GLENDALE (CBSLA.com) — A San Fernando Valley lawmaker wants the White House to put a rug woven by Armenian orphans and given to President Calvin Coolidge nearly a century ago on public display.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) is among a bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members calling on President Obama to reverse the White House’s decision to back out of lending the rug out for a Dec. 16 exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute.
The Armenian orphan rug, which measures 11 feet, 7 inches x 18 feet, 5 inches and is comprised of 4.4 million individual knots, reportedly took girls in the Ghazir Orphanage of Near East Relief as long as 10 months to weave, according to the Armenian National Committee of America.
The rug was delivered to the President Coolidge on December 4, 1925, in appreciation for U.S. humanitarian assistance in the wake of the killing of over 1.5 million Armenians. A label on the back of the rug reads: “IN GOLDEN RULE GRATITUDE TO PRESIDENT COOLIDGE,” according to ANCA.
While the White House has not offered an explanation for its decision, ANCA and other opponents of the move say it is likely due to the U.S. government’s “deference to Turkey’s international campaign” of what they characterized as “genocide denial.”
Turkey has long denied that the loss of 1.5 million Armenian lives between 1915 and 1919 constituted genocide, and instead describes the deaths as resulting from civil unrest that accompanied the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, according to the Associated Press.
In the letter, Schiff and Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), co-sponsor of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (HR 227), remarked, “The Armenian Orphan Rug is a shared piece of American and Armenian history that belongs to the American people. For over a decade, Armenian-American organizations have repeatedly asked the White House and the State Department to allow the rug to be displayed publicly. Unfortunately, these requests have not been granted.”
San Fernando Valley lawmakers Rep. Brad Sherman and Rep. Tony Cardenas also signed on in support of the letter.
An online petition on the White House website calling on the U.S. to “Share the Armenian Orphan Rug with the American People” needs 100,000 signatures by Nov. 24 to be considered. Only about 640 signatures had been collected as of Monday.