As long as Ovez remembers himself, he would wake up and fall asleep with a resonant tap of a small hammer on an anvil - tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. It seemed as if someone invisible was steadily keeping time. He would open his eyes and see his father's face lit up in semidarkness of the room, and he felt warm and comfortable. He liked to go to bed in father's workshop. Father didn't object to it. All of them - grandfather, grandmother, father, mother and other relatives - were jewelers or zergers in Turkmen. The dynastic craft passed from generation to generation. Nobody doubted that Ovez would continue the tradition taking into account that he could sit for hours and watch grown-ups working, play with father's homemade tools. It took some time before he started using them for real, but meanwhile the boy was given the other serous task.
In 1960-s, jewelry art was banned in Turkmenistan on the pretext that no jewelry art had allegedly existed in this southern republic and everything crafted by masters had been sold in bazaars. It was treated as private business mercilessly stifled by the system of that time.
Despite the formidable veto, the Soyunovs kept working. They toiled underground, in earth-houses dug out outside of the city, several persons in one room. Even there they tried to make as less noise as possible not to draw someone else's attention. Of course, they could stop giving a damn about it and do something else, live a safe life without hiding from anybody. The point was they could do nothing but jewelry and they remained faithful to themselves and their profession.
The time passed by, the family grew and Ovez's father bought a house on the outskirts of Ashgabat with the windows facing two streets. It was done deliberately to keep the approaches to the house under control for the war with jewelers still went on. Ovez used to play with boys at the same time being on alert to signal the approach of a policeman. If he saw a uniform cap with the red cap-band, he immediately ran to the gate and knocked on the door giving a prearranged signal. The parents working in the basement instantly hid instruments covering them with sand kept in sacks.
It lasted for a rather long period, until his father, Esen aga and a number of renowned jewelers, driven to despair by the fact that their craft was in the a bad state, began appealing to various authorities proving the jewelry art did exist in Turkmenistan but it was dying away, and the ban on the profession could result in its disappearance. Surprisingly, the voices of masters were ultimately heard and they started working openly not fearing every knock on the door. However, the years of ban affected the craft: the fear of punishment made many jewelers change their profession. They did not return to it. They were not to blame. They had to survive somehow.
Only few real jewelers remained, the craft went into a recession. It was exactly that period, mid 60-s of last century, that father began teaching Ovez the basics of the ancient trade.
"I had great teachers, Ovez says. My father learned from Hummet aga, grandfather of Kurbannazar Ezizov, the Turkmen famous poet, and his brother Annaly aga. They are our relatives. Kurbannazar himself worked as a jeweler when he was young. My grandmother sold his small but fine jewels. He bought books from the proceeds. Who knows, may be the jewelry art helped him become a wonderful poet for making intricate traceries on the silver plate is equal to comprehend man's mysterious soul. The old men transferred the secrets of workmanship to my father, and he did so to me. No books and reference literature on jewelry craft existed, knowledge was passed on from father to son through practice. Father was not only a brilliant master. He was forbearing and wise teacher. After his death, his tutors, Hummet aga and Annaly aga, continued to teach me. Both my father and old men taught me not only to tap with hammer on metal and engrave patterns. Being with them, I understood the main thing: to achieve something in life, to live in harmony with your own conscience, you need to be devoted to your profession and love it infinitely".
Ovez crafted his first silverware, a brooch or gulyaka, as a fifth form schoolboy. He was very proud of it. In Form 9, Ovez participated at the Republican Arts Exhibition with his works.
Ovez Soyunov devoted 36 years of his life to the jewelry art. The Turkmen national decorations crafted by him were displayed world-wide at the exhibitions in Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Turkey, Iran, South Africa. His works are exhibited in the National Museum of Turkmenistan in Ashgabat.
Over many years, Ovez Soyunov taught the jewelry art to nearly 100 persons.
"Certainly, not all of them have become jewelers subsequently, the master says, someone burnt his fingers and stopped attending classes, someone decided that the other craft would earn him more money, the third lacked enough patience. The labor of a jeweler is, first of all, patience. The family circumstances forced others to refuse the trade but ten men out of this hundred still work and their works make me happy. I believe they will be worthy successors.
