Armenian Orphan Rug to be displayed, Rep. Adam Schiff says

(Los Angeles Daily News) A historic rug that was made by orphans of the Armenian Genocide will be displayed publicly for the first time in nearly a century, after the White House reversed an earlier decision and agreed to release it from storage.

The Armenian Orphan Rug had been the subject of controversy when the Obama administration in October refused to allow it to be released for a planned exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in December. The reason was never disclosed publicly but critics felt it was out of sensitivity to Turkey, a NATO ally that is blamed for the genocide.

The announcement was met Wednesday with gratefulness and optimism but also caution by Armenian-American groups who had pressed the White House to release the rug.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank along with Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., were among those who urged the White House to reconsider its stance on making the rug available for public view.

Schiff said Wednesday he was pleased with the decision but was uncertain why the White House reversed course.

“We’ve been working with the White House to find an appropriate venue,” Schiff said. “It was time to get a yes on it, and I’m pleased we have.”

It’s still unclear if it will appear at the Smithsonian or elsewhere, and when, he said.

The nearly century-old rug was made for and delivered to President Calvin Coolidge on Dec. 4, 1925, as a thank-you gift to America. Orphaned girls who survived the Armenian Genocide worked on the approximately 19-by-12-foot rug for 10 months. Its intricate design is made up of more than 4 million individual knots.

Coolidge kept the rug and it was passed down in his family until it was presented again to the White House in the 1980s. Since then, the rug was pulled from storage in 1984 and 1995, but only for private viewing.

The rug itself has become a symbol of the tug of war between the Armenian diaspora and the desire for both the American and Turkish governments to recognize the genocide. Both governments continue to refuse to call it such.

An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died from 1915-23 in what has been called the first genocide of the 20th century. The Turkish government maintains the deaths were a consequence of betrayal and civil unrest in what was then the Ottoman Empire. Armenians, however, say the killings involved the systematic cleansing of Christians, which included Assyrians and Pontic Greeks.

Armenian-American activists have said the U.S. government won’t officially recognize the killings as genocide because it would hurt relations with Turkey.

Schiff said he believes a shift may be occurring.

“I think things are slowly changing,” he said. “The hope is that Congress and the administration will formally recognize the genocide this coming year when it marks a century. If not now, when?”

Aram Hamparian, executive director for the Armenian National Committee, said his group is grateful for the leadership from Schiff and others, but will remain vigilant.

“We’re going to follow this policy closely to make sure the White House follows on their commitment,” Hamparian said.