By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)
October 28, 2014
Earlier this month, the White House announced that it would finally release the Armenian Orphan Rug, also known as the Coolidge Rug, for public display, a decision welcomed by the Armenian Assembly of America and several Members of Congress. The White House Visitor Center will display the Armenian Orphan Rug from November 18-23 as part of an exhibition entitled “Thank you to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad,” according to a statement by National Security Council (NSC) Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.
“The Armenian Orphan Rug, given to President Coolidge as a symbolic thank you for America’s humanitarian relief effort in helping to save the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, is a treasured piece of American history,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “As such, we welcome today’s announcement by the White House and look forward to the permanent display of this historic rug,” Ardouny continued.
The Assembly has been working with Members of Congress and the White House to secure the release of the iconic carpet, woven by orphaned girls of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The Coolidge Rug gained notoriety last year when a planned exhibition of the carpet at the Smithsonian Institution was cancelled. Media reports at the time alleged that the government of Turkey ultimately blocked the planned exhibit.
Leading the charge on Capitol Hill were key Members of Congress. “The Armenian Orphan Rug is an important piece of our history. Its display serves not just as a reminder of the horrors of the Armenian Genocide but also of the longstanding friendship between the Armenian and American people,” said Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who sits on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Last November, Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA) and David Valadao (R-CA) spearheaded a letter to the White House, signed by over 30 Members of Congress, urging the release of the Armenian Orphan Rug for public display.
“The Armenian Orphan Rug embodies the resilience of the Armenian people through their darkest days and serves as a poignant reminder of 1.5 million 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,” Rep. Schiff said after the White House announcement. “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.”
Congressman Valadao also responded to the news of the upcoming exhibition, highlighting the “importance of the relationship between the United States and the Armenian people” that the carpet symbolizes. As an active member of the Armenian Caucus, Rep. Valadao also expressed his intention to view the Coolidge Rug with his colleagues when it is released in November.
Armenian Caucus Founder and Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) was also instrumental in rallying the Caucus on this issue. “The White House has taken an important step in recognizing historical accuracy by displaying the Armenian orphan rug,” he said. “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,” Rep. Pallone said.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) also responded, noting that “As a representative of a vibrant and large Armenian-American community in Rhode Island, I know that this rug, made by orphans from the Armenian genocide, is a source of great pride for the Armenian-American community and serves as a symbol of the enduring and important relationship between the United States and Armenia.”
Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) also praised the White House for its decision to release the rug. “The White House exhibit is a step in the right direction for the United States. I look forward to the day when every branch of the American government refers to events that led to the weaving of the Armenian Genocide Orphan Rug as ‘genocide’.”
For over a decade, the Assembly has called on the White House and the State Department to facilitate the release of the Armenian Orphan Rug for public display. Following the cancelled exhibition at the Smithsonian, the Assembly embarked on a #ReleaseTheRug campaign and has been working closely with Dr. H. Martin Deranian, author of “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” in raising awareness of this historic carpet. In addition, the Assembly has displayed the Armenian Orphan “Sister Rug,” woven by the same orphans, in Boston, Massachusetts and Boca Raton, Florida. The statement from the White House to release the rug came moments after the Assembly announced the third exhibition of the “Sister Rug” in Burbank, California, which will take place at Woodbury University-Burbank on November 6, 2014.
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 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 left the White House with President Coolidge as part of his personal collection, but was then gifted back to the White House by the Coolidge Family in 1982. It was previously displayed at the White House in 1984 and 1995, but not since.
After almost a year of negotiations between the White House and Members of Congress, and the decades-long work of Dr. Martin Deranian, the Armenian Assembly of America, the Near East Foundation, and many others, the Armenian American community has successfully advocated the release of the Armenian Orphan Rug. Its upcoming display in our nation’s capital, during the season of Thanksgiving, is something every American can be proud of, particularly descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors.