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World & Nation

White House plans exhibition of rug linked to Armenian genocide

Armenian rug
President Calvin Coolidge, left, stands on the Armenian Orphan Rug with Near East Relief Vice Chairman John Finley.
(Missak Kelechian Collection)

A historic rug tied to the Armenian genocide will go on display at the White House Visitor Center in November after several failed attempts to display the piece.  

The Ghazir rug was created by orphans of the genocide and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925. It will be featured alongside other artifacts in an exhibition highlighting gifts to the United States from groups that have benefited from American humanitarian aid.

“The rug … is a reminder of the close relationship between the people of Armenia and the United States,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement announcing the exhibition.

The tapestry, also called the Armenian Orphan Rug, has been in storage for decades with only limited public appearances. In 2013, the White House blocked a plan to display the rug at the Smithsonian Institution, saying the planned exhibition, which would have featured the release of a book about the piece, was a private event and thus “not viewed as commensurate with the rug’s historical significance.”

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Armenian American leaders and several U.S. senators objected to the decision, saying the White House was bowing to political pressure from the Turkish government, which denies a genocide took place.

Historians estimate that 1.2 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks during the political upheaval surrounding World War I. The circumstances of the genocide remain contested by Turkey, which maintains that the Armenians died of disease, starvation and being caught in crossfire. The Ghazir rug was later created by orphans as a goodwill gesture toward the U.S.

Members of the Armenian American community praised the decision to display the rug.

“Turkey doesn’t want people to use the word ‘genocide,’ so the United States doesn’t use the word ‘genocide,’ ” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.  “We hope that this is the symbol of the White House finally doing the right thing.”

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The delay in exhibiting the rug stemmed from rules governing historic objects rather than political considerations, senior administration officials said.

For elected officials representing Armenian American communities, the decision is a welcome relief after years of negotiation.

“It’s a powerful symbol of American generosity to victims of the Armenian genocide,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D- Burbank) said.  “I’m thrilled that it will soon be on display.”

Schiff said he would continue to push for official federal recognition of the genocide, especially in light of the event’s 100th anniversary in April.

For Hamparian, the exhibition will be a success if it represents a change in White House policy.

“The victory will be if this symbolizes progress by this White House to speak the truth about the Armenian genocide,” he said. 

Follow Matt Hansen t at @mtthnsn


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