Religious and Community Leaders Decry White House Ban of ‘Orphan Rug’


Ahead of Obama’s visit to Glendale Armenian religious and community leaders gather to send clear message to White House. Glendale Councilman Zareh Sinanyan to deliver protest letter to Obama during his visit.

GLENDALE (Asbarez)—As President Obama began his visit to Glendale, religious and community leaders held a briefing to call on the President to stop blocking the display of an Armenian Genocide-era rug woven by orphans of that crime against humanity.

The rug, which took Armenian orphans 10 months to weave and has 4,404,206 individual knots, was presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925.

Armenian National Committee of America Glendale Chapter Chairman Berdj Karapetian opened the press conference and welcomed a broad array of U.S. and Armenian print, television and online media to the community-wide forum urging concrete White House action regarding the historic rug.

“Today we pause, reflect and act,” remarked ANCA National Board member Raffi Hamparian. “We pause to remember the remarkable generosity of the American people during the Armenian Genocide. We reflect on the little orphans of the genocide who carefully wove a rug that was presented to President Coolidge. And finally, we act, by demanding that President Obama stop his Administration’s unusual policy of placing the orphan rug under quarantine. This is an exceedingly unusual way to treat a piece of American history – especially a piece of American history that speaks to our nation’s greatness in responding to a crime against all humanity,” Hamparian added.

Western Primate Hovnan Derderian spoke eloquently about the integral part the Armenian Genocide orphan rug plays in American history and the need for the White House to arrange its permanent display.

Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian noted, “The rug was a gracious gesture symbolizing the friendship between the American and Armenian peoples. It is part of American history. Keeping it locked away in storage is not only insulting to the orphaned girls who painstakingly crafted this beautiful work of art, it also represents a shameful effort to cover up, at the urging of genocide-deniers in Ankara, a truly proud chapter of American history.”

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), released a statement declaring that the [orphan] rug “is not only a symbol of the resilience of the Armenian people through their darkest days, but also serves as a tangible expression of the inherent truth that 1.5 million people were killed in the first genocide of the 20th Century.” The Congressman, long a champion on human rights issues, added, “It is my intention to host an event in the Capitol featuring the rug, shedding light on the efforts made by American diplomats and charitable organizations to call attention to, and provide relief for, the victims of the genocide. I will be urging the Administration to make the rug available for display at that time and hope for a favorable response.”

Schiff’s statement was read by ANCA-WR chairwoman Nora Hovsepian, who emphasized the community’s frustration at the White House’s posturing on the issue.
In a November 8th Congressional letter to President Obama, Representatives Schiff and David Valadao (R-CA) were joined by a bipartisan group of over 30 U.S. Representatives – including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) – in calling upon the White House to reverse its decision to block the public display of the rug.

The press conference ended with participants signing a letter to President Obama welcoming him to Glendale and urging him to “permit the public display of the Armenian Genocide-era rug woven by orphans of that crime against humanity.”

The letter referenced an earlier White House statement to LA Times reporter Richard Simon, noting that displaying the rug “for only half a day in connection with a private book launch event, as proposed, would have been an inappropriate use of U.S. government property, would have required the White House to undertake the risk of transporting the rug for limited public exposure, and was not viewed as commensurate with the rug’s historical significance.”

The petitioners wrote that they were “pleased that the White House acknowledges the historical significance of this Armenian Genocide-era rug. Therefore, we urge you to permit its prominent exhibition and eventual permanent display at a location accessible to the public in Washington, D.C.” Joining the religious and community leaders in signing the letter were Glendale Unified School Board President Nayiri Nahabedian, Glendale City College Board of Trustees Vice President Dr. Vahe Peroomian, and representatives from the Armenian Relief Society, Homenetmen Armenian Scouting and Athletic Association, All Armenian Students Association, Armenian Youth Federation, Armenian Rug Association, United Young Armenians, Armenian American Council on Aging, Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association, among a broad array or community supporters.

“I look forward to presenting the letter to President Obama to honor American history by displaying the rug,” said Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan, who was scheduled to attend the Obama event at Dreamworks Animation.

The briefing also featured remarks by Chamlian Armenian School Principal Vazken Madenlian and Executive Director of the Los Angeles committee for the Genocide Centennial Aroutin Hartunian.

The Armenian National Committee of America launched a nationwide campaign last month on the orphan rug issue after The Washington Post reported that a planned December 16th Smithsonian Institution exhibit featuring the rug, organized in conjunction with the Armenian Cultural Foundation and the Armenian Rug Society, was abruptly cancelled when the White House, reversing an earlier affirmative decision, refused to lend the iconic symbol of American and Armenian shared heritage to the museum.
Washington Post staff writer and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Philip Kennicott, reported “There was hope that the carpet, which has been in storage for almost 20 years, might be displayed December 16th as part of a Smithsonian event that would include a book launch for Hagop Martin Deranian’s ‘President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug.’ But on September 12th, the Smithsonian scholar who helped organize the event canceled it, citing the White House’s decision not to loan the carpet. In a letter to two Armenian American organizations, Paul Michael Taylor, director of the institution’s Asian cultural history program, had no explanation for the White House’s refusal to allow the rug to be seen and said that efforts by the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John A. Heffern, to intervene had also been unavailing.”

Kennicott described the controversy as “a sign of the Obama administration’s dismal reputation in the Armenian American community that everyone assumes… must be yet another slap in the face for Armenians seeking to promote understanding of one of the darkest chapters in 20th-century history.”

The White House response thus far has been vague – with National Security Staff Assistant Press Secretary Laura Magnuson initially offering the following comment to the Asbarez Armenian Newspaper: “The Ghazir rug is a reminder of the close relationship between the peoples of Armenia and the United States. We regret that it is not possible to loan it out at this time.” A statement with the same exact wording was released by the White House last week and included in Kennicott’s article.

The Armenian orphan rug measures 11′ 7″ x 18′ 5″ and is comprised of 4,404,206 individual knots. It took Armenian girls in the Ghazir Orphanage of Near East Relief 10 months to weave. The rug was delivered to the President Coolidge on December 4, 1925, in time for Christmas, with a label on the back of the rug, which reads “IN GOLDEN RULE GRATITUDE TO PRESIDENT COOLIDGE.”

According to Missak Kelechian, an expert on this topic, the gift of the Armenian Orphan rug was widely covered in U.S. media, including in the New York Times in 1925 and the Washington Post in 1926.

Additional information about the history of the Armenian Orphan Rug is available in Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian’s book, “President Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” published on October 20, 2013, by the Armenian Cultural Foundation and soon to be available on

Photo: ANCA-Glendale chair Berdj Karapetian kicks off community briefing Tuesday