The Armenian Orphan Rug Will Be Displayed at the White House from November 18-23, 2014

On October 15, 2014 the White House confirmed earlier reports that it will, in fact, display the Armenian genocide "Orphan Rug" as part of an exhibit at the newly renovated White House Visitor Center next month, which will run from November 18 to 23, reported Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA).
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 1930 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.
The Armenian Orphan Rug was woven by Armenian orphans 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 Armenian genocide. The rug, which measures 11’7″ x 18’5”and has been in storage at the White House for decades, has over 4,000,000 hand-tied knots and took the Armenian girls in the Ghazir orphanage of the Near East Relief 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.” It was removed with President Coolidge’s personal possessions when he left office in 1929 but was returned to the White House as a gift from his family in 1982. The rug, made to characterize the Garden of Eden, has only been displayed twice since then.
The display of the rug erupted into controversy late last year, when the White House abruptly and inexplicably decided a 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. At the time, Armenian American groups speculated that the Turkish government was behind the White House’s refusal.
With tensions rising between the United States and Turkey over how best to handle the crisis in Syria, the decision still came as a surprise. 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 last December, 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 "Asbarez": “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 representatives to President Obama last year urging his administration to allow exhibition of the rug. 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. 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.”
Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly, likewise welcomed the White House decision and said he and others will “look forward to the permanent display” of the rug.

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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.
“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.
Although grateful that the rug will now be seen, Aram S. Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, is concerned that this may be a symbolic gesture meant to appease the Armenian American community and that 2015 will pass without the president allowing the U.S. government to formally acknowledge the genocide.
“We hope the display of this rug will mark real progress, not a substitute for progress,” Hamparian said.
He is also concerned about how the rug will be explained in the exhibition, and whether information accompanying it will forthrightly use the word genocide. If the display doesn’t speak directly about the events, he says, the rug’s appearance for the first time since 1995 may yet leave a sour taste among many Armenian Americans.
“I would go see it, but it would pain my heart if it was shown in the context of euphemisms and evasive language,” Hamparian said.

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