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October 28, 2013 9:46 am

Armenian Genocide Rug’s Freedom a Worthy Cause for American Jews

avatar by Rafael Medoff / JNS.org

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Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers in Kharpert, Armenia, in April, 1915. Ninety-nine years after the Armenian genocide, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian suffering is being held hostage by the White House, writes Rafael Medoff. Photo: Project SAVE via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – Ninety-nine years after the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian suffering is being held hostage—by the White House.

The prisoner is an 18-foot long rug. It was woven by four hundred Armenian orphan girls living in exile in Lebanon, as a gesture of appreciation for America’s assistance to survivors of the genocide. In 1925, they sent the rug to President Calvin Coolidge, who pledged that it would have “a place of honor in the White House, where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.”

Unfortunately, the rug is instead becoming a symbol of the unseemly politics of genocide. An Armenian-American dentist, Hagop Martin Deranian, recently authored a book called “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” and the Smithsonian Institution scheduled an event about Dr. Dernanian’s book for Dec. 16. But when the Smithsonian asked the White House to loan it the rug for the event, the request was denied.

Reporters who asked the State Department about it this week were referred to the White House. When they asked the White House spokesman, they were curtly told that he had nothing to say except, “It is not possible to loan it out at this time.”

Armenian-American leaders believe the Obama administration is responding to pressure from the Turkish government, which denies that genocide took place. And Armenians have good reason to be suspicious. As a presidential candidate in 2008, then-Senator Obama declared, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide.” By contrast, 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 sleight-of-hand.

Armenian-Americans are not the only ones who should be upset. American Jews should be up in arms, too. Not only because of the sympathy that victims of genocide instinctively feel for one another—but also because if the White House can permit political considerations to trump recognition of the Armenian genocide, there is a danger that memorialization of the Holocaust could one day suffer a similar fate.

In any event, at least one president did keep his word: Calvin Coolidge proudly displayed the Armenian Orphan Rug in the White House for the rest of his term.

After he left office, Coolidge took the rug to his Massachusetts residence. It was still there in 1939, when former First Lady Grace Coolidge became a leading figure in the struggle to rescue a different group of children from a genocidal dictator. Mrs. Coolidge lobbied in support of the Wagner-Rogers bill, which would have admitted 20,000 German Jewish children to the United States. But President Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to support the legislation, and it was buried in committee.

Ironically, FDR’s relative and predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, advocated declaring war on Turkey over the Armenian genocide. “The failure to deal radically with the Turkish horror means that all talk of guaranteeing the future peace of the world is mischievous nonsense,” the then-ex-president asserted in 1918. Teddy Roosevelt was correct to fear that tolerating genocide would pave the way for it to happen again.

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?”

The genocide rug eventually made it back to the White House and was in use during at least part of the Clinton administration. But it has not been seen in public since then. If the Obama administration and the Turkish government have their way, it seems, the imprisoned rug may never again see the light of day.

In December, Americans will flock to a new movie called “Monuments Men.” Directed by (and co-starring) George Clooney, it will tell the true story of a handful of U.S. military personnel who risked their lives to rescue famous paintings, monuments, and other precious European cultural artifacts from the Nazis in the waning days of World War II. It seems that it might take a new generation of Monuments Men to rescue the Armenian genocide rug and restore the treasured heirloom to its rightful place—in a public display.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”

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  • AvramCohen

    Very very sad how the Armenian Holocaust killings have become so political.. Many Armenians have and will die before they have seen any justice but God knows the truth on what has fallen with these ancient chosen people of the bible! God Bless these close cousins of the Jews!

  • Zubeyde

    Prominent German historian Hilmar Kaiser advocates the opposite of the writer. The following excerpts are from an interview with him on 22 March 2009 (http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?load=detay&link=170297

    Historian challenges politically motivated 1915 arguments):
    ..’One should stop thinking of the [Committee of Union and Progress] CUP as a kind of monolithic party. Research on the Armenians in WWI has tended to try to create the impression of a Turkey that was like a small version of Nazi Germany, with a single party and with a poor man’s SS named Teşkilat’ı Mahsusa. I think this is totally wrong; one has to study the Turkish-Armenian case on its own. Yes, there were some people within the CUP inspired by European positivists, who were partly racist, but thinking that this was not the general party line. That racism was not the driving motive behind the Armenian policy is quite clear because if you compare it to the German racism, you cannot explain the survival of tens of thousands of Armenian women and children in Muslim houses, even in the government orphanages. This would have been completely impossible if the government had been inspired by the German type of racism,” says Kaiser.
    “People like to compare Young Turk-Turkey to Nazi Germany, but it is not a comparison; they equate it. A comparison should also stress the fundamental differences,” he continued. “Racism as well as Muslim fundamentalism were not driving forces. Some allege that Islam was very conducive to large-scale massacres of Armenians. It’s totally illogical. If Islam is very conducive to large-scale massacres of Armenians, why were they here for 600 years? Second, why did the survivors survive in Muslim societies in the Middle East?”
    ….”Yes, the CUP was a nationalist group, but it also included very religious groups. These people cannot be united. They obviously put on a straight face in public, like some politicians do today. And even if you’re a Turkish nationalist, that doesn’t make you a killer. There were people who were famous Turkish nationalists like Halide Edip; she advocated assimilation of Armenians, but she very strongly opposed any kind of murder. On the other hand, this opposition against it was not just limited to nationalists; it also included anti-CUP opposition, for example, from the Liberal Party. Believe it or not, this opposition that concentrated on Cemal Pasha in the area of the Fourth Army cooperated — there is proof for this — with the Armenian underground against Talat,” he explains.
    “Let me say something more radical: The one person who saved most Armenians in World War I was nobody other than Cemal Pasha. That this hasn’t been discussed so far is just due to the fact that we have a couple of political problems with the whole thing, and our field is really flooded with political advocates who are less historians than they are opinion-formers. We have reports from German navy officers who were on the staff of Pasha because he was also minister of the navy. Sometimes when he saw abuse of Armenian deportees, he just let the official be hung on the spot, he didn’t even wait for it. There are many, many Armenian sources about this as well, like memoirs……

  • Missak Kelechian

    The Armenian orphan rug was woven by 6 orphan girls within a period of 10 months the author mentioned 400 girls which is not correct. For more background on the rug please watch both YouTube.



    Exhibition Video about the White house Carpet
    In Arabic but English subtitles


  • shloime

    perhaps prime minister netanyahu could ask to borrow it, to go on display in the new american embassy in jerusalem?

    obama is now the third american president to refuse to carry out the law, duly enacted by congress, requiring that the american embassy be relocated to the capital of israel.

    like the armenian rug, the wishes of congress might have upset his “friends” in the middle east.

  • Dina

    It is a disgrace that Israel does not recognize the Armenian Genocide out of fear of hurting its ties with Turkey. Iif Obsma does not have the courage to point out a historical fact, Israel should teach him how it can be done.