Lawmakers and members of the Armenian American community gathered in Washington on Tuesday to mark the weeklong display of a historic rug linked to the Armenian genocide, calling it significant for a nation that helped support Armenians during some of their darkest chapters.
The Ghazir rug, also known as the Armenian Orphan Rug, went on display at the White House Visitor Center after years of campaigning from Armenian American groups and senators representing Armenian communities throughout the United States, including Southern California and the state's Central Valley.
"From coast to coast, the community spoke with one voice in asking that the Ghazir rug be displayed," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said at an event celebrating the exhibit. "Without you, we would not be here."
The rug, which has been stored in the White House collection for decades with few public appearances, was woven by orphans of the Armenian genocide and given to President Coolidge in 1925 as a token of gratitude for American relief efforts. It's scheduled to appear for one week at the White House Visitor Center alongside other gifts given by countries thanking the United States for disaster assistance.
The White House canceled a planned exhibition of the rug at a book launch at the Smithsonian Institution in 2013. Senior administration officials later told the Los Angeles Times that the delay in displaying the rug was due to protocol governing historic objects, rather than concerns over political ramifications.
Historians believe an estimated 1.2 million Armenians died at the hands of Ottoman Turks during the throes of World War I. Turkey contests that interpretation of the events, saying that Armenians died instead of starvation and disease.
For lawmakers representing Armenian American communities, the display of the Ghazir rug is a step toward eventual official recognition of the genocide by the United States. Past attempts by lawmakers to pass a resolution recognizing the genocide have stalled.
"For the last 10 years, the Armenian American community has fought to get this rug released and displayed to the public," said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena). "This is only a first step. This story reinforces why Congress must pass a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide."
Members of the Armenian American community said that the rug is a tribute not only to their community's resilience but also to the generosity of the American government, which funded major relief efforts as the Ottoman Empire dissolved during World War I.
Armenian-American researcher Missak Kelechian visited the site in Ghazir, Lebanon, where orphaned Armenian girls lived in a American-sponsored orphanage, working for 10 months to create the rug as a tribute to the United States.
"The refusal to display the rug is a denial of one of the most beautiful chapters of American history," he said.