Photo Credit: Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian
Armenian Orphan Rug

(JNS.org) After nearly a year of protests, the Obama administration has finally agreed to permit a rug connected to the Armenian genocide to be publicly displayed. The long ordeal of the Armenian Orphan Rug, held hostage to fears of angering Turkey, has finally ended.

Or has it?

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The controversy began in the autumn of 2013, when the Smithsonian Institution announced it would hold an event featuring a new book, “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” by Hagop Martin Deranian.

The 18-foot long rug was woven 1925 by 400 Armenian orphan girls living in exile in Lebanon. They were survivors of the Turkish slaughter of approximately 1 million Armenians. The girls sent the rug to President Calvin Coolidge as a gesture of appreciation for America’s assistance to survivors of the genocide. Coolidge pledged that it would have “a place of honor in the White House, where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.”

Instead, it has become a daily symbol of politics taking precedence over combating genocide.

The White House refused to loan the rug to the Smithsonian. Neither the White House nor the State Department would give an explanation as to why they were keeping the rug locked up. The only plausible explanation is pressure from the Turkish government, which to this day denies the genocide occurred.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, then-Senator Obama said, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide.” Yet the statements that President Obama has issued each April on Armenian Remembrance Day have never included the G-word. Instead, he has used an Armenian expression—“Meds Yeghern,” meaning “the great calamity.” Fear of displeasing the Turks appears to be the only plausible motive for that rhetorical evasiveness.

Armenian-Americans are not the only ones who should be outraged. American Jews should be up in arms, too. Not only because of the sympathy that all victims of genocide naturally share—but also because if the White House can permit political considerations to take precedence over recognition of the Armenian genocide, there is a danger that memorialization of the Holocaust could one day suffer a similar fate.

Indeed, Adolf Hitler reportedly once assured his subordinates that their atrocities would not be remembered since “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Last week, after numerous protests, the Obama administration announced that it will permit the rug to be displayed for six days in November—kind of a week-long furlough from its imprisonment in a White House closet.

But there is a catch. A big one.

The rug will not be part of a display concerning the Armenian genocide. Instead, it is being mushed together with other foreign gifts to the White House, in a display called “Thank You to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad.”

The genocide rug will be sandwiched in between a Sevres vase presented by France to the United States after World War One, and a piece of artwork called “Flowering Branches in Lucite” sent by Japan after the 2010 tsunami.

Grouping victims of genocide together with those who drowned in a tsunami or were left homeless by World War One disguises what happened to the Armenians. It blurs the distinction between something that was inevitable and something that was not. Weather-related disasters and damage caused by wars are inevitable. But the Armenian genocide was different: it was an act of mass murder, systematically planned and implemented by evil men driven by religious and ethnic hatred.

The Armenian Orphan Rug is a work of great beauty. But the point of displaying it is not for the sake of its aesthetic value. Its power is its message. Its significance is as a symbol. It is a reminder of the genocide that the Turks perpetrated against the Armenians. Six days in an exhibit about gifts to the White House is no victory. On the contrary—it is a defeat for everyone who cares about historical truth and everyone who seeks to learn the lessons of the past so that they will not be repeated.

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Dr. Rafael Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and coeditor of the Online Encyclopedia of America's Response to the Holocaust.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Several years ago, I was invited to give a lecture on an Overview of American History to a class on English as a Second Language. The questions asked me had to do with the Armenian Genocide. The students had previously learned what happened to the Armenians. The The Turkish students denied it. The students were active participants.
    Lois Wasserman, Ph.D.

  2. Once again Americans have allowed their president to prove that the existence of american values has disappeared under Obama. Truth and justice were the American way now what ever does not attack muslim sensitivity is the american way no matter who else is hurt or denegrated.
    According to Obama muslims are the most irresponsible people in the world. they are not responsible for terrorism, genocide, murder, thievery, or lying to the world. The world is responsible for FORCING them to terrorize to get what they want like a school yard bully. The world FORCES them to commit genocide and murder because we won't give up our religious beliefs in deference to theirs. The world FORCES them to steal because they are too incompetent to actually work and contribute to a society constructively and they need the money to get weapons and soldiers to kill all this 'infidels'. And lying is a way of life to get what they want. sure they need humanitarian aid to build schools, houses , hospitals but that will come right after they build tunnels, weapons, ammunition to destroy those who will not given to them – then the aid will be spent on humanitarian purposes like giving the fighters homes, cars and more. It is all our fault.

  3. This President doesn't do anything but engage in politics and he views the world through the eyes of a narcissist. Right and wrong have no meaning for him because the world is made up of 50 shades of gray. As a nation we have lost our God given conscience and we are willing to tolerate behavior that "progressives" are trying to make the norm.

  4. The general public and even many historians know very little about the genocide of Armenians. No one really knows how many million Armenians and other Christians were mercilessly slaughtered from 1895- 96; 1915-1923 and onward. Almost 100 years later…who cares? Recognizing the Armenian genocide is a moral imperative for entire World and all mankind. You don't have to be Armenian to recognize the Armenian Genocide. We need to recognize all genocides because to keep them from repeating over & over again, & prevent future genocides from taking place. The Armenian Genocide was prepared and carried out by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915 and the following years. As a result of the genocide, Armenians living in their ancestral homeland (at the time in the Ottoman Empire) were deported and systematically killed. The Republic of Turkey today denies the allegations of genocide, although the systematic massacres are recognized as genocide by most scholars. Since 1920s, Modern Turkey despite overwhelming evidence of the genocide provided by Western and Armenian eyewitnesses, Turkish officials effectively created a fog of denial. (Turkey arguing that Armenians died not in a genocide but in a civil war between Christians and Muslims… The Armenian massacres Happened simply consequences of war. This claim is false and artificial made up by the Turkish government and it's outrageous lie. The Armenian Genocide is widely Recognized and acknowledged by all genocide scholars to have been one of the first modern, systematic genocides, organized by the government and planned to eliminate the Armenians.)

    Nuremberg principles charges should be brought against Turkey because Turkey is a Guilty of Genocide! those who defend and protect Turkey, is the enemy of all mankind and justice and claim our rights, it is a black stain on the human race and needs to be dismantled – peacefully in the ideal, or by force if necessary. If you feel as We do to stop Crime Denial of Genocide worth fighting for it, join us and give the traitors that have led us into this quandary their worst nightmare!

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