A Shaman’s Trapping

Once in a lifetime a Turkman weaving might come along that breaks all the traditional rules offering a rare insight into the religious and spiritual lives of those fierce nomadic horsemen. This ersari trapping is like a Turkman ‘Rosetta stone’ for me.

Superficially, this is an Ersari trapping made with very soft wool and a nice range of natural dyes. The piece has aged and mellowed out underneath a hot sun. The dyes are all unique and obviously the work of a master dyer. The yellow is warm and still potent helping to create an incredibly rich aqua blue-green, that can be like sea-blue one minute and clear green the next. The reds range from an intense cherry red to a rich earthen brown, an incredible range really. Trappings are woven without backs and served as the aesthetic and social advertisements for individuals.

It is my theory that a shaman wove this unique Ersari trapping. I base this theory mostly on the head and shoulders “realistic” representation or picture of a shaman, in up and down vertical reflection, at the center of this weaving. I have studied shamanic practices around the world and I have noticed that shamen often draw extremely minimalistic pictures of their heads on cloth that is then worn as a head-band, with their shamanic spirit image centered on the forehead.

The modern thinking is that Turkmen weavers generally didn’t have any deep understanding of the meanings of their various designs. This has led to the idea that perhaps shamen and or perhaps khans were the true repositories of such sacred ideas and teachings.

I think my unique ersari trapping supports this new thinking.  I see in it the work of a weaver who could take apart the essence of one distinctive genre of ersari design, in the chuval format, and then reassemble the shards of that design into a very potent and totally new arrangement of designs in trapping format. In musical terms this might represent the transposing of cerebral harp music into an improvisational jazz piano sketch.

The goal driven rearrangement of old designs, to meet personal and unique circumstances, reveals the confidence and familiarity I would expect any competent shaman to possess.

I suspect it was woven within the region of the Akhal Oasis. I base this location on the wool quality, the dye quality / colors, and the specific “closure” of the main border by the extension of a segment of the inner minor border. I have seen this same ‘closure’ feature on several Tekke torbas that were clearly from the Akhal Oasis based on color, wool quality, and structure.

“The Akhal Oasis is a strip of land flanked by the Caspian Sea, a desert, and mountains.  As such it was quite isolated, had little by way of hinterland, and was not on a trade route as was Merv. The arable land fringe, immediately north of the mountains and colloquially known as the “Skirt” (Atek), was watered by rivers and streams coming down from the mountains and creating a series of oases. This wonderful arable land was an isolated Turkman haven and Tekke tribal traditions were well maintained till late in the 19th century.”

I associate the isolated nature of the Akhal Oases and its supreme self-sufficiency with the closure of the main border. This feature is seen in many Akhal Oasis torbas and is created by an extension of the inner minor border until it touches the outer minor border. I interpret this design feature as saying “we live in this closed off part of the world that we protect from all outsiders.” I don’t recall ever seeing such a border-closing feature on any Turkman weaving from outside the Akhal Oases. Richard Wright has published a paper on the collected writings about the Akhal Oases and it is a good read. The quote above is from his paper.

I said that a shaman wove this trapping and I find reinforcing  evidence in the many unique design features I find in the weaving. First consider the intentional color break in the background field color. This profound change in color creates an internal horizon and adds depth to the composition. The weaver has placed an “evil eye” element at the same level in both vertical border segments positioning them directly over the internal horizon created by the color break, to ostensibly give these two evil eyes even more emphasis and significance.

I find it most effective to stand back from this trapping, or its image, until I can just see both “evil eyes” at the same time. At this distance the inner drive of the inwardly pointing chevron shapes take on a new significance. The action begins in the field with two inwardly pointing pentagonal areas cut off at the left and right sides. These pentagonal forms are filled with a variety of small cross forms that seem to be literally suspended in the air. I believe that all Turkmen shamans used drums in their work. The drumming of the shaman’s drum was deemed to be something alive and full of power.

Just for fun imagine those multiple cross forms, filling each pentagonal lateral form, as particles of suspended dust and then those four inwardly pointing chevron shapes as sound waves, carrying the “dust” inwardly towards the shaman. This idea is supported by the appearance of all the same cross elements, found in the outer most pentagonal forms, in three inwardly pointing chevron shapes, as if the sound waves from the drum had picked them up and was carrying them inward, literally to a point in the brain.

I want to come back to this point but I need to explain the two largest inwardly pointing chevron shapes. These two larger chevrons have a white background signaling their supreme importance to the composition. These two largest chevrons are filled with an arrangement of dumb-bell shaped designs. This design represents a humming bird, when it is seen head on. I see hummingbirds daily and when they are suspended in air looking at me this is what they really do look like as a minimalist representation.

In a native milieu this design was heard as a buzzing or whirring by those Turkmen who saw it. If you can imagine the scene in a shaman’s yurt as a shaft of light passes through the sky-hole to illuminate an atmosphere full of suspended particles of dust. The particles are moved about as the shaman drums his drum, and this trapping, there suspended on a wall, represents everything in the scene.

The idea about the “humming” birds comes from a study I did many years ago on the so-called “singing arrow” ersari group chuvals. These chuvals have a bilaterally arranged set of “W” forms. Where the two “W” forms approach each other in the mid-line an inner segment of geometric space is cut out. The central most design usually portrays a bow with an arrow in reflection, itself encompassing an archaic design.  In the oldest examples of this genre, some if not all of the “W” forms are filled with a series of designs made up of a dominant circular form surmounted by an off center smaller circular form plus a slightly curving “beak”. When I finally realized that these pictograms were indicating humming birds, as seen from their sides, I could then “hear” the design. It was for this reason that I named the group, “singing arrow”.

There is an excellent illustration of the “singing arrow” type of Ersari chuval in Loges, figure 101, page 166-167. Also in Loges there is an ensi, figure 85, whose prominent central panel is a slightly smaller version of this shaman trapping’s design. Does the Loges ensi’s central panel indicate that it served as the decoration for a powerful shaman’s portal?  I would think so!

The design intent of my shaman’s trapping boils down to its visual conclusion just above and below the center point of its composition. Standing back from the weaving until one sees both metaphoric “evil eyes” positioned just outside the lateral pentagonal shapes, imagine those inwardly pointing chevron shapes as sound waves carrying dust particles inwardly colored by the whirring sounds of humming birds to a meeting place  in the brain. There, at the intersection of all the input from the right and left hemispheres, two triangular spaces are de-facto defined.  In these two triangular spaces, positioned above and below the central horizontal plane of the weaving, are two ‘head and shoulder’ representations of the shaman. The shoulders are the key to this assertion. The shoulders have a distinctive hump to them and they are more finely knotted than any other part of the piece. The face is created using simple cross forms as the eyes, the mouth, and a third eye.  This representation of the shaman’s face is simplistic, as they usually are, but remember, there are strong prohibitions in Islam concerning any representation of the living, so a believable deniability was perhaps desirable.

Tekke Bird Asmalyks

Who wove the so-called Tekke Bird Asmalyks? Tekke Bird AsmalykSeems like a simple enough question yet today there still isn’t a consensus answer. In fact these venerable objects are only called asmalyks because of their five sided appearance and lack of a back. After reading Robert Pinner’s seminal article in Turkoman Studies One, concerning these weavings, it appears they were woven in pairs. It doesn’t appear to me that the classical Tekke Bird Asmalyks were produced after the mid 19th century. Only Tekke examples with non traditional designs are known to have been woven after the mid 19th century. There are far too few Tekke Bird Asmalyks for them to have been wedding accoutrements, considering the number of Yomud asmalyks extant. Considering the number of Tekke Bird Asmalyks in museums and private collections, I theorize that they were turned over and recreated anew about every thirty or so years. This would imply that only three or four pairs were produced every century. The end of the Tekke Bird Asmalyk genre of weaving probably coincided with the suspension of the Great Hunt as a Tekke social institution. If any Great Hunts were conducted by the Tekke while at the Merv Oasis, from about 1847 to 1882, no information has survived chronicling the fact.

Drawing heavily on a lifetime of collecting Tekke weavings along with studying the writings of Robert Pinner, Edmond O’Donovan, Jon Thompson, and E.H. Parker I have framed my interpretations of their designs.
The horse, the raptor, the dog, and the bow and arrow were the constant companions of any self respecting Turkoman man. Taken together as a unit; the raptor, horse, dog, and bowman constituted the most powerful weapons configuration in the world. It wasn’t until the deployment of suitable firearms in the 19th century that the Tekke were finally defeated in 1882 at the Merv Oasis. I hope that carbon 14 testing can be done on every Tekke Bird Asmalyk extant sometime in the future and those results get published.

The most recent and supremely successful horse mounted archer King was Genghis Khan. The 13th century ways of the last Great Khan’s Golden Horde became the stuff of stories and legends among the horse mounted tribes surely including the Tekke, considering their many centuries on the steppes of Asia.

