WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, November 18th, Members of Congress including Reps. Adam Schiff and David Valadao and Armenian-American groups will host a press conference 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.
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. Ankara has been able to block its exhibition for decades.
As the world prepares to mark the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, a crime that claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians, the display of the Orphan Rug will present a new generation of Americans with an artifact that can spark a candid discussion about how the world’s failure to either prevent or punish the first genocide of the modern era has contributed to the cycle of genocide that continues to this day.
Following the press conference, Members of Congress and Armenian American community leaders will proceed the few blocks to the White House Visitor Center to view the Armenian Orphan Rug, which will be on display from November 18th to 23rd.
Background: 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 will be 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 2010. 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 exhibit is scheduled to take place at the White House Visitor Center from November 18th to 23rd. The White House Visitor Center is located at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC and is open to the public from 7:30am to 4:00pm daily.
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.”
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 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-CA) and David Valadao (R-CA), called on the White House to reverse its decision. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Nikki Tsongas (D-MA) also sent personal letters urging the White House to take action.