Description of the rug avoids reference to the Armenian Genocide
WASHINGTON—The Armenian orphan rug went on display at the White House this morning, after months of pressure from legislators and Armenian American community activists.
The exhibit is taking place at the White House Visitor Center from Nov. 18 to 23. The White House Visitor Center is located at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC and is open to the public from 7:30a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Members of Congress including Reps. Adam Schiff and David Valadao and Armenian-American groups hosted a press conference today at the National Press Club to mark the opening of the White House display of the Armenian Orphan Rug–also known as the Ghazir Rug–a work of art that has been the subject of political controversy since it was woven by orphan survivors of the Armenian Genocide and gifted to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 in appreciation for U.S. humanitarian assistance following Turkey’s mass murder of over 1.5 million Armenians and other Christians during World War I.
“Today’s White House display of the Armenian Orphan Rug is a testament to the generous spirit of the American people, whose unprecedented humanitarian assistance efforts saved hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide—including the Armenian orphans who meticulously crafted this unique artifact of American and Armenian history,” Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian said. “Unfortunately, the display’s description—using evasive and euphemistic language—deprives this profoundly important work of art of its moral and historical meaning. It also deprives viewers of the opportunity to learn about the Armenian Genocide and draw lessons from this experience to prevent future atrocities.”
“We thank Congressman Schiff and Valadao and all their colleagues who helped make this display possible, and whose efforts are already sparking national and international attention to this still unpunished crime. We remain troubled that on the eve of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, Turkey’s gag rule is still in force and remain committed to a truthful and just international resolution of this crime,” added Hamparian.
Community activist and Weekly contributor George Aghjayan was among those who flew to DC to view the orphan rug. “Seeing the rug is like looking into the hearts of the orphans who wove it,” he said.
The ANCA joined Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Congressman David Valadao (R-Calif.), Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Congressman Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Congressman James McGovern (D-Mass.), and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) as well as the Armenian Assembly of America and Armenian Rug Society at a press conference marking the opening of White House display of the Armenian Orphan Rug.
Complete coverage of the press conference will be available later today.
Additional images from the White House display of the Armenian Orphan Rug are available here.
After long decades in storage, and following Congressional pressure and a nationwide Armenian American grassroots campaign to secure its release, the White House has agreed to the display of the Armenian Orphan Rug, woven by orphan survivors of the Armenian Genocide and gifted to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 in appreciation for U.S. humanitarian assistance following Turkey’s mass murder of over 1.5 million Armenians and other Christians.
The White House is displaying the Armenian Orphan Rug, also known as the Ghazir Rug, as part of an exhibit at the White House Visitors Center. The exhibit—entitled “Thank you to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad”—will showcase 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 2011. These three gifts to American presidents will be on display so visitors to the White House and those wishing to see the artifacts can view them.
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 Dec. 4, 1925, in time for Christmas, with a label on the back of the rug, which reads “IN GOLDEN RULE GRATITUDE TO PRESIDENT COOLIDGE.”
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 Dec. 16, 2013, exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, organized in cooperation with the Armenian Cultural Foundation and the Armenian Rugs 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.
In November 2013, a bipartisan group of over 30 U.S. Representatives, led by Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and David Valadao (R-Calif.), called on the White House to reverse its decision. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Representatives Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Nikki Tsongas (D-Mass.) also sent personal letters urging the White House to take action.
For the past year, Rep. Schiff has been working with members of the Armenian American community, as well as several of his colleagues, to convince the White House to reverse a 2013 decision to not allow the rug to be displayed. Display of the Armenian Orphan Rug is especially sensitive to the Turkish government, which objects to any official U.S. commemoration, directly or indirectly, of the Armenian Genocide.