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The Stirring History Woven Into a Rare Armenian Rug

We’ve mentioned in our newsletter that every great rug tells a story but some rugs have an even greater wealth of history woven into their intricate patterns. Last year, the BBC ran a feature( on just such a rug. The piece in question is the property of 98-year-old Elibet Kunzler whose parents were directly involved with providing relief to the Armenian people during the First World War.

The rug itself is lavish and ornate but, to the untrained eye, may not appear drastically different than other high quality rugs of antiquity. Boasting 800,000 painstakingly tied knots and floral patterns deliberately punctuated with wildlife such as bounding deer and prowling leopards, it’s a breathtaking work. But the rug that decorates Kunzler’s home is the direct result of circumstances one might not immediately glean from perusal of the piece.

In 1915, the attacks by Ottoman Turks resulted in the loss of many lives with the pain from those events echoing strongly a hundred years later. Shortly after the 1915 tragedy, Kunzler’s father, Jacob, was serving as a missionary in conjunction with the American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief which was formed as a direct response to those events. His specific role was that of an orphanage director for children left orphaned by 1915 executions. Needing to educate the orphans in a trade that would offer them financial stability while marching into an uncertain future, Jacob Kunzler began working closely with renowned Armenian weaver Hovhannes Taschjian in teaching the children how to create the gorgeous rugs. These pieces were also used to bolster funds for the relief effort.

Kunzler’s parents were credited with saving the lives of over 8,000 Armenian orphans during their lifetime. As a gesture of deep gratitude, the orphaned girls took it upon themselves to craft the beautiful rug that adorns the home of Elibet Kunzler today. The priceless rug has travelled with Kunzler across the ocean, from Lebanon to New York and across the United States to her current residence in San Diego. Generations of Kunzlers have enjoyed the rug with Elibet’s daughter admitting, “Now the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my mother play on it and I'd like to think that there's some way that spirit of these children are in this rug and it attracts children through generations.”

While Kunzler’s rug may be unique, it was one of around 3,000 rugs woven by the orphans under the care of the American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief. The majority of these rugs were given as gifts to American donors who had provided the funds necessary to care for the over 8,000 orphans. Such a rug was presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 as a token of gratitude for his role in relief efforts. A direct comparison of Kunzler’s rug to the one that once belonged to President Coolidge shows a remarkable similarity of patterns and symbolism, tying the pieces together.

Rugs like the one belonging to Elibet Kunzler offer us history in ways more poignant than accounts in text books ever could. For many people, seeing these historical pieces brings rise to deep emotions and allows a link to a past that is difficult to recount yet should never be forgotten. But also, within those 800,000 knots, there are strong, distinctive messages of perseverance and, above all, hope.

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