Protesters will use President Obama’s fundraising trip to Southern California on Tuesday to highlight his refusal to live up to a campaign promise to recognize the Armenian genocide in Turkey nearly a century ago.
The Armenian National Committee of America has organized an event in Glendale, Calif., calling on Mr. Obama to allow a public display of the so-called Armenian Orphan Rug, a carpet woven by orphans of the genocide and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925.
The rug, which is held in storage by the White House, was given in appreciation for U.S. humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of Turkey’s murder of more than 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923, the ANCA said.
Armenian Americans have been hoping that the rug could be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution next month as part of an event launching a book about the circumstances of the gift to Mr. Coolidge. But the White House has resisted, saying it’s not possible to loan the carpet for such an event.
“The White House should simply come clean,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian in a statement. “It’s time for the White House to open up about Turkey’s role, and lay out all the facts about its decision to block the Smithsonian’s exhibit of the Armenian Orphan Rug — a historic, Armenian Genocide-era work of art that speaks powerfully to the common values and shared experiences of the American and Armenian peoples.”
In a pattern common to the last three presidents, Mr. Obama pledged, as a candidate stumping for Armenian-American votes in the 2008 campaign, that he would recognize the genocide if he became president. But since taking office, he has resisted labeling the episode as a “genocide,” a move which would anger NATO ally Turkey.
In April, Mr. Obama marked the anniversary of the Armenian deaths with a statement that called it “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century” but never used the word “genocide.” The word is a specific term under international law, both for its symbolic value and because it imposes duties upon other states and penalties upon the perpetrating country.
Turkey doesn’t deny that its military and paramilitary forces killed many Armenians at the time in question, but it disputes vehemently the “genocide” charge and has warned that formal U.S. steps to use the term will hamper relations.
In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian said that President Coolidge, upon receiving the carpet, wrote that “the rug has a place of honor in the White House where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.”
“I ask you, in this spirit, to remove any obstacles to the Smithsonian’s display of this historic artwork and to secure a prominent and permanent public home for this powerful symbol of America’s humanitarian values and friendship with the Armenian people,” Mr. Hachikian wrote to the White House.
He said that since taking office, Mr. Obama “has not only failed to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but has actively blocked congressional legislation (H.Res.252, 111th Congress) to commemorate this atrocity and, through his Solicitor General, officially opposed efforts in the U.S. courts … to allow American citizens to pursue Genocide-era property claims.”
The rug measures 11 feet, 7 inches by 18 feet, five inches, and is comprised of 4,404,206 individual knots. It took Armenian girls in an orphanage 10 months to weave. A label on the back of the carpet reads, in all capital letters: “in golden rule gratitude to President Coolidge.”