Extrapolating from the above premise the rite of passage for any young Tekke boy would have occurred during the Great Hunt; just like it was done in the time of the last Great Khan. Heather Daveno wrote; “Training (of youth) for the Mongolian army took the form of the hulega, or Great Hunt, a slow, circular advance made at a steady pace which they called the wolf lope. It was conducted like a campaign and was designed to teach discipline, strategy and unity under command. From the Yassa or law of the Great Khan we read in law 27, “He ordered that soldiers be punished for negligence; and hunters who let an animal escape during a community hunt he ordered to be beaten with sticks and in some cases to be put to death.” I theorize that the end of the Tekke Bird Asmalyk genre of weaving coincided with the suspension of the Great Hunt as a social institution. Unfortunately there are no written accounts, that I have been able to find, concerning a first hand account of the Tekke version of the classical Great Hunt festival.

I hypothesize that all Tekke Bird Asmalyks were decorations for the Tekke Khan’s mount at this once every two or three year event. I believe the item itself testifies to this fact through clear pictographic representations of such a Great Hunt. To properly imagine any authentic Turkmen experience one must include the aural sensations along with the visual. At the initiation of the Great Hunt, I imagine the Tekke Khan arriving on his ceremonial mount bedecked with weavings such as the aforementioned bird asmalyks. Certainly the boys’ heads were filled with the excitement of novel sights and sounds surrounding them.
After the Tekke Khan signaled the Great Hunt to begin many boys on horseback, with bows and arrows at the ready, were released into the game rich interior trying to kill game animals from horseback. Almost immediately the air would have filled with the twanging of bowstrings, the whistling of arrows, and the deep thud of arrow impacts. It was necessary to kill something in this way in order to be called a true Tekke man. I have discovered that it is very difficult to kill anything, in the game animal category, with a bow and arrow. Killing a game animal from horse back would be many times more difficult and the skill required extreme.

What I see when I look at Tekke Bird Asmalyks is a tangential or 45 degree array of ‘twanged’ bowstrings terminating at nodal arrow nocks, full bows represented with two drawstrings indicating they have just been shot, two headed generic animal forms, and a group of large well articulated sacred Tekke bird forms. The Tekke sacred bird probably represented a ground hunting fast running species with limited flight ability, like the ubiquitous Roadrunner species. The actual species of bird that is most likely represented in the Tekke Bird Asmalyks is the Great Spotted Cukckoo, Clamator glandarius. Fig. 3

The photograph above, fig.2 is of the North American version of the Central Asian species and the colored drawing; fig. 3 represents the native Turkmenistan Great Spotted Cuckoo. I included the American version because it shows the erect crest.

The biological facts about this ubiquitous species reads like a listing of ideal Tekke characteristics. Roadrunners are quick enough to catch and eat poisonous snakes. Roadrunners prefer walking but running they can attain speeds of up to 17 mph. The Roadrunner looks like a bird of prey when it is seen flying. The Roadrunner’s desert adaptations include reabsorbing water from their feces before excretion. The Roadrunner’s nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds. This trait is shared with Galapagos Iguanas. Roadrunners are exemplary desert adapted inhabitants of the world’s great semi arid regions in ways much admired by the Tekke.

In my opinion this birds characteristics would have made it the perfect symbolic match for the classical era Tekke horse-mounted archer’s sacred bird. There can be little doubt that the classical era Tekke nomad would have been aware of the many biological adaptations this species exhibited in its’ daily life.

The striding legs of the large sacred bird forms in some Tekke Bird Asmalyks are represented with a form familiar to us from Tekke main carpet gulls. This form resembles an arrow piercing flesh , a lance stuck in the ground, or a set of menacing claws. Such associations of the bird’s legs with fast moving objects implies speed. I believe this association should be understood to mean that Tekke sacred birds were fast runners.

Since riding a horse came naturally to all Turkmen boys, they rode ponies as soon as they could walk, their main obstacle, during the great hunt, would have been using their bow and arrow to kill game animals. By correlating images from everyday Turkoman experience with the list of iconographic forms found in this Tekke Bird Asmalyk I have managed to explain or map most of its iconographic relationships to real world objects.
The archetypal pictographic device for the idea ‘to hunt’ was identified by Robert Pinner as dating to Shang dynasty China.

In the ancient Shang dynasty, a pictogram meaning ‘to hunt’ was developed that resembled two archetypal animal forms flanking an arrow’s projection thru space, via linear elongation, released from a bow form, surmounted by a simple bird design. See page 212, figure 443, in Turkoman Studies One. The archaic animal forms seen here may in fact be idealized reconstructions of dinosaur bones, as the veneration of huge bones was wide spread in Shang dynasty China as well as in ancient Rome and Greece.

The general elements that the Shang period pictogram embodies are carried forward, within the paradigm of known Tekke Bird Asmalyks, though stylistically amplified. My understanding of the Shang dynasty pictogram amounts to a visual expression meaning “anything can be killed with my arrow as long as the birds are my allies”, or perhaps, “my arrow flies like a bird to kill my prey”. I attribute such an amazing continuity of symbolic similarity to the simple fact that both pictograms deal with similar subject matter brought forth from the same deep wellspring of subconscious process.

I think pairs of Tekke Bird Asmalyks were created for Tekke Khans, through the generations, for the decoration of The Khan’s personal mount at the Great Hunt, where young warriors proving their prowess as hunter killers got elevated to adult status.

The classical Turkoman dowry weaving, whenever observed in situ, instantly identified the work of a specific set of hands. The symbolic relationships expressed in Turkmen weaving were also instantly recognized as including a specific weaver into a specific group of people, the clan, and as a member of a specific type of people, the larger tribe or horde. Finally the total impact of Turkmen dowry weavings served as a general appeal for love and acceptance and more specifically as an advertisement for marriage. I think it is clear that Turkmen dowry weavings constituted the physical expression of a human language utilizing pictographic representations of multilayered visual ideas for its syntax. Utilizing my linguistic paradigm I deconstruct the iconography of a representative Tekke Bird Asmalyk below.

In figure four, I see iconographic forms relating to the most salient elements of an archetypal great hunt. In the visual center of each major design complex strides the Tekke sacred bird. The surrounding image is that of a plucked bowstring. A plucked bowstring is similar in some ways to a twanged guitar string. After plucking a tightly strung bowstring, in the right light, two bowstrings momentarily appear as the spatial summation of the plucked string’s oscillatory maxima and minima. It was precisely special observations such as this that one should expect to see included within the classical Tekke pictographic gestalt indicating the collective hunt. On the back of the sacred bird in figure four is a bow form. The appearance of a double bowstring associated with this bow and arrow implies that an arrow has been shot.

The sacred bird form is physically touching an elaborate diamond design that symbolizes the game enriched territory that has been ‘roped off’ for the Great Hunt. The opposite side of this diamond form touches a complex set of arrow related motifs. As one fits an arrow’s nock onto a bowstring a small section of nock obscures the string and this small section of an arrow’s nock is illustrated by the dark blue triangular from seen at the most dependant extreme of this nodal design complex. The two fingers the archer uses to shoot his arrows are illustrated in deep blue forms to either side of the exposed nock tip. This is literally an up-close visualization of the act of releasing an arrow.

The relatively long hexagonal apricot form just superior to the blue nock tip containing an oblong purple center symbolizes the entire nock and string assemblage. At its superior end this form engages a fully pulled or drawn bowstring. The overall gestalt of this arrangement is one of extreme tension. The feather like appendages attached to this nock, plus fingers, plus bowstring design complex are meant to represent the sound of a twanged or released bowstring, like a leaf vibrating in the wind. In fact the lower set of leaves in fig. 4 clearly shows two interior dashed lines possibly indicating the oscillatory nature or the double appearance of a twanged bowstring. The upper set of leaves in fig. 4 may then indicate the return through time to a single bowstring appearance. In the authentic Tekke milieu at any Great Hunt a native Tekke, observing these Bird Asmalyks, would have heard and seen everything therein portrayed. I believe these special weavings were strongly phono-pictographic and auto-didactive, when viewed by Tekke natives at the appropriate time. In fact one can distinguish a “near” continuous line surrounding the three lower sides of the Bird Asmalyk, fig. 1, protected by a series of bellowing elephants while the two inwardly slanting superior sides contain designs evocative of a galloping horse’s tracks seen racing alongside arrows being shot at game animals.

The plant forms in the apex region just represent plants. One sees them near the top of the field where the horses are running, the arrows are flying, and the prey animals are fleeing. The plant forms just add a little more realism to the total ensemble of designs in my mind. Following the line between the feathers of almost any arrow form “shot” from ‘the horses’ approaching the apex of the weaving one finds the arrows are properly aimed at the game animals.

