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With Obama in Glendale, Armenians press genocide-related issue

Local Armenian leaders on Tuesday used an appearance by President Obama at the DreamWorks Animation studio to request that the White House allow a Smithsonian display of a rug handmade by refugee orphans of the mass genocide about a century ago.

It took about 10 months for Armenian genocide survivors living at an American-sponsored orphanage to weave and knot the 12-foot-by-18-foot rug, which was scheduled to be displayed at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 16. However, organizers canceled the exhibit on Sept. 12, saying the White House had declined to loan it.

At a news conference Tuesday, students from the Chamlian Armenian School, representatives from the Armenian National Committee of America and area clergy signed a letter extolling the historical importance of the rug, the Glendale News-Press reported.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers who also support releasing the rug have called it a “pivotal icon related to the Armenian Genocide,” in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks as the empire was dissolving during World War I.

Historians have concluded the episode was a genocide, but Turkey -- a key U.S. ally in the Middle East -- has contended that Turks and Armenians were casualties of war, famine and disease.

“All we’re seeking is that a piece of American history be exhibited at the Smithsonian. I certainly hope that President Obama will take the right step in this direction and allow for the rug to be exhibited,” Glendale Councilman Zareh Sinanyan said.

The rug, presented in 1925 to President Calvin Coolidge, is in storage as part of the White House collection.

“The rug was a gracious gesture symbolizing the friendship between the American and Armenian peoples. It is part of American history,” said Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said he intends to host an event in the Capitol featuring the rug and the history of American diplomats and charitable organizations that provided relief for the genocide victims.

"I will be urging the administration to make the rug available for display at that time and hope for a favorable response," he said in a statement. "The Armenian Orphan Rug should once again be seen by the American people and the world – as a testament to what happened nearly a century ago, and as part of our commitment to the survivors that we will never forget."


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