphanage of Near East Relief 10 months to weave. The rug was delivered to President Coolidge on December 4, 1925, in time for Christmas, with a label on the back of the rug, which 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.
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.
White House Controversy Surrounding Armenian Orphan Rug Display
The controversy surrounding the Armenian orphan rug erupted in October, 2013, when the Washington Post and National Public Radio reported the White House’s abrupt and unexplained 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 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.
Following these initial reports, the ANCA organized a nationwide grassroots campaign, worked with Members of Congress, and consulted with the Administration, making the case to all relevant stakeholders for the prominent and permanent public display of this historic rug.
In November, 2013, a bipartisan group of over 30 U.S. Representatives, led by Representatives Schiff and Valadao, called on the White House to reverse its decision. Senator Markey and Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Nikki Tsongas (D-MA) also sent personal letters urging the White House to take action.
During an ANCA Western Region press conference timed with President Obama’s visit to Los Angeles on November 26, 2013, His Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church noted, “The rug was a gracious gesture symbolizing the friendship between the American and Armenian peoples. It is part of American history. Keeping it locked away in storage is not only insulting to the orphaned girls who painstakingly crafted this beautiful work of art, it also represents a shameful effort to cover up, at the urging of genocide-deniers in Ankara, a truly proud chapter of American history.”
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.
LA Times reporter Richard Simon reported a White House change of position on April 30, 2014, with Magnuson affirming that the White House has “been working with Congressman Schiff on this issue for several months and appreciate his working with us to showcase this important artifact in a way that appropriately highlights the spirit in which it was given to the White House for U.S. involvement in assisting Armenian refugees.”
On October 15th, sources close to the White House shared with the ANCA that an announcement regarding the Armenian Orphan Rug would be forthcoming soon.