A weaving such as this would have been highly instructional and inspirational to every Tekke boy who gazed upon it. It would have resonated with the ambient sights and sounds of that special day to become a spectacular and magical monument to their lives and in their minds. These asmalyks were literally historical records or documents embodying or encoding some of the secret information necessary for mastering the horse mounted archer’s way of life. In this regard they are truly significant historical artifacts and documents of Tekke life and existence. These asmalyks represent to me one of the clearest Tekke self expressions we have detailing their actual way of life.

James Allen

Armenian Rugs Without Inscriptions

This subject would have seemed illegitimate just a few years ago because rug weaving wasn’t thought of as a significant Armenian enterprise throughout most of the 20th century. Even today some rug enthusiasts feel that Armenian rugs are only those inscribed with Armenian writing. It has largely been through the work of the Armenian Rug Society and its members that we are now coming to terms with the important role Armenians have played in rug culture and more specifically in Caucasian rug weaving through the ages.

The current category of collectable Armenian rugs is mainly composed of rugs inscribed with Armenian writing and dates. This trend in Armenian rug connoisseurship deflects world attention away from the larger impact Armenian weavers had on Caucasus Mountain weaving and design.

With this paper I am suggesting a new genre of collectable Armenian rugs, those incorporating minimalist crosses into their designs. A minimalist Christian cross is one that is elongated by a single additional knot towards the weaving’s bottom (origin), metaphorically towards the Earth, like the true cross. Many such weavings were the products of Armenian weavers and need to be identified, cataloged, and preserved.

Caucasian rugs are some of the most aesthetically fertilized on earth; neither overbearing nor pretentious, Caucasian rug designs are simple yet psychologically profound. The contribution of Armenian artisans through the centuries to the great reservoir of Caucasian Rug designs only recently is becoming adequately appreciated.

Armenia is situated in a strategic location serving as a major conduit between Asia and Europe. Through the centuries the Armenian material culture has been influenced by many great empires. Armenia served as a melting pot for ancient mythologies along with their associated designs. These designs included, among others, the great dragon of ancient China.
The Armenian Nation is credited with being the first official state in history to embrace Christianity as its’ national religion. This fact is significant considering that Armenia is and was surrounded on all sides by Moslem neighbors. In fact Armenia has churches dating back sixteen hundred years and this fact is of considerable importance to my thesis. The church must be strongly considered as a source for Armenian rug symbolism and aesthetics. The church must be looked at from the outside in and the inside out for associations with rug designs. The last part of this paper deals with a specific example of how such an analysis can work to explain a rug’s design.

Part 1
The international patronage for Caucasian rugs with Armenian writing has made such carpets virtually disappear from the world’s market places. One rarely encounters a nineteenth century inscribed Armenian rug for sale anymore. It is definitely time to expand the definition of Armenian rugs to include those weavings that have symbolic, technical, or geographical associations with Armenia or expatriated Armenians.

I see a symbolic association between some Caucasian weavings containing small Christian crosses worked skillfully into their designs and an Armenian provenance. I believe that in some areas of rug production, Karabagh for instance, Armenian weavers frequently identified their Christian faith and thus their Armenian identity with tiny Christian crosses.

Also, often included are stars, animals and human figures.

What Christian symbol could be better suited for this purpose than the cross? In this context there are a large number of Caucasian examples with small six knot crosses, still only the weaver’s intentions make these crosses significant. One cannot say that all Karabagh rugs with six knot crosses are Armenian but one can suspect that most of them were.

The cross also has many pagan associations stemming from before the time of Christ, and even afterwards, so the significance of tiny crosses in Caucasian rugs also depends on their historical, ethnographic, and geographic contexts. The cross is also a natural elaboration or step forward in the evolution of weaving design. The cross might not necessarily represent anything more than a simple design so only the weaver’s intentions ultimately determine the significance of crosses.

The identification of some rugs with Christian crosses as the work of Armenians is suggested, in part, by population statistics. One can be more confident about such associations when a given rug can be related to a specific geographical region based on its technical weave characteristics.

Murray Eiland recently published the demographic data for the later 19th century Caucasus Mountains in the book, “Passages: Inscribed Armenian Rugs”. Murray’s data shows that there were far more Armenians in the Karabagh region in the later 19th century than any other group.

The way tiny crosses are included within the body of a weaving can also provide hints or clues regarding the weaver’s intentions beyond simple statistics and geography.
Here is a white ground Shirvan area prayer rug that seems to offer a vital clue.

Included in this rug’s design is a small intricate motif worked discretely into a side margin of the field that represents a woman with a Christian cross associated with her head. The weaver seemingly portrayed herself wearing a dress, an apron, and a scarf. By connecting a tiny cross to her head, I believe this weaver was asserting that the cross represented her as a Christian.

The weaver of this fine Marasali prayer rug wanted the world to know that an Armenian girl created it. Bear in mind this rug is dated 1312 or 1896 so this weaver must have been fully aware of the atrocities being committed against Ottoman Armenians and possibly against her own family. I am here referring to the Hamidian massacres of 1895-96. This small symbolic signature possibly represents an act of rebellion by the Armenian girl who wove it into this fine carpet. If many Caucasian weavings with minimalist Christian crosses worked thoughtfully into their designs are the work of Armenian weavers, then some of these pieces may be the most interesting of all Armenian rugs to collect.

Part 2
Armenian family weavers, traveling north out of Ottoman Armenia in the second half of the 19th century, were leaving home to work under the watchful eyes of Islamic employers who had little tolerance for Christianity.

It was solely Armenian cultural virtues and weaving skills that allowed these weavers to go northward into Caucasus Mountain villages and find work. In this way they earned the hard currency so needed by their families back home. This fact seems so obvious yet some rug enthusiasts still don’t believe that Armenians generally wove rugs. The fact is Armenians were some of the very best rug weavers in many Caucasus Mountain villages.

During better times, towards the middle third of the 19th century, weaving of extremely high quality was carried out in the Caucasus Mountains and especially in old Armenia. Lori Pambak was one Armenian city that produced very high quality rugs.
Certainly the best weavings from Lori Pambak, prior to about 1880, are some of the most sought after in the world. The Lori, seen in the picture below, is a good example of this type of rug.

In this Lori Pambak rug Christian crosses are discreetly introduced into the major border at one end. These unobtrusive Christian crosses ‘push’ the central star upward from its central position. Was the weaver trying to indicate some equivalence between the Cross and a star in heaven? Surely this spatially orchestrated interplay between cross and star was intentional. The weaver may have been making a small statement, to those sensitive to its content, in order to communicate that these tiny crosses, associated with a heavenly star, represented Christ. I believe such intentionality indicates the weaver was a Christian Armenian and in this way the rug was surely signed.

Expatriated Armenian weavers generally wove at least one rug for their own dowry and they used the best materials they could afford for these special often inscribed rugs.

Caucasian rugs from the Karabagh region include those from Karabakh, (Karabagh, Artsakh, and Ngorno-Karabahk). These rugs were largely woven by Armenians in the later 19th century; so rugs from this area with tiny Christian crosses are likely to be Armenian rugs.

In a few weaving centers north of Karabagh, like Shirvan and Kuba, workshops existed producing high quality weaving using the very best dyes along with top quality wool. Weaving centers like these employed some Armenian weavers and some of their rugs also include tiny Christian crosses. The Marasali introduced earlier is a fine example of this type. The flowers at the bottom of its field are rendered in pure silk dyed with cochineal.

Some older rugs with a shirvan type weave also show crosses in their compositions.

Here is an example dated 1815 that I believe is an Armenian rug that has crosses used in its composition. Included with the many 5 five knot crosses is one 6 knot cross that is associated with a small motif that ‘rises’ above the central medallion via an old weavers trick, that of letting one edge of the motif “overwrite” the medallion helping it to rise visually. This small cross containing hexagonal motif is seen at the 5 o’clock position and is the only motif to actually “touch” the central medallion.

Part 3
A detailed analysis of a single not inscribed rug.
I am unaware of a single Lori Pambak rug, like the one pictured above, that’s inscribed with Armenian writing. I don’t think there are any known 18th century Dragon carpets inscribed with Armenian writing except the Gohar carpet dated to 1700. What purpose would an inscription have had on an expensive top quality workshop carpet unless it was a commissioned piece?

Look at this old Shirvan prayer rug. Lets consider the possibility that its weaver is Armenian. I will spend a lot of time (with some speculation) on this rug.

Less than ten such Shirvan ‘prayer’ rugs are known and all but one of them is published. Certainly a few more may come to light in the future. This ‘Shirvan’ prayer or wedding rug seems to have a Persian influence but some of the motifs are obviously derived from designs found carved on ancient Armenian churches. The low number of such specimens and their obvious “importance” suggests to me that these rugs were special dowry weavings. The one pictured above has iconography suggesting the details of two bloodlines. Such a weaving might be expected of a high class bride/princess for her groom/prince.

