I take a stand somewhere between the two points. I
suggest that the various people of the Caucasus wove distinctive
patterns and structures prior to the Russian colonization of the
Caucasus but that as Czarist control solidified they sought to
stimulate carpet exports to pay for their occupation so that after the
1860s we see an increase in the commercialization of the Caucasian rugs
and a decrease in the cultural relevance.
In the 1820s the Czarist Russians divided Trans-Caucasia. into the
Russian provinces of Baku, Derbent, Sheki, Karabagh, Shirvan, Talysh,
and Kuba. Riad: Caucasus.
Two Cord Selvage in a Shirvan Rug
As soon as I saw this fragment it made me think of my dear friend and
teacher (the late) Uncle Jimmy Keshishian. I took the Oriental Rug
section of the appraisal Science course at George Washington University
from Uncle Jimmy and I still draw back on what he taught me. When you
see this selvage think Shirvan. Uncle jimmy's brother Harold Keshishian
has a saying that i like, "If you want to know what sort of car it is,
read the hubcaps." In other words look for the easy to spot identifying
The Russians divided the region in the manner
that was easiest for them to administrate and it did not necessarily
follow an ethnographic approach in the division.
The Czarist Russians began to solidify their hold as early as 1805 -
1820 but they did not truly control the region for many years. With the
capture of the great rebel religious leader Shamyl in 1859 and the end
of the rebellion in 1864 did Czarist control truly solidify regional
control. In 1865 to eliminate risk of future rebellion the Russians
forced 1,2 million Caucasians to move to Turkey.
At one point I suspected that areas such as
Nagorno-Karabahk which were historically Moslem were depopulated and
then repopulated with Armenians. As Christians the Armenians had an
easier time with the Christian Russians. Lately I have come to realize
that in the Caucasus' control focused on people rather than strict
geographic boundaries. So with the Church and nobility to control the
Armenians and Moslem rulers and Governors over the Moslem it was
possible for two people to share some measure of independent rule in
the same area in the same time. This tends to run counter to the
To confuse the matter even more I suggest that many of the best rugs
attributed to 4th quarter 19th century are actually 1st or even second
quarter 20th century. A constant problem is that Rug Collecting is more
about money and ego then it is a science. My hope is that by opening my
notes, thoughts, and theories I may help to stimulate others to take
this subject further than I can.
Los Angeles Times, May
17, 1998 [for personal use only] Trouble Is Looming for a
Caucasus: Regional stability, mass production and modern life are
ruining business for merchants of hand-woven carpets.
By VANORA BENNETT, Times Staff Writer
DERBENT, Russia -Under the fortress
walls, the merchants of this honey-colored stone city at the crossroads
of three empires are doing what their ancestors have done for 800
years: laying out hand-woven carpets for sale.
During centuries of conflict under Persian, Turkish and Russian
empires, rug salesmen here traditionally have done lucrative business
by buying family carpets from refugees on the run from warfare across
the Caucasus Mountains and along the shores of the Caspian Sea. No
Something disastrous has started to happen to the region's hand-made
carpet trade in the last two years: Peace keeps breaking out. "Look at
it now," says woebegone trader Magomed Magomedov, forlornly gesturing
around. Just a dozen carpets are pinned up outside the north side of
the long defensive wall that Derbent's onetime Persian masters built in
the 6th century.
Half a dozen men, all as small and hunched in their flapping black
clothes as Magomedov, all with the same mournful expression, are
waiting for buyers. "There's almost nothing left of our trade,"
Magomedov says. "Modern life is killing off the hand-made carpet
The region's carpet-making legacy from the great carpet cultures of
Persia and Turkey was institutionalized under Soviet rule. Factories
mass-produced carpets with approximately traditional designs, although
village women went on weaving their own--and also continued the
practice, frowned on by Communist Party bosses, of giving dowries of
carpets at marriage.
The huge Derbent market spread across town every weekend. But the
bonanza years for carpet dealers were right after the Soviet Union
collapsed. The lands around Russia's southern border, a tinderbox of
Christian and Muslim ethnic groups with long memories for old feuds,
went up in flames.
In the five years after the 1991 Soviet collapse, there were conflicts
between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, Georgians and Abkhazian
separatists, and Russians and Chechen separatists. In the early 1990s,
more than a million people fled shattered villages and towns, taking
with them only their bedding and carpets. With no money and no homes,
the dispossessed were desperate to sell even such treasured symbols of
stability and collective history as the carpets to buy food.
But now stability is returning to the region. The wars have stopped or
been suspended. The refugees have sold their rugs, and many have found
new homes and jobs; so have many of the traders from those days. The
only carpets being made by hand and sold in Derbent are those of women
here in the multiethnic republic of Dagestan.
But this domestic weaving was never intended as a money-making business
and is done more for private, family purposes. Magomedov's wife, Asli,
is one of the weavers. She has just dismantled the huge loom that stood
all winter in front of the family television set. She, her 22-year-old
daughter, Zulekha, and her two 20-year-old daughters-in-law, Gyulhara
and Vilayad, worked for six months on the huge blue-and-red oblong
carpet that now lies on the floor.
