Last month, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) displayed the Armenian Orphan ‘Sister Rug’ at the its annual holiday reception and briefing, reported the Assembly. Hosted by the Assembly’s New England Regional Council, the annual event was held at the Armenian Cultural Foundation and was widely attended by members, friends, and supporters from across New England. The program provided a new perspective and a unique storyline to a century-old issue: the 1915 Genocide of Christian Armenians by Ottoman Turkey and the Republic of Turkey’s state sponsored global campaign of intimidation and genocide denial ever since.
Assembly board member Lu Ann Ohanian welcomed the audience and thanked them for their continued support. Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny gave an update on the organization’s activities in Washington, D.C. including efforts to properly display the Coolidge rug, held by the White House. Ardouny highlighted the efforts of Congressmen David Valadao (R-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), lead sponsors of a letter signed by over 30 Members of Congress urging President Obama to publicly display the iconic carpet.
Ardouny told the audience that the Assembly has urged successive administrations, dating back to President Bill Clinton, to release the rug for an official display and has worked with the Armenian Caucus to have the carpet displayed, not just at the Smithsonian, but also at the White House and in the U.S. Congress. In a timely development, Rep. Adam Schiff has written to President Obama to release the Coolidge rug for an upcoming event he is planning on Capitol Hill.
Ardouny also shared with the audience a letter from National Security Advisor Anthony Blinken to Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), who was among the first to write to President Obama in October urging release of the carpet. While Blinken repeated the Administration’s reasoning not to release the rug to the Smithsonian, Blinken indicated it “doesn’t preclude the possibility of the rug’s display in the future.”
Assembly board member Van Krikorian gave remarks and introduced Shant Mardirossian, chairman of the board of directors of the Near East Foundation. Mardirossian took the audience through the life and times of Armenian genocide survivors, the noble American rescue and relief effort and a look at some of the orphans rescued by the Near East Foundation, then called Near East Relief. He also brought to life the story of the Ghazir orphanage and the selfless sacrifice of its director Jakob “Papa” Kunzler by showing clips of a 1920’s era film made by the German missionary Johannes Lepsius, depicting life in Near East Relief orphanages and refugee camps. The Ghazir orphanage was built and operated by the Near East Foundation and still exists today, functioning as a school. The presentation was emotional and inspiring, particularly when Mardirossian emphasized how proud Armenian Americans should be in the Near East Foundation, an organization that saved tens of thousands of Armenian orphans, and one that is currently chaired by an Armenian American descendant of one of the orphans it helped save.
Mardirossian’s presentation prepared the audience for the evening’s keynote speaker, Dr. H. Martin Deranian. The author of several books, most recently of “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug” fame, Dr. Deranian presented the ‘Sister Rug’ and explained how he came upon the story of the carpet and its personal significance. “The story was first brought to my attention over forty years ago by Alice Jernazian Haig,” he writes in the aforementioned book, where he goes on to share the “intimate relationship which my mother, Varter, had with Alice’s parents, Rev. and Mrs. Jernazian, during the Genocide in Urfa, Turkey, during World War I.” “It was also in Urfa that Jakob “Papa” Kunzler, remembered as ‘The Father of the Armenian Orphans,’ saved my mother in 1916 and helped her to reach Aleppo and safety,” Deranian writes. Audience members then had a chance to engage with Dr. Deranian in a question and answer session and were all invited up to examine the ‘Sister Rug’ and appreciate its symbolism.
“The Assembly strongly urges the Administration to proudly and promptly display this treasured piece of American history as this historic rug symbolizes America’s proud chapter of humanitarian intervention and the enduring bonds between the American and Armenian people,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.