There are miniature crosses placed in a highly discrete yet restrained manner in this prayer rug. The bodies of four prominent birds sitting two each in the ‘family’ trees are decorated with miniature crosses as are a few of the pomegranates hanging from branches of the ‘family tree’ to the right. The highly specific use of tiny crosses in only certain motifs within this old Shirvan prayer rug suggests they may designate Armenian ancestry or even possibly ancestors.

I found a possible inspiration for some of the motifs seen in this old Shirvan prayer rug in Lucy Der Manuelian’s preface to; WEAVERS MERCHANTS AND KINGS. There Dr. Manuelian gives a compilation of historically important Armenian predilections, trends, and inspirations for both illuminated manuscripts and carpets.

In figure #6 of her introduction to this book, Dr. Manuelian introduces a stone carving found within an old monastery arch that foreshadows the particular treatment of birds standing on the branches of this rug as well as the birds standing inside of its four corners.

After looking at this prayer rug for a long time I began to perceive a narrative relating to a love story embodied in its design. The individual elements of the love story are portrayed through a series of relational developments carried out between two ‘birds’.

The love birds are initially encountered in the two lower quadrants to each side of the central field, where each bird is looking backwards. I think it’s important to note that only the bird associated with the left side “sees” the other bird and consequently the boy sees the girl first and falls for her. Each bird, in its lone lower corner, has its own individualized samovar scattered amongst the many fruits and flowers of its quadrant.

In the lower portion of both upper quadrants one sees that the two birds are looking at each other across the field. Finally, in the upper portion of the left upper quadrant, the two love birds are portrayed kissing. This rug embodies the love story of two lovers plus their individual lineages.

Of stylistic note the inwardly facing aspect of each lower corner is decorated with many “feet” along with a scattering of pedunculated oval forms.

These elaborated invaginations help create a dimensional milieu; so that one perceives both ‘family’ trees as growing upwards into three dimensional space.

Here is my hypothetical analysis and opinion of this rug.

Look at the prominent and auspicious objects that hang from the branches of both trees in the field of this rug. On the tree to the left hangs a spotted (leopard) skin, an implement of war (resembling an English ball and chain), and a (Royal) Crown.

All three of these specific objects are associated with English nobility and by association with the Crusaders. One can hardly imagine a more noteworthy heritage for a Christian groom to have in early 19th century Armenia. Interestingly not one single pomegranate or other object besides the two prominent birds is decorated with any crosses on the left side. I interpret this to mean the groom was Christian but not necessarily Armenian.

On the tree to the right hangs a (Royal) Crown closely associated with a (Queens) white crown and both of these positioned above two smaller crowns.

The smaller red crowns might represent a prince or a princess. A few pomegranates hanging from the tree to the right are filled with tiny crosses. I wonder if the pomegranate fruits portrayed in this rug represent male ancestors. If so perhaps the many different colored sheep skins represent female ancestors. These trees may in fact define the actual family trees of an Armenian bride and groom. Both family trees terminate appropriately at the top of the field with crowns fit for a prince and a princess.

This rug embodies one of the clearest symbolic narratives I have ever seen woven into any Oriental rug. The only other rugs I am familiar with containing such symbolic familial information are very old Turkoman rugs.
Much of the lower part of this old Shirvan prayer rug’s design can be related to aspects of figures seen published in Dr. Lucy Der Manuelian’s preface mentioned above. (slide of figure 7 WMK) In a prominent archway at the monastery of ‘Ashiots’, Church of St. Step’anos, 1212-1217, one sees birds in the superior quarters of the arch near St. Step’anos’s head. The outline of the fenestrated background upon which one sees St. Step’anos being flanked by two ‘deer’ with upraised legs is echoed in the general shape of the prayer rug’s field.

Further resonance is found between the rug and the archway in the particular stance and treatment of the two anxious ‘deer’ portrayed at the bottom of the rug and in the carving. Furthermore ‘subterranean’ branching forms, possibly representing the roots of the ‘family’ trees, seem to be firmly rooted in the blue waters of the church. (slide of the rugs bottom)

The image of St. Step’anos standing in the archway carving of the church is transformed by the weaver of the rug into a tree branching inside of a crenellated cartouche. The tree’s two lower branches hold shields surmounted by Christian crosses, much as seen laterally beside the Saint’s elbows in the church carving. In the church carving St. Step’anos’ arms are bent in a peculiar way and their exact shape is reproduced in the second set of branches exiting the central tree in the cartouche. Both of these arms are portrayed holding aloft an unblemished white sheep skin. The third set of arms doesn’t seem to hold anything but they are closely associated with two diamond star forms.

The top of the metaphorical tree in the rug’s cartouche represents St. Step’anos’ head. The rug’s central tree is elaborated at the top so it seems to be wearing a hat sporting an extension covering its ‘neck’, just as the ecclesiastical hat St. Step’nous is seen wearing in the ancient church carving covers his neck.
The “central mountain”, portrayed in the lower central region of this Shirvan prayer rug, is most probably a representation of the fenestrated background seen supporting the ecclesiastical and mythic figures carved inside of the archway at Haghbat monastery.

The triangles colored with a skew of hues that make up the “mountain” seen in the lower central portion of this rug resonates with the play of light and shadow one would have seen playing over the three dimensional surfaces of the fenestrated background of the church carving of St. Step’nous.

This Shirvan prayer rug was surely woven by an Armenian bride for her wedding and in its design she included information about the two families along with significant ecclesiastical symbols and designs. This weaving may be of historical significance to modern day Armenians seeking a window into their past.

I found Dr. Lucy Der Manuelain’s thoughtful and exhaustive writing concerning the historical inspiration for Armenian Church carvings, illuminated manuscripts, and carpets to be enlightening. I think her work sets the benchmark for future scholarship in this field.

This article will hopefully ignite another round of collegial debate amongst Armenian rug enthusiasts. Surely some imaginations will be stirred by my identification of this Shirvan prayer rug as an important Armenian wedding rug.

Jim Allen

Tekke Refugees in Anatolia

The Seljuk minor border seen above is very rare and dates to the end of the 13th century, plate # 9, Yetkin, Historical Turkish Carpets. The Seljuks were a Turkoman people who in the eleventh century conquered Iran and made Isfahan their capital. In the thirteenth century they also controlled Turkey. The minor border seen in the Seljuk fragment above may represent a purely Turkoman design. The Ersari border seen to the right of the Seljuk fragment seems related to it. What relationship did the earlier Seljuks have with the later Ersari? The Salor were blood kin or babadash with the Ersari during the classical period. The Ersari weaving seen above is from the collection of Kurt Munkcasi.

An analogous though simplified border was published in Hoffmeister’s, “Turkoman Carpets in Franconia” plate # 25. The Tekke torba, seen in part above, has been C-14 dated to the 16th century and its border design represents stylistic continuity over a span of three hundred years. The Tekke torba presented above is turned ninety degrees to normal. The horizontal border segment contains a repeating design that represents a simplification of the Seljuk border seen in figure one above. The Seljuk minor border design has been reflected and rejoined in an evolutionary process of design mutation. The design in the vertical segment of the Tekke border is a further simplification of the motif.

This Seljuk inspired design seen in Hoffmeister’s Tekke torba basically disappears after the 16th century and only reappears in degenerate forms in later Turkoman work. It is interesting to note that Hoffmeister’s Tekke torba hails from the sixteenth century, the last century of the greatest period of Turkoman prestige and power.

The seventeenth century was one of near continuous drought when the Turkomen witnessed the drying up of their main river, the Uzboy. Towards the end of the seventeenth century the Turkomen were fleeing their Caspian environs towards the Khanate of Khiva. There they existed around the periphery of the Khivan Uzbek Empire fighting for the Uzbek Khan and with each other over water and pasture rights.

The process of migrating away from the drought and destitution attending the Eastern shores of the Caspian Sea must have begun earlier than the late seventeenth century. The border found on Hoffmeister’s sixteenth century Tekke torba is rarely seen in later Turkoman work and never seen in that exact formulation again. I collected a mid 17th century Tekke chuval, Ghereh # 18, and its iconography was almost totally Salor. It seems reasonable the weaker Tekke would have succumbed to the Salor during the hard times of the 17th century. Tekke men would not have been readily accepted by the Salor and you can bet that as many of them as could migrated.

The picture above shows a border similar to the one found on Hoffmeister’s early Tekke torba. A segmented box with upraised arms surmounted by triangular barbs gives this border resonance with the thirteenth century Seljuk minor border first pictured.

