WASHINGTON, D.C. — Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a letter to President Obama calling upon the White House “to honor Armenian heritage and allow display of [a] culturally significant Armenian rug,” .
Congressman Pallone has also joined with his colleagues in signing the bipartisan letter currently being circulated by Armenian Genocide resolution sponsors Representatives David Valadao (R-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) to President Obama calling for the “Armenian Orphan Rug” to be exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution as it was originally scheduled for display in December 2013. Pallone’s letter follows Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), who sent a similar missive to President Obama last week.
The Valadao-Schiff initiative continues to garner support.
In 1925, Dr. John H. Finley, editor-in-chief of the New York Times and vice-chairman of the congressionally chartered Near East Relief organization, presented a rug made by orphans of the Armenian Genocide to then President Calvin Coolidge. The rug was made in appreciation of America’s generosity in aiding the survivors of the first genocide of the 20th Century. It was previously displayed at the White House in 1984 and 1995, but not since.
Below is the text of Congressman Pallone’s letter to President Obama:
October 30, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
I am writing to express deep concern over recent news that the White House has refused to loan a rug woven by orphans and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 to be displayed at an event associated with the Smithsonian. I understand that Paul Michael Taylor, director of the Smithsonian’s Asian cultural history program has informed Armenian American organizations that the White House has refused to lend the rug with no explanation as to the reason.
Rather than hiding this rug, we should be celebrating its origins and how it came to be presented to President Coolidge. The rug, known as the Ghazir rug, was woven by children at the Near East Relief orphanage in Ghazir, Syria, present day Lebanon. The Near East Relief was established in 1915 in response to calls from the U.S. Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau and others to assist in saving refugees from the attempted extermination of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire. The Ghazir rug was presented to the White House as an expression of gratitude for U.S. assistance during the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians resulting in the first genocide of the 20th century.
Considering the White House has refused to give a reasonable explanation for withholding this unique gift to the American people, the suspicion exists that the White House is once again capitulating to pressure from the Turkish government to prevent any discussion of the period in which the Armenian Genocide occurred. It is difficult to express in words how deeply troubling it is that a historical and cultural treasure accepted by President Coolidge on behalf of the people of the United States may be being kept behind closed doors because of Turkish desire to keep discussion of certain historical facts out of the public discussion.
The Ghazir rug would be displayed along with a new book entitled, “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug.” This would be an entirely appropriate and meaningful display of the rug. Yet, the refusal of the White House’s to allow display of the rug without explanation denies the American people access to a national treasure and suggests that discussion of the events surrounding the Armenian Genocide is unwelcome. The Armenian American community continues to make valuable contributions to the United States and our government should be committed to helping the community explore their history, including the Armenian Genocide.
Each year on Capitol Hill we observe the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and reflect on the need to prevent such atrocities in the future. While I remain disappointed that, as President, you have refused to refer to murder of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, allowing the Ghazir rug to be displayed serves to facilitate academic discourse and commemoration of America’s strong role in saving lives during a dark period of history. We cannot allow the government of Turkey to dictate whether this occurs.
I urge you to allow the Ghazir rug to be loaned out for display. In the event that there are practical challenges that would endanger preservation of the rug, I ask that you explain these obstacles to allowing its display. In the event that failure to loan the rug for display is based on concerns from the government of Turkey, I strongly urge you to side with historical honesty and integrity and reverse course so that the rug may be part of an open and educational dialogue.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
FRANK PALLONE, JR
Member of Congress