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21.06.04 08:59

A MILLION IN A SQUARE

RUSSIAN MAGAZINE “NATIONAL” – ON HISTORY AND TRADITIONS OF TURKMEN CARPET WEAVING

However much the Orient values carpets only Turkmens could make them not only inseparable part of their material and spiritual culture but also a pictorial ethnical symbol. The national history and centuries old chronicle are captured in original weaves of carpets. It is believed in Turkmenistan that Oguz-Khan’s “edifications” to his sons are in the basis of gels (ornaments) of local carpets. Each gel strictly corresponded to “his” tribe. It is not merely a tribal symbol but rather a composite image that embraces myths and legends about creation of Universe and Humankind and its relations with the outside world. Experts claim that such symbols influence back of the mind and “work” on their own, regardless of how deep they are comprehended by watchers.

A local tradition of carpet weaving dates many thousand years back. The world oldest piled carpet is over two thousand years old. It was found at the excavation of a mound near the Teletsk lake in Gorny Altay. A layer of deep-frozen soil kept the color and ornament of the carpet intact. As it appeared, it matched modern Turkmen carpets in some details. It is assumed that trade caravans might bring this carpet to Altay.

The half-nomadic way of life of Turkmens in the past helped give birth to this craft. A carpet was the natural companion of a nomad in festivities and workdays, in military campaigns and peaceful time. Suitable and practical in terms of transportation, carpets met various housekeeping needs. Some were used to keep warmth in a house, other served as furniture and bed. Carpets could be used as a cradle (salanchak). Camels were dressed out with carpets at weddings or used at funerals as a coffin. Turkmens had around 30 types of carpets: a floor carpet (khaly), a doorway curtain carpet (ensi), a doorstep carpet (germech), various bags to keep house staff (chuval, torba, mafrach), carpet ropes to bind a yurt (movable house), decoration attributes for saddle and baggage animals – horsecloth, under saddle cloth, carpets for prayers (namazlyk) and carpets for funerals (ayatlyk).

As the Turkmen saying goes, it is much easier to dig sand using a needle than weave a carpet. Turkmens regarded carpet weaving skills as women’s most important merit. Carpet weaving craft passed on from generation to generation, from mother to daughter. Girls used to start learning carpet weaving in the age of 5-6 years until they gradually mastered all skills and could reproduce any ornament. Work of a carpet weaver required strong physical force, patience and skills raised to a level of automatism. That is why a woman would become a craftswomen upon reaching the age of 25. As art historian O.Ponomarev noted, “a bare necessity to move up and down a steel comb, weighing 1 kg, thousand times a day, and not simply move it but hit with it using force and get a back-blow into the hand, can make any of our athletes “shed” their hands… Each carpet that we see or admire, purchase or stand on requires, on the average, power of 300 horses, enough to supply a small town with electricity for 8 hours.”

Turkmen carpets were basically made of sheep wool. Camel and goat wool, cotton and silk were used in best ancient pieces. Gleaming silk, usually pink or crimson colored, and matted cotton with a tint of ivory added a fine look to carpets. Wine color dominated in a color gamut of Turkmen carpets. In the past carpet weavers used only natural colors. Various tints of red color were extracted from madder. Yellow color was extracted from buckthorn and sary-chop herb. Brown color – from pomegranate parings. Green color – from copper cutting, processed in clabbered milk or grape vinegar. Anil and cochineal were imported from far abroad and expensive. So, blue and crimson colors were used rarely and in small quantities.

Apart from unrepeatable ornaments, density is another quality of a carpet. Some unique pieces have over one million knots in one square meter. Now Turkmen carpet weavers beat more records. A carpet-giant, “Golden Age of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great”, 301 m2 in size, was recorded in the Guiness Book of Records in 2001. It depicts a sacred book of the Turkmen people by Saparmurat Niyazov, “Rukhnama”, and a standard of the president of Turkmenistan. Until that time the biggest Turkmen carpet was “Turkmen calby” (Soul of Turkmens), woven during WWII on the eve of Turkmen Socialist Republic’s Days in Moscow. 50 years have passed since then and more giant carpets have been woven that were named after President Niyazov – Turkmenbashi (266 m2) and President (294 m2).

Many collectors dream about antique Turkmen carpets. Some people tell that one such carpet was sold at an auction recently for six million USA dollars. Certainly, modern giant carpets are unique in their own fashion. The time will prove what real value they have.

Peter MIKHAILOV

Photo by Alexander Juce

“NATIONAL” magazine (Russia), June 2004.

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