The Armenian Orphan Rug of Ghazir and the White House Scandal
If you haven’t heard of the Armenian Orphan Rug of Ghazir Lebanon, you aren’t alone. Not many people know about this masterpiece and even fewer have had the opportunity to see it because White House officials have elected not to display the carpet in over 20 years. Although some politicians see it as a pariah that’s best left in storage, others see the Ghazir Orphan Carpet as an elegant expression of thanks and an artful way of overcoming loss. The story of this hidden treasure has inspired a new book and is encouraging representatives and cultural groups to lobby for its display.
The story of the so called Armenian Orphan Rug of Ghazir begins in the early 1900’s. As the Ottoman Empire crumbled, political instability created the first genocide of the century. Feuds between the Turks and Armenians led to the deaths of more than 1 million citizens through direct and indirect causes, including starvation. A surging orphan population was just one of the effects of this unspeakable event.
With assistance from the USA , Near East Relief relocated 100,000 Armenian orphans. One group of about 400 orphaned girls in the Syrian city of Ghazir, now in Lebanon, created a beautiful 12 foot by 18 foot carpet that was gifted to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925. The jewel tone rug features fantastical animals and lush flowers arranged in a complex central medallion and corner design. It took 10 months to weave the carpet, which has some 4.4 million rug knots. The Armenian carpet was one of several created in Ghazir, including a number that were commissioned following the well received gift.
President Coolidge graciously accepted the offering. In a letter of appreciation he said, “The rug has a place of honor in the White House where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.” Somewhere along the line, the White House changed its stance. Officials have stood by their decision and decided not to display the carpet at a planned Smithsonian event in December. Hiding away this national treasure has only brought the story to light and will hopefully encourage the White House to display the creation. Until then, the story is a lasting reminder of the Ghazir looms and a small triumph following an immense tragedy.