"What about your children? Do they wish to continue the family tradition?"
"No, they followed the other path. My three sons and daughter know the whole working process and could have worked independently. Yet not everyone can become a poet or an artist, and a jeweler is the same poet and artist."
We talked in Ovez's small shop with his instruments neatly lying on the long table. The fireplace was on and the fire in it lighted up the faces of the master's ancestors looking at us from the portraits on the wall. They were grey-haired aged people in big hats or telpeks and long-skirted robes or dons. I asked Ovez to show me the jewelry he made. Zerger spread out on the rug a striped piece of "keteni" cloth, traditional fabric of Turkmen women's dresses. Soon, the plain room was illuminated with soft, warm light. On the bright striped piece of cloth, as if treasures from oriental tales, there lied framed with silver jingles women's decorations with oblique angles, bracelets, "chepelik", "chaprak" and "changa" - adornments of antique gowns, blue turquoise and pinkish red cornelian dimly glimmered. A thought came: how strong the love for women may be to put such beauty on them!
"Ovez, you have said that a jeweler is a poet and an artist at the same time. I wonder, what is more in your creation - your own fantasy or following traditions?"
"I copy nothing. I try to introduce to any decoration my own, as I think, original features that are absent in other articles and prompted by my fantasy. However, I don't move far away from the traditional path. I strive to preserve and reflect the national character in every part. Turkmens do not perceive pretentiousness in anything, and we transform this natural quality to our jewelry. They seem simple at first sight, but having examined them closely, one can see rare combination of harmony, dignity, nobility and taste. Every Turkmen tribe has it own direction, style and traceries. They don't repeat each other and can be easily distinguished. In my works I collect the bouquet from these different ornaments and introduce my own motives and coloring."
"To my knowledge, Turkmen jewelers have always worked with silver and seldom, almost never, with gold. Why did they do so?"
"First, silver articles served not only as decorations but as a means of protection for our ancestors. In the battle, the Turkmen women fought together with men. High telpecs and chain armors protected men and sharply pointed gupba, women's head-dress in daily life, protected women from saber stabs. Additionally, wide breast brooch, gulyaka, and bracelets from the wrist to elbow served as armor for women. Gold is a fragile metal, breaks down quickly, but silver is ductile and can soften the strength of the strike. That is why decorations in the ancient times weighed from one to five kilograms. Besides, silver has antiseptic qualities, and if a warrior was wounded in the battle, for example, the arrow stuck in the body, healers took it out with special silver plates by placing silver plates to the wound. Secondly, it was required by our hot climatic conditions. Together with sweat, the body is relieved from harmful chemical substances and silver helps remove them by absorbing them. Sometimes, when I have to fuse old silver, it emanates such smoke and fumes that it becomes difficult to breathe. These are oxides that silver absorbed from many generations of its owners."
"Ovez, for 36 years of work, tons of silver have probably gone through your hands. You are a connoisseur of antique jewelry articles. Can you make out a real old work from the fake one?"
"Sure. In the past, zergers didn't make haste, worked with total dedication. It took from half a year to one year to craft one article. There were times when the process came to an end and a master didn't like something, he didn't try to cover misdoings by flowery and tasteless flourishes. He took away all gilding, took out inserted stones, refused silver and started the whole process again! It was the matter of professional pride and honor. If you brand your ware, don't disgrace your name. The real masterpieces appeared in such cases. Tasteless, talentless botch made in one week is seen at once - it has no warmth.
Any man can be taught to make decorations, but only the one who has soul, respects his labor and considers the trade he serves the meaning of his whole life can lay his heart in what he does.
Turkmen decorations, like adornments of other nations, have always borne a special meaning. For instance, twisted white and black wire protected from evil eye. Turkmens compared silver and gilding on it with sheep fat and bee honey - the symbols of well-being and sweet life. Nowadays, when young couples go through "nika" - the rite of marriage, aged women wish that bride and groom unite with each other as sheep fat and honey, saying otherwise, complemented each other as gold and silver.