The central design of the yellow ground eastern Anatolian weaving pictured above is stylistically related to the Turkoman gull pictured beside it. The Tekke main carpet gull is derived from the archetypal Arabatchi main carpet gull. The best known example of an archetypal Arabatchi main carpet gull is found on the Ballard Arabatchi chuval at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; see figure 54 in “Turkmen” by Mackie and Thompson. The North-South and East-West axes of the ‘gull’ dominating the field of the Eastern Anatolian weaving above are clearly related to the Arabatchi gull’s corresponding axes.

The diagonal motifs however cut an entirely different space and subtend an entirely different meaning. The Arabatchi gulls diagonally arranged elements of design seem to represent a face with pointed cap. The eyes, ears, and nose of this ‘hidden’ Arabatchi face are represented by pointed lance like devices. The face is being ‘informed’ by sacred birds with calls in one ear and images in the opposite eye. This is a powerful metaphoric statement and indicates the nomadic Turkomen had ‘aerial reconnaissance’ mediated to them through their birds of prey. No wonder nobody could find them in the desert. They were birds of prey.

The border of the yellow field Anatolian rug is quite similar to the one found on the Hoffmeister torba, pictured above. The large gull filling the Anatolian rug’s entire field is similar in spirit to the archetypal Arabatchi main carpet gull. I conclude the inspiration for the Anatolian weaving came from an injection of Tekke refugees into eastern Anatolia in the early seventeenth century.

Each diagonal motif in the Anatolian weaving pictured above helps fashion the negative space surrounding it into a bellicose and fearsome image, a raptor with talons digging into an enemies face while tearing at the neck with its scimitar like beak. The three lance like devices composing the hidden face in the archetypal Arabatchi gull are reduced to three small lobes radiating from a carefully fashioned diagonally arranged motif in the Anatolian rug’s design. Each small lobe radiating from the diagonally placed form in the Anatolian rug’s gull is critical to the negative yellow ground space it punctuates. The overall impact of the negative space patterns would be destroyed by merely removing the bar across the shaft of the designs at the vertical and horizontal extremes. There are absolutely no frivolous or accidental aspects in this rug’s design.

Visually combining the two inferior quarters of the Anatolian gull, an image appears of a brooding shaman perhaps with horns on his head. The psychological affect of this shamanistic figure is similar in affective presence to the corresponding portion of the Arabatchi main carpet gull.
There must have been Arabatchi main carpets in the sixteenth century with their own tribal gull. They may have had a more elaborate rendition of the border found on Hoffmeister’s sixteenth century Tekke torba or possibly a border more like the one seen on Kurt Munkcasi’s rug. Hopefully an example will eventually come to light.

The true age of the yellow field Anatolian weaving shown above will have to wait on scientific testing but stylistically it is most likely an early 17th century rug. The evidence seems to indicate a slow but steady migration of Turkoman clans out of Central Asia into Anatolia in the early seventeenth, mid eighteenth, and late nineteenth centuries. I have recently discovered another yellow ground Konya rug about the same size as mine that I date to the mid 18th century; Sotheby’s, New York, Fine Oriental and European Carpets Sale, N07749 lot #59. This rug also has strong Turkoman resonance so I think it is fair to say that everywhere the Turkoman refugees went they encouraged stylistic changes in the local stylistic repertory.

Jim Allen

Salor Refugees in Anatolia

I have some additional information concerning the arrival of a clan of Salor in the area of Bergama in the mid 18th century who subsequently killed the inhabitants of Soma and settled in their place. This aligns well with the defeat of the Salor at Khiva by the Yomud in 1747 or thereabouts. Let me add that the Salor were aligned with the Tekke during the first half of the 18th century so it stands to reason that some of these migrant Turkomen in 18th century Anatolia were actually Tekke. I have personally studied two weavings with Turkoman designs from the Bergama area. The first one pictured below is from Soma and the second one is from Yahyali.

These two rugs were kept as heirlooms and are old enough to show their Turkoman heritage. The Soma Bergama rug shows definite traces of nomadic Turkoman iconography. The Yahyali rug’s design seems to be an obvious magnification of an early Salor design. Both pieces are mostly woven with hues of red and blue. Considering the probable rate of assimilation of Salor weavers and designs into the rug weaving economics of Anatolia, how long do you think it took for the transplanted Salor weavers to adjust their designs to maximize profits? Remember rug weaving was just about all the Salor people could initially do to raise money for necessities. Robbing, raping, and pillaging had little appeal for Salor men without a familiar close at hand desert to get lost in. The soma Bergama shown above has a number of clearly identifiable Turkoman iconographic designs and many more designs inspired by older Turkoman archetypes. The overall theme of the Soma rug’s design seems to be influenced by early Oushaq weavings. One can easily imagine the large size of Oushaq rugs influencing the Salor’s idea about what designs were popular. The Salor needed to weave saleable rugs to survive. The Salor would have associated the large size of Oushaq rugs with importance. They may well have imagined the owners of such large rugs were powerful Khans or rulers. Oushaq weavings from the mid eighteen century onward were intended for the great houses of Europe and Russia. The Yahyali rug shown above has a major border that is composed of several forms of the famous Salor 鉄 border so characteristic of their work. The dominant theme of this Yahyali rug seems to be a magnified and traditional Turkoman design. I suspect the inspiration for this Yahyali’s magnified central design is none other than the classic Salor kochak border. It is well known that many 18th century Anatolian weavings were predominantly dyed with indigo and madder. The Salor used Indian lac in most of their early weavings. This produced a red with blue undertones. How long could the Salor’s stores of lac have held out in western Anatolia? Was lac available in western Anatolia during the 18th century? Harald Bohmer says in his newest book, Koekboya, that the use of Lac completely disappeared outside of India and Indonesia after about 1800 or just after the introduction of American cochineal. “Lac is an insect based red dye. The insect dye lac was the principal red dye used in classical Persian carpets.” Whiting, Mark. HALI, Vol 1. 1978 Use of lac yields a “cool” rather than a vivid or “bright” insect red in the blue tones that we associate with cochineal. Lac is a resin secreted by the lac insect (Laccifer lacca) upon the smaller branches of trees, primarily the fig tree. Lac traditionally was raised in Northern India. Lac takes it’s name from the word for 100,000 – lahk which refers to the huge number of insects who are needed to make marketable quantities of Lac. Stick lac is when the lac is still on the branch and grain lac is when it has been crushed and washed. The dye is derived from the secretions of the lac insect (Laccifer lacca). The insect leaves a resinous coating on the branches of several trees including the soapberry, acacia and the fig tree.” The Soma Bergama piece is a brilliant bluish red. I believe it is dyed with Indian lac. This rug could conceivably date to circa 1775-1800. The Yahyali rug’s red is a vivid blood red characteristic of high quality antique madder dyes. Its design is still recognizably Turkoman inspired. I date the Yahyali rug to circa 1800-1850. Rugs like those shown here are exceedingly rare. Ms. Mallet is an accomplished dealer in fine weavings, especially kilims, and a noted author from the Atlanta area. Here’s the link to her fine comprehensive website. I am including one final image of a rug from the Vakiflar Museum in Istanbul that I identify as Bergama from the mid 18th century. Its connection to the Turkoman is more obvious. This rug is published in CARPETS TEPPICHE by Belkis Balpinar and Udo Hirsch: plate# 62. The star like motifs found “sprinkled” around in the field of this published and interesting mid 18th century rug are characteristic of a popular 18th century Bergama border. I have included an overall shot and a close-up picture of an exemplary 18th century Bergama piece to illustrate this fact. I should also mention the fact that Hirsch and Balpinar declined to specify a date for the Vakiflar rug seen here saying instead that it was “difficult to date”. I wonder if the field of the Vakiflar rug is dyed with Lac? In the central gull I see a delicate violet color that I associate with Lac dyed silk.

Jim Allen

A Glossary of Rug Types

Click on any rug type below and educational material by rug scholar Barry O’Connell will open in a new window.

Anatolian Rug Types:

Avanos Rugs
Bergama Rugs
Giordes Rugs
Hereke Rugs
Karapinar Rugs
Keyseri Rugs
Kirshehir Rugs
Konya Rugs
Kurd Rugs
Ladik Rugs
Malatya Rugs
Megri Rugs
Milas Rugs
Sivas Rugs
Tulu Rugs
Turkish kilims Rugs
Ushak Rugs

Caucasian Rug Types:

Akstafa Rugs
Borchalou Rugs
Daghestan Rugs
Genje Rugs
Karabagh Rugs
Karagashli Rugs
Kazak Rugs
Kuba Rugs
Lenkoran Rugs
Lesghi Rugs
Lori Pambak Rugs
Seichur Rugs
Shahsevan Rugs
Shirvan Rugs
Talish Rugs

The Small Tekke Rug

Classical Small Tekke RugThere were forty Tekke clans at the Merv Oasis in 1882 subdivided into two main groups, the Otomish and the Hotomish, by a disecting river according to Edmund O’Donovan. He wrote a very important book published in 1882 called The Merv Oasis in which he observed that each clan had one or more Khans. The term Khan may have primarily applied to very successful individuals in each clan, therefore every generation of the Tekke tribe produced between perhaps 40 and 120 Tekke main carpets and a corresponding number of Tekke small rugs for high ranking males or Khans.

