LA Daily News: Local Armenians proud ?orphan rug' will be displayed at White House Visitor Center

Brenda Gazzar of the LA Daily News reports on White House display of the Armenian Orphan Rug:

Sarkis “Steve” Manoukian’s father was 6 years old when Ottoman Turk forces and their proxies brandishing swords and sledgehammers ambushed his family and others in the Syrian Desert nearly a century ago.

Manoukian’s mother told him that the horsemen brutally chopped off heads and limbs of Armenian women, children and the elderly who were forced to march for weeks in a caravan in 1915, leaving a sea of severed bodies in their wake. Manoukian’s father, Khatchik, was the only family member to survive that attack. He was knocked down in the chaos and awoke that night to a gruesome scene of desert animals devouring the dead.

The orphaned Khatchik, who was rescued that night and adopted by Arab Bedouins, lived as a shepherd in a Syrian village for nine years before running away from desert life. He was about 15 years old when he found his way to an American orphanage for Armenians in Aleppo that was run by Near East Relief, a congressionally chartered organization that contributed more than $110 million in humanitarian assistance from 1915 to 1930 to help the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, Manoukian said.

“I feel so grateful for the people of the United States, who in a way saved my dad,” said Manoukian, 69, of Reseda, who himself later lived in a Danish orphanage in Lebanon with his mother and sister after his father died of a stroke. “Otherwise, he would have had a hard life. ... They let him work in the orphanage, helping the baker for three years until he became 18.”

Now, these little-known American relief efforts will be spotlighted when an elaborate rug woven by orphans of the genocide will be taken out of storage and displayed as part of an exhibit at the White House Visitor Center from Nov. 18-23. The Armenian Orphan Rug, also known as the Ghazir Rug, was woven by seven Armenian girls from Near East Relief’s Ghazir Orphanage in Lebanon in 1920 and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 as a symbol of their gratitude for American humanitarian aid.

The rug was originally going to be exhibited in the Smithsonian last year in connection with a new book by Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian about the Near East Relief organization, but the event was canceled at the 11th hour, said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank. President Barack Obama’s administration informed the museum that it was not appropriate to exhibit the rug, part of the White House collection, at a book sale, Schiff said. The Armenian community, however, was skeptical and thought the decision had more to do with not wanting to offend the Turkish government, which has long denied there was a systematic campaign by the Ottoman Turks to kill Armenians, Schiff said.

Not long afterward, Schiff asked the White House if the rug could be exhibited at a reception on Capitol Hill that focused on the efforts of Near East Relief. Several months ago, the White House assured him they would make the rug available in the fall, Schiff said, “and now they have made good on that commitment.”

“I think (the rug) is an important link not only between the terrible dark days of the genocide but also the beginning of an American tradition of providing assistance to those in need, a tradition that very much continues to this day,” Schiff said.

To read the full article, please click here.

By:  Brenda Gazzar
Source: Los Angeles Daily News