Armenian Rug Production History

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Armenians are one of the most ancient peoples of the world. Their arts date back to thousands of years. However, the Armenian arts, as such, took their own national features in the Middle Ages due to the development of architecture, music, literature, fine and applied arts (jewellery, pottery, rug and carpet making). Back to the Middle Ages, rugs became a profitable commodity that brought a world-wide fame to the Armenian rug-making art and still is very popular in the world market.

Some remnants of carpets have been discovered at the graveyard of the village of Artik, Armenia, (XIV - IX B. C.). A fragment of a carpet reminds of the so-called jejim-carpet with the swastika symbolising water and snake. It was for this motif that foreign scientists called the Armenian rugs dragon-rugs. Both these motifs have been persistently predominant in all the branches of the Armenian medieval arts - architecture, jewellery, pottery, rug making, needlework, etc. In Yerevan, at the Karmir Bloor (VIII - VII B. C.) clews of dyed wool and various types of woolen fabrics have been discovered.

The ornaments of murals, the compositions and the harmony of red and blue colors of Arin Berd (Yerevan) have almost been transferred to the rug making of our days.

At Karmir Blur a flaxen strip of carpet was discovered, dating back to the VII c. B. C. The fabric of this strip of carpet and the Armenian carpet are absolutely the same. Another treasure discovered here was a piece of piled carpet. Sargon II, the king of Assyria (722 - 705 B. C.) when plundering the Temple of Musasir had also taken motley textiles and flaxen clothes. In Sargon's inscription (714 B. C.) there is mention of 130 multicolor clothes, flaxen dresses and especially of a great number of sheep flocks (up to 100 thousand) all looted from Urartu.

The historian Herodotus (485 - 425 B. C.) informs us that "the inhabitants of the Caucasus dyed the wool with a number of plants having dyeing qualities and they used it to make woven fabrics covered with drawings which never lose their brilliant color... ". In the second half of the IV century the Persian King Shapuh forced 131 thousand Armenian families, mostly urban citizens, artisans, out of Armenia into Persia. As a result, the economy, the handicrafts and arts in our country experienced a heavy setback, and it was only after two centuries that the economy began to flourish again.

The Arab historians mention that in the 80s of the VIII century the taxes levied from Armenia included 20 rugs. In 911, the caliph had been given a rug, "60x60 kangoons" (an Armenian measure) in size, on which the Armenian masters had worked for ten years. The Bulgarian king Krum (A. 0. 813-814) in captivating the Armenian inhabitants of Adrianoplehad at the same time looted a great number of Armenian rugs. The Byzantine emperor Morik (Morick) forced the Armenian population of that town out of Karin (in 590). During the reign of the Armenian Bagratides (IX - XI centuries) thanks to the large-scale trade relations under Arab domination and influence, the Armenian rugs were glorified over a large territory stretching from the Kama kingdom of Bulgaria to Turkmenia, from Baghdad to Constantinople. Ibn-Halikal in his "Book of Travels" (977 - 978) gives preference to the silk textiles of Dabil (Dvin) compared with those made in Rumium (Byzantium).

An unknown Arab geographer of the X century characterises the Armenian rugs by the word khali. According to his data, the Armenians living in Khoi, Berkri, Arjesh, Khlat, Nakhichevan, Bitlis and other towns produced "khali carpets and carpets". By the "khalicarpet" he surely had in mind the piled carpets. The Ambassador of the Arab caliphate lbn Tadlun testifies that in the first half of the X century the Armenians were busy in trading and making rugs in the Volga basin. The ground space under the enormous tent of the Bulgarian king of Kama, which could seat a thousand people, was entirely covered with Armenian rugs. The Armenians were busy here not only in trading but also in handicrafts. In a Georgian source (XI c.) we are informed of the "Armenian tapasta" (rug).

Yakoot, an Arab historian of the XIII century (1178 - 1229) wrote: "The Armenians make huge rugs in the town of Van. The rugs made in Kalikali (Karin) were called 'khali' after the name of the town". As a result of the policy carried out by the Byzantine Emperors the Armenian municipalities along with the urban population were gradually forced to move into the inner parts of the Empire. This weakened the country and made the Seljuks invasion easy. These deportations became massive during the Turkish - Seljuk and Mongolian - Tatar invasions. In such conditions, rug and carpet making was carried out only by people settled in the impregnable mountains.