Considering Timurid miniatures as archetypal, as Robert Pinner proposed in “Turkoman Studies One”, one might suppose Tekke Khans would have placed their small personal rugs atop the perhaps communal main carpets at important communal gatherings.

What constitutes the traditional Tekke main carpet tradition or aesthetic? After thirty five years of study I have concluded that the traditional Tekke main carpet employs basic laws of perception which magnify the Khan while minimizing his supplicants. This is done by making the gulls at one end larger than those at the other end. The Khan sat at the end with the relatively smaller gulls, making him seem relatively larger.

The initial row of larger main gulls is often associated with minor gulls different from the rest. I suspect this indicated something about the Khan’s or clan’s linage to knowledgeable supplicants. Additionally, in the oldest Tekke examples, one sees the use of asymmetry around each main gull’s horizontal axis, producing a subconsciously recognizable three dimensionality. Upon approaching the Khan one would subconsciously or perhaps even consciously perceive that the Khan was floating in the space defined by those three dimensionally drawn gulls: on a flying carpet perhaps?

I believe that native Turkman weavers, working in the traditional matriarchal extended family milieu, participated in a communal subconscious pool of symbolic relationships and meanings. Analyzing truly traditional and historical Tekke weavings with regard to their symbolic content has become a high priority for me.

The use of a large plain weave elem in traditional Tekke main carpets finds resonance in the larger congregations of Tekke clans, where this one fundamental similarity served to underscore their mutual affiliations. The borders of Tekke main carpets perhaps have a secret language all their own, but I have no insight into this aspect of Tekke rugs. Tekke field designs are stable across hundreds of years of known reference examples.

I propose that the aesthetic of traditional small Tekke rugs parallels that of traditional Tekke main carpets. One immediate difference is the presence of elems on the small rugs. Picture # 1 is an exemplary example of the traditional Tekke small rug with main carpet gulls. The elems are both so arranged that any person sitting on this rug sees an elem full of flowers, as if from horseback, moving diagonally across his path. The “movement” is created by the careful placement and coloring of the flowers in a diagonal array.

Any supplicant approaching a Khan sitting on such a rug would be presented with an elem full of eyes and zoomorphic associations; see detail #3.

The double meaning of the flowers when viewed from opposite sides is typical of traditional Turkman iconography.

Though the number of gulls is only twelve the traditional asymmetric arrangement of gulls according to size is quite obvious. The six gulls at each end are larger than the six gulls in the center. A man sitting on the center of this rug would be magnified by the arrangement and disproportion of these gulls.

Imagine approaching a Tekke Khan sitting on this rug. His silks would obscure most of the central main gulls, but not all of them. The eye of the supplicant would subconsciously measure the size of the first row of gulls and assume that the size of the partially hidden gulls were of the same size. The supplicant would subconsciously understand that the gulls partially hidden underneath the Khan were actually smaller and therefore compensate for this subconscious discrepancy by magnifying the size of the Khan. Combine this subtle sub-conscious inter-play with asymmetrically drawn major gulls that seem three dimensional and the Khan is perceived not only as larger than life but floating in space as well.

The minor gulls are done exactly as they are on Tekke torbas. The chemche minor gull, detail #2, is a complex layered image incorporating several elements depicting the Zen of archery from horseback.

In my archeology of the Turkman psyche I see the central rosette in the chemche gull as depicting the critical action of drawing back the nock to a corner of the mouth then releasing the arrow in a smooth practiced motion directly into the heart of the target.

I see the chemche gull as dimensionally compressed, from four dimensions to three dimensions represented in the basically two dimensional medium of weaving. The fairly simple process of representing three dimensional objects in a two dimensional medium requires the use of visual tricks reinforcing a specific perspective. The method of reducing a four dimensional process into lower dimensions requires the use of shared subconscious experiences and this can only occur through many generations of practice. The absolute requirement for continuity is what makes Turkman weavings so valuable.

This chemche gull implies the complete action of drawing and shooting a bow and arrow. This complex process is reduced from a sequence projected through time in the mind. The action of shooting a bow and arrow reassembles into an ensemble of components disconnected from each other yet mysteriously arranged into a didactic motif.

Let’s look through my analytical lens at the vertical components of chemche gulls. Might their vertical components represent the body of a bow looked at from the front? The vertical ends represent the recurved nature of their bows, which gave them tremendous power. This power in a very short bow ideal for mounted archery revolutionized their existence making them a force to be reckoned with. The vertical ends are often seemingly possessed of great power respecting the great advancement this type of bow brought to the Turkman warrior. The diagonals of the chemche gull meeting at the rosette represent the drawn bow string. The fact two strings are represented is superfluous. The paired horizontal components of chemche gulls represent arrows flying from the bow. These horizontally aligned ‘arrows’ are always detailed with outward pointing chevrons implying movement.

I believe the small “bow with arrow” motifs to the left and right of the horizontal visually accelerating arrows of the chemche gulls amounts to the proof of my hypothesis. These small motifs serve to reinforce the image and its understanding.

The next time you stand in front of a truly traditional Tekke torba, imagine the main gulls indicate the weaving’s identity and to some extent its’ linage. Now moving your eyes to the chemche gulls, imagine the intent of the torba’s original owner was to make you feel as if you were looking right down the shaft of an arrow aimed right at your face!

Doesn’t this image correspond to our knowledge of who and what the Turkman people were, relative to we city dwellers, as described by Edmond O’Donovan in the Merv Oasis, first published in 1882?

Small Tekke rugs were made in large numbers during the latter 19th century but truly old ones, like the example used to illustrate this article, are extremely rare. The Tekke rug used for this article has a rich purplish red ground color and a very fine weave, comparable to that of common Tekke torbas. The secondary colors are brilliant red, apricot, green, dark blue, light blue, yellow, brown, and white. The green is strong and the same color front and back. The coloring, fine weave, and iconographic integrity of this small rug likely places its manufacture to the early 19th century, a period of renewed Tekke strength and the very last decades of traditional Tekke life.

Traditional Tekke life, like that of horse mounted Indians in the American West, came to a gradual end as railroad tracks penetrated deeper and deeper into their rich pastoral lands.

James Allen

Mughal Designs in Yomud Weavings

The Yomut asmalyk at Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris
We see only a small number of recognizable Turkman motifs in this asmalyk. The bold main border is generally found only on weavings from the Middle Ages. This asmalyk has perplexed many a Turkman scholar and due to its implacable nature has only rarely been commented upon in the literature. When seeing this enigmatic Turkoman asmalyk juxtaposed with a 17th century Mughal ‘fantastic animal’ carpet, one begins immediately peeling away at this mysteriousness.

The Mughal carpet fragment, pictured in Hali Vol.4, #3; page 257, fig. 10
The Mughal carpet fragment, pictured in Hali Vol.4, #3; page 257, fig. 10, appears in an article written by Daniel S. Walker, now curator of Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The fantastic though somewhat linearized animal forms seen in this Mughal fragment appear to be directly related to the colorful zoomorphic forms decorating the field of this unique asmalyk. In the field of the asmuldyk we see paired animal like shapes drawn much like those of the ‘fantastic animals’ seen in the Mughal fragment. The highly stylized Turkman forms seem clearly derived from the more articulated Mughal archetypes.

The animal forms pictured in the Mughal fragment shown in Mr. Walkers article appear to be both bilaterally reflected and transformed, with a large component obviously missing from its left side. In the field of the asmalyk, middle row of zoomorphic motifs, one sees opposed pairs of stylized Mughal animals representing spotted cats, with hind legs splayed out adjacent to their tails as if running.

Detail - Mughal carpet fragment
In the Mughal fragment one sees a much more elaborately drawn spotted cat whose general shape, especially the drawing of the cats hind legs and tail, is unmistakably related to those seen in the Turkmen asmalyk. It is precisely the similarity between the detailed representations of the juxtapositions of a running cats’ tail and legs that makes their Detail Turkmen asmalykconnection obvious. The difference in the drawing of the cats’ shoulder silhouettes might indicate that the Mughal cat represented a running leopard while the Turkman example a galloping cheetah. The term for cheetah in Turkmen is “gechigaplan” (goat /tiger). The Turkman Khan’s were known to employ cheetah for hunting. I don’t think cheetah were ever native to Northern India but leopards certainly were.

The only clearly Turkmen designs represented on this very old asmalyk are the four ashiks serving as terminal heads for the zoomorphic ‘animal trees’. Given the idea that some Turkmen weavings were reserved for special occasions or even possibly served as integral parts of Turkman cult worship, it’s interesting to speculate for which purpose this very unique asmaldyk might have once been used.

