KARABAGH ORIENTAL RUGS
Karabagh rugs (also spelled Karabakh) were woven in the Karabagh region of the southern portion of the Caucasus mountains in present-day eastern Armenia and southwestern Azerbaijan, just north of the present Iranian border.
The region encompasses three areas: Highland Karabagh (historical Artsakh, present-day Nagorno-Karabagh), Lowland Karabagh and a part of Syunik.
Karabagh refers to a region, not an ethnic group. The population is mainly Armenians and Azeri Turks. In the larger cities of mountainous Karabagh, the population is mostly Armenian.
Because the region is split between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as between Muslim and Christian and highland and lowland, war and upheavals of its local population has had a long and sad history.
The Karabagh region has long been a center of Azerbaijani (Azeri Turks) arts and culture, since ancient times.The history of the Armenian weavers goes back well into ancient times as well.
Rug weaving had been taking place in this area as far back as the early 13th century. Evidence of weaving crafts has been found at excavations of archaeological sites dating as far back as 2500 BC. Karabagh rugs were among the most prominent exports of the Caucasus region to medieval Europe.
These were the precursors of the rugs we refer to today as antique Karabagh rugs of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This region was at this time one of the most significant rug-producing centers of the world.
Rugs were generally woven in small workshops or individual homes in the small villages where the different ethnic groups lived during different historic times.
Unlike many other rural communities, woven rugs were important symbols of wealth, not just utilitarian crafts. Weaving was considered an essential skill for women, who began learning to weave at age 6 and were expected to weave at least one piece as part of their dowry. Each family was expected to weave at least one rug per month.
Weaving would be the main vocation for a girl's whole life. At their death, their hook, comb, and scissors tools, and their looms were engraved on their tombstones!
The breeding of the white-grey colored wool of the sheep grew tremendously at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The dyeing skills of the local weavers was extremely important. These experts had to be able to distinguish colors clearly and know how to get the right color from plants and trees.
Often, the vivid magenta-colored field of the early Caucasian Karabagh rugs was considered to be too strong for the Western buyers. This was changed by a chemical process to a dark black-brown color. Unfortunately, because of the iron oxides in the dye, the pile in the field tends to wear down faster than the rest of the rug's pile.
ANTIQUE KARABAGH ORIENTAL RUGS
Antique Karabagh rugs have probably the oldest and most varied patterns of all Caucasian rugs. Their elegance reflects the Armenian and Azerajiani cultures and old traditions.The designs could be woven from a pattern or made freely from the weaver's own imagination.
Although these rugs have many intricate and diverse floral and geometric designs, they have some commonalities they share that make them fit into a distinctive category:
These rugs have longer pile than other Caucasian rugs and are typically more coarse.The weave is distinctive in that it features a double weft between every two rows of knots.There are 2 prevalent types of these rugs from the Karabagh region which became well-known in the 19th century:
Those that descended from Caucasian rugs of the 18th century. These feature tribal geometric and medallion motifs in earthen colors with a lot of folk art, such as small animals.Those closer to Persian rugs with bolder color palettes and Persian designs similar to the Kazak rugs of northern Iran.
ARMENIAN & AZERBAIJANI KARABAGH RUGS
There are Armenian and Azerbaijani types of Karabagh. It is very difficult today to determine which ethnic groups actually wove a particular Karabagh rug since all these rugs are given the name 'Karabagh' in the trade.
Armenian rugs were extremely diverse in their style and color. They contained geometric fields, medallions, and motifs. But there were also crosses, human figures, and geometric bird and animal figures that are not usually found in non-Armenian rugs. These may have had religious significance since they are consistent with motifs found in Armenian churches and monasteries.
Some of the motifs used in Armenian rugs may have been the result of contact with India and China as early as the 4th century AD. Some of these motifs include figs, Asoka trees, pine cones, turtles, serpents, and birds.
Armenian inscriptions are an important part of the whole design and give information about both the weaver and the date of the completion of the piece.
Red cochineal dye was first produced by the Armenians.
These were divided into 4 categories: Quba-Shirvan, Genje-Kazak, Karabagh, and Tabriz. Each was different from the rest all depending on different cultural backgrounds, materials available, and local weaving traditions.
Weavers in the Azerbaijani Karabagh region were known for the 'rug set' which was a central rug approximately 13' x 26' long and 6.5' wide along with 2 side rugs the same length of the central carpet and approximately 3' wide. Head and bottom pieces were sometimes added.
PILELESS FLATWEAVE KARABAGH RUGS
Along with the piled Karabagh rugs, these pileless flatweave weavings were also well-known in the region. Palas, Farmash, Kilims, etc. were made into mats, saddlebags, and salt bags. For example, the Palas was a thin, pileless mat that could be made quickly and cheaply for everyday heavy use.
Kilims had traditional patterns and motifs such as the apple, brick, hand, devil chain, tray, bird, fish, and horseshoe.
The Verni was the most widespread type of the pileless flatweave kilim rugs. It's key features were the S-element and vivid bird images as well as the way in which it was woven allowed the pattern to appear on both sides. This rug was thought to protect the family in a home from foul weather.
DESIGN OF KARABAGH ORIENTAL RUGS
To learn more about Karabagh oriental rugs complete with photos and explanation of Caucasian rug symbology, please continue reading here.