WASHINGTON — The Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), and Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and David Valadao (R-CA), held a press conference on November 18 at the National Press Club to mark the opening of the Armenian Orphan Rug exhibit. The Armenian Orphan Rug, gifted to US President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 by orphaned girls of the Armenian Genocide, is on public display at the White House Visitor Center, November 18-23.
“This treasured artifact should be proudly displayed – not only this week, but permanently – to ensure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten and that the heroic efforts of America’s diplomats are remembered and honored,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny during the press conference. “We thank Congressmen Schiff and Valadao for their leadership on Armenian issues, and we thank all Members gathered here today on this historic occasion,” Ardouny said.
Addressing the standing-room-only crowd of reporters, members of Congress, and Armenian-American community members, Valadao opened the press conference. “My Congressional district is home to a very large Armenian population that has a very strong presence in our community,” he said. “The Armenian Orphan Rug is a shared piece of American and Armenian history that should be available to the public. I am excited my colleagues and I were able to help secure a public display of the rug,” Valadao said.
Schiff spoke forcefully about the historic significance of the carpet. He called it a “tangible connection to the first genocide of the 20th century — a silent, beautiful rebuttal to those who deny the murder of 1.5 million men, woman and children in a campaign of mass murder, forced marches, rape and looting that befell the Armenian people from 1915 to 1923.”
Schiff then reminded the audience of the events that led to the rug’s creation, and how it inspired a new generation of American philanthropy that was unprecedented at the time. “As the world prepares to commemorate the centennial of the genocide, the Ghazir Rug brings to life the shattered families and the mass inhumanity that was visited upon the Armenian people. And I hope that it can serve to educate a new generation of Americans about one of the great tragedies of history and leads to a redoubling of efforts in 2015 to finally, and forever, honor the genocide of the Armenians without equivocation. One hundred years is a long time to wait and the Armenian people should not have to wait any longer,” Schiff said.
The controversy surrounding the Armenian Orphan Rug erupted in October, 2013, when the rug failed to be lend out for an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, organized in cooperation with the Armenian Cultural Foundation and the Armenian Rugs Society. In November 2013, Schiff and Valadao spearheaded a letter signed by over 30 Members of the Armenian Caucus to President Obama urging him to release the rug for public display. Schiff added: “I want to thank President Obama and the White House team for working with me and with the community on this issue. It has been a long road from last year’s ‘no’ to this year’s ‘yes.’ This event and the display of the Armenian Orphan Rug itself is the culmination of more than a year of work by many people Thousands of individual Americans have asked that the rug be shown to the public.”
Joining the Assembly, ANCA, Schiff and Valadao were several members of Congress who spoke with a renewed sense of passion on the need for the United States Congress to reaffirm the record on the Armenian Genocide.
Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), James McGovern (D-MA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) all participated in the press conference.
Following remarks from members of Congress, key individuals involved in the effort provided the historical background on the Armenian Orphan Rug, the story of its arrival at the White House, and the decades-long work that went into securing the release of the carpet from the White House. Dr. H. Martin Deranian, author of President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug, gave the historical background of the Near East Relief orphanage at Ghazir, the orphaned girls who wove the rug, why, and how it came into the possession of the President of the United States. Hratch Kozibeyokian from the Armenian Rug Society provided insight into the last-minute cancellation of the Armenian Orphan Rug exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution last year and thanked members of Congress, the ANCA, and the Assembly for ensuring the public display of the carpet. Finally, researcher Missak Kelechian showed the audience photographs of the orphanage at Ghazir that he took just weeks ago, compared to the photographs taken after the Armenian Genocide. Kelechian delivered an empowering presentation on America’s generosity at the time and how the display of the carpet today serves as a reminder of the consequences of genocide.
While the Armenian Assembly of America welcomes the White House decision to publicly display the Armenian Orphan Rug in the face of Turkey’s international campaign of genocide denial, the Assembly reiterates its call for the permanent display of the rug in our nation’s capital and to unequivocally affirm the Armenian Genocide. Only then will the words of President Calvin Coolidge, who referred to the rug as “a daily symbol of good-will on earth,” be truly realized.
The White House displayed the Armenian Orphan Rug as part of an exhibit titled “Thank you to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad.” Also showcased are 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.
Almost two weeks earlier, on November 6, Deranian had addressed a hosting of a “sister rug” of the Armenian Orphan Rug at Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif. Margaret Mgrublian, chair of the Armenian Assembly Southern California Regional Council, which held the event, said about Deranian, “His determination and passion in keeping alive the amazing legacy of these orphans is the very reason we will have the rug on display in Washington, DC. It would have never happened without him.”