There were decorations for little children as well. They did not only gladden the eyes, but had purely practical significance. When a baby started crawling, he/she was put on "kurteche", a sort of vest with sewn on jingles at the back. Mother busy with home work, could determine by the jingles sound where her baby was."
"Ovez, what are you working on now?"
"I am doing a full set of adornments to the wedding dress of a bride. I must note, in recent years I received many such orders. The work is very laborious, lasts almost half a year and I have to work from the morning till late at night to do in time. But this is not the main thing. I want a bride look very beautiful, for it will be one of her most memorable days in her long, and I wish to believe, happy life. Can you imagine a Turkmen wedding without national decorations? Centuries pass by, fashion changes but tradition remains unchanged - to be the most beautiful on this day."
"When the order is fulfilled, the article doesn't belong to the author any more. Ovez, you may recognize your own works at once. Did you come across adornments made by your relatives among other ones? Can you tell them apart?"
"Sure, I can. I remembered their hand from the childhood and won't mix them with other ones. When I see my father's and his fellow-mates' decorations on women my heart fills with joy. Few works done by my father are left at home, most of them have been lost. One, in one of the countries where adornments crafted by my father were exhibited, he found out that part of his collection had been stolen. First, we were grieved but then thought: it was a kind of recognition. And if someone wears these decorations - let it be so, my father worked for it."
"What is the status of the jewelry art in Turkmenistan?"
Thanks to the care of our leader, it is reviving. Turkmenistan opened the Academy of Arts which has the jewelry faculty. We are happy about it. I have already told about gloomy period of the ban of profession and that there were no books in Turkmenistan on the Turkmen jewelry art. I must note the other thing: many samples of old masters that could help restore the ancient craft were irreparably lost in various periods. Today, our customs authority strictly oversees that the national heritage doesn't leave the Turkmenistan. There was time when visiting guests bought up national decorations from people who had no idea of their true value. Considerable part of rarities left the country and disappeared. It's a pity. I reiterate, the jewelry art in Turkmenistan is rising to its feet and I am proud that I have made a contribution to its revival."
"What are your plans for the future?"
"I dream to create adornments for our magnificent racer, Yanardag, portrayed in the State Emblem of Turkmenistan. From times immemorial, Turkmens have always adorned their horses grudging nothing for them, as Turkmens regarded a horse as a family member- friend, brother, savior in the battle. Once in Iran, I saw a saddle of fantastical work of the ancient Turkmen jewelers enchased with ivory, gold and precious stones. I thought why not do the same for our most beautiful steed? At present, I am designing the composition of a saddle. Then, I will start designing a harness."
Ovez Soyunov has another brilliant and noble dream - to teach jewelry to the disabled, to those who cannot move and are stuck to wheelchairs.
"Well, It has happened so that they cannot stand on their feet but they have good hands, thinking heads, and the main thing, the wish that you are treated not as a helpless invalid, but with respect as a full-fledge man, Ovez says excitingly. For a start, I can teach twenty of them, and to make their studies diverse it would be good to engage sculptors, artists, educationalists in this work. May be some guys would want to try themselves in the other kind of creation. Having become professionals, they could earn no less than their healthy fellow persons. Beautiful things made by their hands, participation in exhibitions and contests, travels around the country and abroad would give energy to them and strengthen the spirit.
It is only an idea. To realize it, a lot of things have to be done - to find a classroom, tutors, assistants, arrange their meals, transport, provide with tools. It is not an unrealizable task. Only interest in helping our compatriots overcome the trouble is needed."
A small hammer resonantly taps on an anvil as if someone invisible is steadily keeping time. Well, it is so, only a small hammer taps, not the moments of life but the minutes of coming into life of a new miracle. Every time, it has different names - "gulyaka", "gupba", "genjik", "asyk", "bukov" or "changa". But one thing is certain: it is really a miracle. And one more thing: if one lends his ears, in the tapping of a hammer one can clearly hear the other sound - the beat of the master's heart.