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Armenian rug to be displayed at White House

The so-called Armenian Orphan Rug was hand-tied in more than four million knots by orphan Armenian girls.
The so-called Armenian Orphan Rug was hand-tied in more than four million knots by orphan Armenian girls.

After months of negotiation and Congressional pressure, the White House has agreed to display a nearly century-old rug made by Armenian orphan girls.

The rug was a thank you gift to the United States in 1925 for American assistance when Armenians were targeted by Ottoman Turks. More than a million Armenians were killed in what is widely considered a genocide.

In accepting the rug, President Calvin Coolidge said it "has a place of honor in the White House where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.”  The carpet was displayed at the White House in 1984 and 1995, but ended up in storage.

Now, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, whose district includes the heavily-Armenian areas of Glendale and East Hollywood, says the White House has agreed to display the rug this fall. Schiff says it's "one of the more tangible artifacts of the genocide," but also an example of "our proud tradition of helping others around the world in need."

Schiff says in the early 20th century the Near East Relief Organization raised today's equivalent of $1 billion to help genocide victims and became the model for USAID and other international relief programs. 

The White House turned down a request last year to display the rug in conjunction with an event at the Smithsonian to celebrate a book about the tapestry.  Last fall, nearly three dozen members of Congress wrote to the President, asking him to "release this American treasure for exhibition." Schiff says, "It's hard for me to believe that Turkish sensibilities were not also not part of the equation."

Turkey is an important U.S. military ally. The Turkish government has in the past dismissed the term "genocide," saying the number of deaths is inflated and the victims were caught in the middle of a civil war. 

But just this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly said his nation was "ready to confront" its history, offering condolences to Armenia over what he called "our shared pain," and saying Armenians and Turks should research together to document what happened. In response, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian accused Turkey of "utter denial." 

It's likely that more debate will happen between now and when the rug is scheduled to go on display this fall. But Schiff says he doesn't think "there will be any going back in terms of the White House's commitment."  

The head of the Armenian Assembly of America, Bryan Ardouny says, "The display of this tangible expression of gratitude for America's humanitarian intervention to save the survivors of the Armenian Genocide is a positive development."