On April 29, the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) in Arlington, Massachussetts announced the release of the second edition of Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian’s book, President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug. When this little volume first appeared in the fall of 2013, plans were well underway for an exhibition of the Ghazir rug, also known as the Coolidge rug, under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Armenian Cultural Foundation and the Armenian Rugs Society.
The result of over three decades of research and investigation, Deranian’s work traces the history of the rug and the Armenian orphans: their transportation from Urfa to safety to present-day Lebanon by the great Swiss humanitarian and physician Jakob Künzler, known as the “Father of the Armenian orphans”; their journey to the United States; their presentation to President Calvin Coolidge in the White House; the several decades the rug remained in the possession of the Coolidges; and its return again to the White House in the mid-1980’s, where it is stored to this day.
The first edition, published in 2013, was warmly welcomed by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, where the rug was supposed to be displayed and where its story was to be told. Deranian was supposed to be the keynote speaker at the opening of the one-day exhibition, on December 16, 2013. Then, to great surprise and regret, just as the details of the exhibition were being finalized, the White House informed the collaborating organizations of its decision not to lend out the rug. This abrupt decision resulted in the cancellation of the exhibit, and spread deep disappointment and heartbreak among the organizers; the Armenian American community at large was outraged.
A comprehensive article then appeared in the October 21, 2013 issue of the Washington Post by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Philip Kennicott, which highlighted the history of the rug and explored the reasons behind the curious decision. A barrage of critical articles, essays, reports, press conferences, and discussions, as well as television and radio programs dedicated to the controversy, followed in the Armenian and American media. The excuse the White House gave for not lending out the rug was that it would be “inappropriate” to do so for an event including a book launch.
Appeals by Armenian advocacy groups, supported by Congressional figures sympathetic to the Armenian causes, then launched a campaign of their own, asking the White House and President Barack Obama to release the rug in honor of the legacy of the Near East Relief Foundation and the memory of the orphans of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
The importance of the rug was recognized early in its history. “The beautiful rug woven by the [Armenian] children in the [Ghazir] orphanage in the Lebanon has been received. This, their expression of gratitude for what we have been able to do in this country for their aid, is accepted by me as a token of their goodwill to the people of the United States. … The rug has a place of honor in the White House, where it will be a daily symbol of good-will on earth.” These words by President Coolidge on December 4, 1925, were made to Dr. John H. Finley, vice-chairman of the Near East Relief Executive Committee, who presented the rug for the Armenian orphans who “have tied into it the gratitude of tens of thousands of children to you and to America. And what they have tied into it will never be untied. … It is sent to adorn the dearest of our temples, the White House of our President.”
Born in Worcester, Mass., in 1922, Deranian was born to genocide survivors from the town of Hussenig, Kharpert Province, in the Ottoman Empire. He was named Hagop in honor of Hagop Bogigian, his mother’s uncle, who was a pioneer rug merchant in America and a benefactor of education for Armenian young women. His mother, born Varter Bogigian, was a survivor of the genocide, which took from her six children, her first husband, and parents; she died in 1929. Deranian’s father, Marderos, who died in 1957, arrived in America in 1900 and operated a grocery store in Worcester. His father raised him from the age of seven.
Deranian, a graduate of Clark University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, served as Lieutenant (junior grade) in the United States Navy (1951-53) and has been engaged in the private practice of dentistry, while at the same time serving on the faculty of the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.
His translation of his father’s memoir, Hussenig, The Origin, History and Destruction of an Armenian Town, was published in 1996; an earlier bilingual edition appeared in 1981. His second book, Worcester Is America, the Story of Worcester’s Armenians, appeared in 1995, followed by Miracle Man of the Western Front: Dr. Varaztad H. Kazanjian, Pioneer Plastic Surgeon, which was published in 2007.
In light of the great demand and interest internationally, the Armenian Cultural Foundation has welcomed the publication of President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug in several languages, including German, Russian, and Armenian. To obtain copies of the new edition, contact the Armenian Cultural Foundation during office hours (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) by calling (781) 646 3090 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or check your local Armenian news outlets.