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Burbank congressman wants White House to display Armenian rug

The carpet was a thank you gift to America for aid to orphans of Armenian genocide
The carpet was a thank you gift to America for aid to orphans of Armenian genocide

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The battle over official U.S. government recognition of the Armenian Genocide has recently focused on a rug woven by orphan girls and presented to President Calvin Coolidge nearly a century ago. A Southern California lawmaker is calling on the White House to put the carpet on display.

The ruby red and purple rug took ten months to weave and was a thank-you gift for American aid to more than 100,000 Armenian orphans. Young women tied more than four million knots to create the carpet.

It was supposed to be the centerpiece of a Smithsonian event next month to launch a new book called “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug." But the White House declined to make the rug available, saying in a statement that  it’s “not possible to loan it out at this time.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and colleague David Valadao (R-Hanford) are circulating a letter, urging the president to change his mind. So far nearly three dozen lawmakers have signed on.

Schiff says the president's reluctance comes down to a single issue: "the Administration doesn’t want to offend Turkey."

Turkey is an important military ally. Ottoman Turks are said to have killed more than a million Armenians in the early years of the 20th century. The Turkish government maintains that number is inflated and the victims were caught in the middle of a civil war. Official Washington has been reluctant to go on the record acknowledging the genocide.

Schiff, who spoke on the House floor in Armenian on the April anniversary of the genocide, says the rug, with its millions of knots, is a tangible way to come to grips with the genocide. "These girls were real. What they went through was real. And I think it’s the power of that rug that is part of the reason the administration doesn’t want to exhibit it."

An online petition on the White House website asks for the rug to be displayed, but so far, it has fewer than 600 signatures.

Candidate Barack Obama said, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide.” But President Obama has avoided using the term.