She's planning to start weaving again in the fall. Some of the
Magomedovs' carpets are dowry offerings from the family's two new
daughters-in-law. A betrothed woman's family still must provide at
least one big carpet, a flat-weave rug, a runner and half a dozen
cushions. Her mother and sisters can help her weave them, but the
designs should be her own.
Traditional Caucasus carpets differ in design from region to region,
village to village. They include both Persian motifs--intricate floral
patterns--and wilder, brighter, coarser Turkish-influenced designs,
with jagged flame-like shapes.
But some of the modern carpets, cushions, runners and wall hangings
that decorate houses here have designs that draw as much from Western
pop culture as Eastern tradition. Snoopys and Snow Whites crop up,
along with compositions of pink-faced children and baskets of puppies.
Asli, who was laid off from her job at the near-bankrupt Soviet-era
carpet factory a few years ago, loves weaving. She collects
templates--patterns of tiny crosses on squared paper--just as some
Western women collect knitting patterns. She studies them in her free
moments, contemplating her next adventure in quiet creativity.
But, she complains, her work doesn't bring in much money. The most she
can expect her husband to get for this winter's rug, measuring 6 feet
by 10 feet, is $600.
"Four of us worked on it for six months," she laments. "And that means
we only earned $25 a month each. A pittance."
The worst blow of all to the trade is the flippancy with which
post-Soviet Dagestanis have begun to treat their traditions. Although
it's still considered crucial to transfer carpets from family to family
at marriage, her husband says, it's no longer a matter of pride to give
the most beautiful and costly weaving possible.
And Russia's opening of its borders means that there's new competition
in the rug business from an unexpected quarter: the West.
Inside Derbent's city walls, just yards from the deserted handmade
carpet market, an altogether more flourishing trade is now going on in
cheap Belgian or Belarussian carpets made with synthetic fibers.
These crackling, brownish rugs, with large swirly patterns, stand
rolled up against walls, or are displayed on clotheslines or cars.
Surly traders with none of the traditional carpet salesman's patter say
they buy them from four or five big warehouses in Moscow and bring them
down to the south for sale.
They cost only one-fifth as much as hand-woven rugs. "So what do people
do before a wedding?" Magomedov asks with a mixture of indignation and
resignation. "They know they've got to give carpets. But they couldn't
care less what kind. So they get the cheapest possible Belgian thing
and palm it off on their new family.
For people like that, respect for tradition is becoming no more than a
1750-1813 Khanate period. Azerbaijan is divided
and rule by khans in different regions of the country. There were
following khanates: Yerevan,Karabagh, Nakhichevan, Ganja, Shemakha,
Sheki, Baku, Guba, Derbent, Salian sultanate, Javad khanate, Talysh. In
the southern Azerbaijan: Tebriz, Urmiye, Ardebil Khoi, Karadagh, Serab,
Maraga and Maku khanates. The Karabagh khanate also inluded Varand,
Khachen, Gulistan, Dizak and Jeraberd melikdoms, the remnants of
Albanian nobility". Chronology
of Azerbaijan History and neighboring regions (Zaur Rzakhanov)
Saliani Prayer Rug
Southeast Caucasus, last quarter 19th century, hooked diamond medallion
flanked by two palmettes and numerous small octagons in midnight and
navy blue, ivory, gold, aubergine, and blue-green on the red field,
ivory "wine glass" border, (small rewoven areas and other small
repairs, end fraying), 5 ft. by 3 ft. 6 in. Estimate $2,500-3,500
The Lezgi live in Northern
Caucasus and in Russia. They are prominent weavers as are the Quba a
sub-group of the Lezgi.
I never realized how many Lezgi
were in Azerbaijan until a known terrorist slipped me a video tape of
Armenian soldiers stripping the bodies of the Azeri soldiers that they
had killed in an ambush. A significant percentage of the Azeri soldiers
carried identity papers identifying them as ethnically Lezgian. This of
course indicated a significant Lezgi population in Azerbaijan.
"The Lezghians were also good
carpet makers. Sumakhi—rugs without pile, which
have a smooth upper side and a shaggy underside, were made in the
Kusary district. The Lezghians copied traditional Azerbaijan decorative
subjects—either plants or geometrical motifs—when making their carpets.19"
The Talish live along the
Caspian coast south of the Viliazh-Chai River". The Talish are Shia
Muslim. Ethnologue: Azerbaijan - Talish.
The Talish are on both sides of the Azerbaijan Iran border. The Talish
were a major Kizilbash tribal confederation.
This ethnic group abodes in southeast Azerbaijan, specifically in the
Lenkoran, Astara and, in part, in the Masally and Lerik districts.
According to the 1989 census, there were more than 21,000 Talyshe in
In the past, the Talyshe living in the valleys were
mainly rice growers and the highlanders were herdsmen. The Talyshe have
become deeply integrated with the Azerbaijani ethnic group. The
traditions and everyday lives of the Talyshe differ little from those
of the Azerbaijanis. Many of the Talyshe are bilingual, speaking both
Talyshe and Azerbaijani. But although Azerbaijani is widespread,"