Marco Polo, the Italian traveller (XIII c.) passing through Turkmenia (the name given to the Turkish - Seljuk state of Cappadocia in the XI - XIV centuries) commented: "The Armenians and Greeks in the three major towns of Konya (lkonio), Kaiseri (Kesaria) and Sivas (Sebastia) made the most beautiful and finest rugs". The Armenians of those three towns had been deported in the first half of the XI century from Vaspurakan, Ani, Kars. In XI century Armenian colonies were founded in Egypt as well, where the Armenians continued making rugs. In addition, the Armenians were also making rugs in the Ukrainian, Polish, Bulgarian, Roumanian and Hungarian Armenian colonies. According to the Russian historians Karamzin and Glinka, the first Armenian colony in Kiev, founded in the early 60s of the XI century, had grown into a large settlement by the end of the next century. Here the Armenians were engaged in jewellery, sericulture and rug making. By the example of the Armenian commercial inns, other Armenian colonies began to appear in Astrakhan, Nor-Nakhichevan, Theodosia, Moscow and Petersburg. The Armenian traders in Nor-Jugha acquiring facilities in Persia and Russia especially from the Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1667 - 1672), began to trade over Russia on a large scale. The yearly turnover of the silk textiles and rugs exported from Persia into Russia and Europe constituted some 22 thousand bales. Interesting facts have been preserved on the Armenian traders of Cilicia, Cyprus, Western Armenia and Persia having established commercial ties with Europe over the Mediterranean. In the price list of the commodities exported from Cyprus to Florence from 1275-to 1330, one can find the price of the Armenian carpets, as well. Another source informs us that the Armenians (1340 - 1354) were selling rugs in the square of the church of St. Donation in Brugge. During this period (and perhaps even earlier) the Armenian commercial ships sai-led to France, Spain, England and Holland. In the period of the Crusades the commercial links with France grew stronger. In the XIII century the Armenian rugs in France were known as the "Sarracin" rugs.

In the Armenian manuscripts the word 'carpet' was first used in the translation of the "Bible" (V.A.D.), whereas we find the word 'gorg' in the XIII c. as a synonym to carpet. The Armenian linguist Grigor Ghapantsian was of the opinion that the Armenian word gorg originated from the Hittite-Armenian word - stock in the form of koork, koorkas. The linguist E. Sartivent explained that the koork was used as a cloth for covering horses or mules. By the way, in the Armenian villages of the 40s' of XX century horses could still be seen covered with such car-pets the samples of which are preserved in the State History museum of Armenia. There are other records and pictures concerning the Armenian rugs still preserved on the Armenian medieval architectural memorials and on the frescos of churches.

In the Armenian miniature art and murals we find rugs, ornamented cushions, coverlets and needlework shawls, displaying the seated Virgin, Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Saints. The ornamental forms of the Armenian rugs and carpets are often repeated in the various ornamentation found in the miniatures of the Armenian manuscripts. One would better say they repeat and complete one another as elements of the common national art. The Armenian Catholicos Abraham Kretatsi (1735) has left behind a record testifying the importance of carpet and rug making in the Armenian domestic life. He informs us that in the village of Khndzoresk a great many people had been making carpets and rugs. But, as the historian informs us painfully, the Turks came, massacred them and plundered everything they had. And only very few of the remaining people continued to make them. Now, after the age-old deprivations, that art of vital necessity has been restored again in this part of the country.

In the second half of the XIX century and the first fifteen years of the XX century, Armenia was a major rug exporter. The Armenian population in Turkey, Persia, Russia (and especially the Transcaucasus) took up the production of rugs and carpets with a new impetus. In Western Armenia there appeared workshops for silkworm breeding and rug making and people began to weave Armenian traditional rugs, carpets and other cloths.

In 1902, in Caesarea alone there were 2000 looms, and in its suburbs - 1500 (of which 700 in Kemerek and its suburbs). In Caesarea there was even a shop commission with its own rules and statutes. Both the workers and the head masters were Armenians. Its yearly output amounted to 10000 rugs (both silk and wool). The silk was supplied by the Armenian population of Brussa, the wool - by that of Kyurin. The number of looms operating in Sebastia and Caesarea amounted to 10000, that of the workers - 12000. The Armenian rugs exported from Western Armenia (Turkey) were sold mainly in Europe and America where the products of Karin, Baberd, Manazkert, Moosh, Sassoon, Van, Akhtamar, Norshen, Vostan, Artskeh, Berkri, Moks, Shatakh, Akni, and other towns were given high prices.

In the towns of Eastern Armenia and the Transcaucasus - Kars, Yerevan, Olti, Surmalu, Kaghzvan, Karakilissa (now Kirovakan), Karvansara (ljevan), Alexandropol (Leninakan), Akhalkalak, Akhaltsikha, Tiflis, Borchalu, Nakhichevan, Agulis, Gandzak (Kirovabad), Partev, Kazakh, Khuba (Kuba) this form of traditional Armenian art made also a new headway. In Shushi there even operated a rug making workshop - school.

In the Iranian towns also with Armenian population there was a growing interest towards that art. Only in Tabriz there were already 10 rug making Armenian workshops with mostly Armenian workers. However, the market suggests its own rules resulting in the appearance of elements of eclecticism in the techniques of the Armenian classical rugs. The skilful weavers of traditional rugs endowed with their creative individuality continued to develop this unique and national art with their own innovations.

