White House tells Asbarez that Turkey should acknowledge its past
BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
After Rep. Adam Schiff reported Wednesday that the White House will be exhibiting the Armenian Orphan Rug in November, a senior Obama Administration official told Asbarez in an email that the “President and other senior Administration officials have repeatedly acknowledged as historical fact and mourned the fact that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, and stated that a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in our all interests, including Turkey’s, Armenia’s, and America’s.”
“One of the principles that has guided the Administration’s work in this area, and in atrocity prevention more broadly, has been that nations grow strong by acknowledging and reckoning with painful elements of their pasts, and that doing so is essential to building a foundation for a more just and more tolerant future,” added the official.
This clarification by the White House was made to Asbarez after an initial statement that merely stated that the rug “is a reminder of the close relationship between the people of Armenia and the United States,” and that it was presented to US President Calvin Coolidge “in recognition of the humanitarian assistance rendered by the American people to displaced Armenian orphans,” without emphasizing how the orphans came to be and failing, once again, to characterize the events of 1915 to 1923 as Genocide.
The announcement about the November exhibit rightfully prompted the Armenian National Committee of America to call on President Obama to characterize the rug in its proper manner.
“If President Obama’s decision to publicly exhibit the Armenian Orphan Rug is to represent a symbol of real progress, the White House Visitor Center Exhibit will clearly and unequivocally reference the still unpunished crime that led to its creation – the Armenian Genocide,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
“If, on the other hand, the exhibit purposefully evades the rug’s proper characterization, the President’s decision to display this artwork will be seen as yet another cynical substitute for the very progress he promised the American people and will be further evidence of his continued enforcement of Turkey’s gag-rule on speaking truthfully regarding the Armenian Genocide,” added Hamparian.
The Ghazi Rug, which is also known as the Armenian Orphan Rug, was a labor of love by orphans who were rescued from the Armenian Genocide by American aid workers as part of the Near East Relief campaign that was mandated by the US President and legislated by Congress in 1915 and 1916 respectively. The entire US population was mobilized to assist the Armenians of the Near East and as a result millions of Armenians were rescued from the Genocide, among them hundreds of thousands of orphans.
Last year when the White House abruptly and inexplicably decided to reverse its agreement to lend the rug for an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute, it set in motion a controversy that, in more ways than one, was an affront to American history and to the generosity displayed by the American people, at the behest of their government at the time, toward the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
Washington Post Art Critic Philip Kennicott, who broke the news of the White House’s change of mind at the time, noted that while the White House had not offered an explanation for the reversal in decision, it is likely due to the U.S. government’s deference to Turkey’s international campaign of Genocide denial.
It took action by Armenian-Americans, as well as persistence by members of Congress like Adam Schiff to get the White House to agree to display it, while still not fully recognizing the Genocide as the genesis for the creation of the rug.
The senior Administration official told Asbarez that “full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in our all interests, including Turkey’s, Armenia’s, and America’s.” So, it begs the question: Is America doing its part to justly acknowledge the fact and build “a foundation for a more just and more tolerant future,” as Asbarez was told?
Perhaps not. If it were, the US would not be basing its current policy in the region on double-standards, which are allowing Turkey to perpetuate and encourage the same level of destruction and death in the very region where Armenians were massacred 100 years ago.
Today, the Kurds, the Yazidis and other indigenous peoples of the region are the target of the Islamic State, which by all accounts—including that of American diplomats–is being aided and abetted by Turkey.
The Armenian-American community is not naïve to think that President Obama is going to recognize the Armenian Genocide through a three-day display of the Armenian Orphan Rug. But, if the White House believes in its own statements, then the US must act now and by heeding its own words, recognize the past—the Armenian Genocide—to prevent another Genocide, which is unfolding today at the hands of ISIS and with the help of Turkey.