The Myer Turkmen Main Carpet
A similarly enigmatic main carpet, collected by George Hewitt Myers and now housed at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., represents another Turkman weaving with obvious Mughal influences.

The Mughal prayer rug with flowering shrub has elements of design clearly discernable in the elem of the Myers carpet.

Myer Turkmen Main Carpet Mughal prayer rug

Detail - Myer Turkmen Main Carpet
In the pictures, we can see that the Mughal flowering tree has been modified to fit the relative scale of the Myer’s elems by removing the middle two flowers from its Mughal original. The shape and position of the leaves on the Turkman trees also seems visually related to those of the Mughal prototype. There is a line exiting the central topmost flower from both the yomud flowering plant and the Mughal example. In both examples there is also a design straddling this exiting line. These designs are very clearly related. The prayer arch is also retained in the Myers elem composition but vertically reflected so that it appears OVER the flowering trees and upside down. This last fact argues for simple copying as the most likely method of transmission between these two societies.

One sees later renditions of the Myer’s elems but they are much more stylized; much bolder and more traditionally Turkmen. This is also true of the asmalyk as later renditions of its basic design are stylized to such a point that the animals are no longer discernable. Many of these later asmalyks have Turkoman jewelry motifs displayed across their tops. These later elem and asmalyk designs are also noticeably less curvilinear than their Mughal counterparts. While both Turkman weavings considered above are truly excellent and their designs especially pleasing, they were in no way able to capture the vitality and beauty Mughal weavers once had.

There was an important Central Asian element in the formation of the civilization of Mughal India. Babar, from Afghanistan, defeated Lodi at Panipat, not far from Delhi, and so came to establish the Mughal Empire in 1526 in India.

The culture of the Mughal Empire is seen to be a composite of indigenous and foreign elements, many of which originated, like the Mughal rulers themselves, in Central Asia. Many societies, such as the Turkmen, populating pre-colonial Asia should be studied in terms of their own self-perceptions, and not simply as backward projections of modern day realities and notions. It is in this light that I think the Myer’s Yomut main carpet and the enigmatic asmuldyk discussed above were unmistakably influenced by the Mughal aesthetic. Susan Day, from the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris France, has stated that she believes the above described asmalyk is older than the 19th century and I agree with her. Considering that the knotting density, style, and ratio of vertical to horizontal knots in both Yomud weavings is identical, one can easily imagine they were woven at about the same time, possibly even by the same weavers. The Yomud first took complete control of Khiva in 1743 and though their fortunes there varied greatly, this would seem to have been a realistic time, politically, for the weaving of both these Turkmen masterpieces.

In conclusion this paper highlights an occurrence of design migration from an outside though related society , the Mughals of India, into the corpus of several distinct lines of Yomud designs. This has ramifications for Turkmen studies in general. It demonstrates that the Turkmen did in fact assimilate outside designs into their own compositions and these incorporated designs became transformed through successive repetitions,e.g. generations into something new and different from their original inspiration.

Asmalyk technical data
Warps: Z2S wool in mixed brown and dark ivory shades

Weft: 2 shoots of Z2 wool in light brown wool mixed with a small number of fibres in ivory

Pile: 2,400 symmetrical knots per dm2 in Z2 wool :(60 vertical x 40 horizontal), (150 knots per square inch). Good quality shiny wool, firm to touch, pile 4 mm thick.

Frequent use of alternate warps (ie knots tied on two warps which hop arbitrarily in mid-row from one warp to next). No edge knots, but a slight

Variant: on the lateral sides, the last two rows of knots are strongly pulled to the left, unlike the rest of the carpet).

Selvedge: Z2 brownish-red wool wound around the last warps

Ends: at the bottom, traces of tapestry weave in Z2 brown-red wool; at the two upper edges, Z2 tapestry weave in three natural shades, folded and sewn under.

Technical analysis provided by Susan Day.

Myers Main technical data
Warps: wool, ivory, 2 Z-yarns S-plied, warps even.

Weft: wool, light brown, 2 Z-yarns S-plied, 2 shoots.

Pile: wool, 2 Z-yarns; symmetrical knot. 10 hor. X 15 vert. Per inch (150 per sq. in.), Some offset knots.

Color: (8) aubergine, red, light blue, medium blue, blue-green, dark blue-green, brown and ivory.

Finish: no original selvages or ends.
Technical analysis provided by Nobuko Kajitani

The Turkmen

The simple reason that Turkmen weavings are so important today is that the Turkmen represented the last horse mounted horde of freely mobile nomadic warriors the world has seen or known. Their traditions were simply extensions of those written about in the 13th and 14th centuries by Catholic priest/secret agents of the Western Christian powers who visited Genghis Khans court and those of his successors, a la Marco Polo. They reported on the nomads drinking fermented mares milk, living in felt covered yurts supported by collapsible wooden modules including a sky wheel, its spokes, and an expandable interlocking series of wooden slats that supported the felt sheets. These modules were simply lashed together with strong animal hair cords and the felts were then passed over the skeleton and securedagain by strong woven cords. In side the yurt was a fire whose smokehopefully exited the sky hole through the gap produced by adjusting amoveable flap. In the back behind the fire were the sleeping and love making areas. In a wealthy mans yurt this area would be strewn with great carpetsand the stacks of blankets and other weavings would have itself been coveredby a special weaving. The interlocking side panels would be festooned with glorious trappings and silk embroideries that would glow in the light fromthe fire. It must be noted that truly authentic Turkmen weavings that wereactually used in situ will always have some residue of smoke.

Two women in fancy dressThe Turkmen only required that their culture remain intact with the bare minimum of resources, and those being chiefly sheep, goats, and the woodthey found all over the world, for them to survive, not marginally butRoyally in what can be called nothing less than the wasteland of Earth.

They lived in real comfort in dwellings that resemble nothing more than awoman’s breast. Their encampments looked like breasts dotting the landscapeas if here was nourishment for the land. The land provided pastures for their sheep and by summering them at high altitude their wool was famous all along the Silk Road. There were many wealthy Turkmen khans who controlled vast herds and many long knives.

It is so simple a fact as to be obvious, that a nomadic herding society cannot exist in a world where rule is by law and property rights are granted to individuals by powerful organizations called governments. This is the nexus of the problem for these two societies. The onslaught of civilization, with its literacy and legalities, has carved up the whole world into “countries, states, and regions”. These things don’t really exist; in fact there are no lines drawn in the sand between countries. Sure a fence can be raised and property rights protected. Herein lies the problem. A free ranging society that depends on good pastures and unimpeded access cannot flourish in the face of national boundaries and modern military forces. The Turkmen were routed in 1882 by the Russian military who used artillery and rifle shot to subdue this last fierce remnant of the descendants of Able, “whose blood cries from the ground”.

I dream of riding free over trackless fields of green grass and thinking to myself, God! What a wonderful world! A man bonded with his horse, his hunting bird, his favourite hound, and his women. How I cringe at the pale comparison I make to the worst of them!

Turkmen man with wife - Photo courtesy Russian Ethnographic Museum St. PetersburgTurkmen collectors don’t stand apart from their possessions, they fondle them and caress their soft exteriors lovingly with their hands. We collectors all long for their lost lives, our imagination about their freedom and for their free Love in ancient pre-islamic time.

One might ask what did it take to be a Turkmen. It took the enculturation of millennia of experiments into those few truly necessary skills required to reign supreme across the abysmal depths of Asia. These included the ‘Zen’ required to fire an arrow from a bow held by a man in complete harmony with his mount and its motions. He must subconsciously subdue all the chaos that is created by riding a horse to concentrate only on bringing the bow, with its ready arrow, into resonance with the target. This is in fact exactly what is required to shoot a wild hare with a bow and arrow from horseback! These skills were tested once ever year or two in great hunts were all the tribes would congregate and set out with nets to corral the game and give both young and old horsemen a chance to show their skills and compare them one to another.

Zelma Turkoman horse women It has been theorized that it was under just such circumstances that Genghis Khan fell from his horse possibly splitting his liver. Through this evaluation and comparison process a mobile force was established that could shoot with deadly accuracy from any number of difficult positions and who, with long curved knives, could easily kill anybody they might touch. These men rode rough shod over the best Europe could muster until a Jesuit priest acquired the secret of gunpowder from those horse mounted nomads who had stolen the secret from the Chinese. Sir Francis Bacon was supplied with the formula for gun power in code from another Jesuit priest, John De Carpini, who had travelled to the Great Khans Court.

Ironic isn’t it that the nomads would give up the secret recipe for a powerful explosive chemical reaction whose energy could be controlled to hurl a small lead ball at fantastic velocities sufficient to kill them all.