The First World War and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey (in 1915) utterly destroyed the national economy of Armenia. The remnants of the Armenian population survived from the Turkish yataghan found refuge in Syria, the Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, France, Italy, Iran and Russia. Western Armenia was completely emptied of its Armenian population. The entire property of the two million victims and the hundreds of thousands of refugees were looted. During the years of the First World War and following the Armistice, the Armenian rugs and carpets looted by the Turks were especially sought after and highly priced in the home markets of Turkey and abroad, though under the label of Turkish rugs!

Hunger and poverty, the flow of refugees resulting out of the I World War, threw out into the foreign markets enormous numbers of Armenian rugs and carpets. In 1918, according to eyewitnesses, from the district of Ijevan alone some 5000 rugs were sold at the most trifle prices, and another 3000 from Zanghezour found their way to Europe and America.

From ancient times carpets and rugs have been regarded as a vital necessity in the Armenian domestic life. Probably it was the lack of wood as a building material that made the people to cover the ground floors of palaces, public and ecclesiastical buildings with bast mats, matting, carpets and rugs. In almost all the towns, villages or settlements of historical Armenia people used to make the so-called jejims, house-flannels, coverlets, curtains, khurjins, blankets, salt-bags, horse-coverlets and finally carpets and rugs. This type of handicraft was so strongly linked with the domestic life of the people that it had become a necessity for every family. The carpets and rugs formed an indispensable part in the dowry of the Armenian girls, who familiarised themselves at an early age with that art and, till their marriage, prepared their own dowry of rugs and carpets themselves.

One can find numerous records concerning the rugs and carpets in the Armenian folklore, the tales, legends, etc. In studying the tale of "Anahit" as elaborated by Armenian well-known writer L. Aghayan, one finds out that rug making was highly appreciated among heathen Armenians. From time immemorial, the simplest and primary variant of floor coverings was the mat woven with green branches, reeds, grass, etc. Technically it did not differ from the floor cloth made of flaxen or woolen threads. When the common woven drape began to give way to the striped floor-cloth with its surface covered with narrow or large stripes of natural colors (as the dyeing technique was unknown yet), there was need to enrich those simple rhythms with the simplest geometrical forms. At first they had to break that colored line, the narrow stripe, and proceed in zigzag lines. This break in the horizontal line gave way to an altogether new type of technique unknown as yet in weaving. It meant the birth of carpet weaving. With the juxtaposition of the broken, horizontal and vertical jagged lines, it became possible to bring about various geometrical designs on the flat surface in the form of triangles, quadrangles, squares, rectangles, circles, hexagons, octagons, etc.

The use of various colors made its way to new graded forms, "volumes", patterns familiar to the applied arts, under new interpretations. Thus, the carpet became a complex fabric with a diversity of themes, with a definite system of patterns and ideological content. The various forms of the floor-mat and carpet differed from each other by their weaving techniques. A rhythmic break in the horizontal line or stripe combined with the addition of a vertical pattern in the fabric brought about a qualitative change which gave the differentiating feature to the woven carpet compared with the fabrics of the other floor-cloths.

The types of the Armenian carpets and their development show that there came a transitional moment in the weaving technique - that of the rug making. The weaving of carpet, giving the possibility of creating a complex and diverse form of patterns and compositions, made the whole surface subject to vertical, long or short splits, which, on the one hand, loosened the toughness of the fabric, and, on the other, deprived the carpet of displaying any circles, or vertical lines or stripes. The tendency and efforts of avoiding these two short-comings led to the making of the rug and its weaving techniques. In the case of rug making, knots were added to the vertical wefts, the two ends of which were brought out on the visible side of the rug. In the case of cloth weaving, the patterns were needle-worked on the warp; thus the main difference between the weaving of floor-cloths, carpets and the rug was that the patterns of the rugs were exclusively created through the knots. Such rugs were later known as knot-rugs or knot-carpets.

Thus the main differentiating external feature of a rug was its pile. That is why it is often called a piled rug or carpet (the Turkish expression of "khavlu khalicha" is derived from the Armenian word "khav" meaning pile, nap in Armenian). This napped surface was obtained by cutting the ends of the knotted threads over the surface of the rug. It was usually 4 - 6 mm. in length for the Armenian rugs. At times its length was even measured in centimeters, in accordance with the demand of the clients. Rugs, which have a shorter nap, were very thin and light, not typical to the Armenian rugs and might be of machine product.

Most familiar types of the Armenian rugs are divided into seven groups, such as, the palas, mazar (transition from the drape to the carpet), jejim, the matnakash carpet (a double faced carpet, the most important of the group), the shoolal carpet, the oghjids, both straight and diagonal, which the Armenians call kazakhi, the Turksverni, the kurds-yamani. The latter also include the famous Armenian snake-carpets, the Sileh, (zileh), the Sumakhi (Shamakhi) carpets and finally the fringed carpets. The materials used in the Armenian rug making, such as the weaving thread (wool, silk flax, hemp, cotton), the dyes (vegetal, animal, mineral, chemical) the instruments, the weaving techniques and the ornaments date back to remote times.

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