In conclusion the horse mounted Turkmen nomad wasn’t significantly different from many of our own Native American Societies, especially those horse mounted ones in our western regions. Native warfare in some cases had evolved into bouts between rival chiefs with ‘coup’ being far more important than the actual killing of ones opponent. These early yet advanced societies tended to be simple bi-pedal ones and not as mobile as later Plains Indians who’d acquired wild horses, let loose from Spanish missions from the 15th to the late 18th centuries. The Plains Indians also acquired sheep from those Spanish Missions and almost overnight began weaving their gathered wool into fine garments of great cultural and utilitarian significance. After the introduction of Anatolian kilims and a few Turkmen weavings to these same Indians in the 1880’s, their repertoire of designs blossomed overnight. Man with two veiled women It is my firm belief that the incorporation of mythic designs into the durable media of woven and piled weavings resulted in the stable transmission of the most poignant and necessary information for each and every nomadic society. What we so blithely relegate to the category of ‘floor covering’ is in reality the sacred documents of a previous and flourishing alien way of life.

James C. Allen

The Missing Arabatchi

One day Peter Saunders was visiting and I showed him two pictures. One picture was of plate #171 in Oriental Rugs from Pacific Collections. This is a large powerful white field Kazak rug with three medallions dated to circa 1700. The other picture was of an Arabatchi torba, turned 90 degrees to level. After a brief introduction to Central Asian history I will return to our conversation about the relationship between these two weavings. One must bear in mind that the Arabatchi torba might be little more than 100 years old while the Kazak rug might be 300 years old.


Throughout Central Asian history we have learned that many Turkic speaking tribes’ people, Turkomen, were driven from their lands and nomadic style of life into subsistent existence in cities. The city herein referred to might be little more than a collection of mud brick dwellings, a jail, an administrative office, etc.

The Osmanli clan of the Chodor were driven out of Turkistan by the Mongols. Afterwards their skills in horse mounted warfare helped their descendants rule Turkey for hundreds of years as the Ottoman. Their eventual assimilation was so complete they no longer exist as a separate ethnic identity. Something very similar to this had already happened in Egypt where the horse mounted Turkic speaking warriors’ descendants became the Mamuluk Empire. Another of the major tribes of the Oguz confederation, the Arabatchi, virtually disappeared except for a small group of people cited by Moshkova and others.

Where did the Arabatchi go? Many of them left the tribe and drifted into the polyglot of Turkic peoples of the Caucasus. The Mongol had a word for those people and clans who left the authority of the hoard… Kazak. So to look for the lost Arabatchi we seek evidence of their weaving in the Kazak weavings of the late 17th century Caucasus.

First I want to show why the Arabatchi left Khiva. The Turkomen hoard, mainly the Salor and the Tekke, were driven from the Mangeshak peninsula in the late 17th century by a severe and protracted drought.(1) The true nomadic Turkoman is no friend to any city dweller. The Turkoman were predatory toward city dwellers, most of the time. The Salor arrived in Khiva in force around 1800 AD. The Tekke followed them. Both tribes were hardened by existence in a too harsh environment and in a very foul mood having lost many grandmothers and small children.

Just imagine you are a city dweller in Khiva around 1690 AD. You have your cute silk robe on with a couple of nice daggers in your belt when off on the horizon a growing cloud of dust heralds the arrival of a large group of people, The Hells Angels.

Khiva was closer to the Turkoman nomads than any other city on Earth. Khiva was a walled city and I can assure you they quickly closed their gates. I suspect that the Arabatchi had been at Khiva for a long time. They really have no iconographic connection to the other tribes in terms of their weavings. They were the only tribe to use a main carpet gull on their chuvals. Chuvals were very important dowry items. When used they were visible at long range and indicated tribal identity at long range. All the other Turkoman tribes, including even the Chodor early on, used the chuval gull for their chuvals. This habit of using the chuval gull on all Turkoman chuvals showed their common and larger incorporation into the great blood lines of the Oguz Turkomen, their “spiritual” ancestors.

I think the Arabatchi headed for the hills, the Caucasus mountains, so to speak ahead of the arrival of the full body of Turkoman refuges. I am quite sure the Arabatchi Khan and his family were eventually retained as “permanent guests” by their Salor masters at Khiva. The Salor and Tekke ruled Khiva for about fifty years. There is a pair of Arabatchi chuvals in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that date to the early 18th century; in my opinion. See plate #54 in Turkmen by Mackie and Thompson. The characteristics of early 18th century Turkoman weavings, specifically those from Khiva, have only recently been recognized. This period represents the high point for Turkoman weaving. They had excellent water and pasture. The dyes they produced in this period are unequalled in my experience. The wool of fantastic quality. I once owned a now famous mid 17th century Tekke chuval and still own an early 18th century Tekke torba. The dyes and wool of the early 18th century piece are better by far than the mid 17th century piece. See Hali #55, Ghereh # 17, or Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies 5, for a picture of the mid 17th century Tekke chuval.

Now back to my conversation with Peter Saunders. I told Peter what I have briefly outlined above. He was initially shocked. I assume he was shocked at the idea that anybody might have an original idea about the subject. He said that this was the best idea about carpets that I have ever had. Then he sort of sneered, you would have to know Peter to understand this, and said it was all brilliant but 180 degrees out of focus.

Peter said, “what you have actually discovered is the true inspiration for this particular genre of Arabatchi torbas. In other words Peter thinks the design migrated from the Kazak main carpet to the Arabatchi torba. I think the historical evidence suggests the population was moving in the opposite direction, from Khiva Westward towards the Eastern Caucasus Mountains. There is no reason to suppose this movement was only in this direction. Many Turkomen certainly went Eastward towards Mongolia and China. The Salor and the Tekke were under some considerable pressure from the Qalmuqs, located to the North of the Mangeshak peninsula, during the 17th century. Dzhikiev recorded a legend stating that the Chodor also defeated the Salor during the 17th century. The Qalmuqs and the Chodor could be said to have run the Salor out of the Mangeshak peninsula to Khiva in Khorazem.(2) I theorize that the displaced Salor and Tekke displaced the older more settled Arabatchi towards the Eastern Caucasus Mountains.

There I believe the Arabatchi settled among the indigenous Kazak population where their older torba designs became the inspiration for a brand new and very successful main carpet design for the Kazak people. As evidence of this fact I draw your attention to a rug found in “Oriental Rugs From Pacific Collections” plate # 171. My point is easiest made in direct comparison with details from this very old Kazak and from the Arabatchi torba, that can be seen in Mackie & Thompson, plate # 55.


Notice in the pair of pictures above that if indeed this is a degenerative Arabatchi design we should see vestigial clues as to the origin of design. Please note the hook which appears to be a meaningless addition in the Kazak is a degenerated form of the Arabatchi double hook to the right. Also note how the circles of the outer border of the Arabatchi star become the colored squares of the Kazak. The two headed animal? in the Arabatchi torba has degenerated into a kind of floral leaf form in the Kazak. In fact every design motif in the field of this Kazak rug echos a well known Turkoman design. I see along the sides of the white ground field of the Kazak two designs in particular that are intimately associated with Turkoman design, the kochank and the arched form from the Arabatchi torba we are examining. The Kazak does have a pair of samovar’s in its’ field. Not every design found in the Kazak can be traced back to the Arabatchi torba but the overall design layout along with the fact that essentially every design found on the Arabatchi is found reintrepreted in the Kazak indicates to me that the Arabatchi torba was the inspiration for the Kazak. This idea is supported by the fact that this genre of Kazak design appears to have been degenerating ever since its’ brilliant beginning.


The simple devices found at the vertical extremes of the eight pointed stars on the Arabatchi torba are found simplified in two similar devices on the 17th century Kazak rug.

Could an Arabatchi torba design traveling to the Eastern Caucasus have been expanded and rotated to fit the looms of Kazak weavings to become one of the four main and most beloved Kazak designs from then till today? Looking at the Kazak rug we’ve been making our comparisons with I’m struck by the primitive vitality and power of this Kazak weaving! The movement of the weaving’s themselves is all that’s really necessary in this process but the interpretation of the original design and the attention to detail that a displaced Arabatchi weaver would bring to this process could make the design translation much more efficient and aesthetic. I think a good analogy would be a native musician whose music is taken to a new set of instruments. The music must be “translated” from one key to another. Without the original artist to make criticisms concerning this translation the music might easily be destroyed in the process. In other words to produce a masterpiece like this Kazak weaving from the expansion and rotation of an original Arabatchi torba would require the presence of an Arabatchi weaver capable of creating the original. The point I have been trying to make regarding the relationship of an old Arabatchi torba design to the design of an early 18th century Kazak rug is impossible to prove. What seems obvious to me might seem totally unconvincing to another connoisseur, like Peter Saunders who came to the opposite conclusion.

(1) Vanishing Jewels, pp 32.
(2) ibid. pp.32; footnote 38.