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Learn About Caucasian ( Former-USSR) Rugs
Bessarabia is a historical term for the region bounded by the Dniester River to the north and east, the Prut to the west and the lower Danube River and the Black Sea to the south. This area would now incorporate parts of Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. Bessarabian kilims are made of wool and generally feature stylized floral designs in red, black, brown, and cream.
Bokhara is the name of a town in Uzbekistan. These rugs were woven by Turkoman tribes and traded in the city of Bokhara. Since these rugs accumulated in the trading center, the name of the city became the name of the rug. The most common design element is the Tekke gul, woven by the Tekke tribe, which is roughly an octagon divided into quadrants. Two opposing quadrants in the gul will be light while the other two will be dark. Madder root, from which red dye is made, is readily available in this region, and red is considered the color of joy and happiness, so shades of red and red-brown are often seen in these rugs. They are generally shorn closely so that the pile is short. Sizes are typically small, but may be as large as 7' x 10'. Bohkara rugs are also made in Pakistan for export where production centers around the city of Lahore. The old Turkoman rugs were typically woven on a wool foundation, while the new Pak Bokharas are woven on a cotton foundation. Pak Bokharas are generally woven in red, camel, and ivory, but may also be seen in other colors as well. Turkoman Bokharas were primarily made prior to the Bolshevik Revolution with Pak Bokharas being woven in the 1960's and 1970's. Fewer Pak Bokharas are woven today as market demand has waned.
Caucasian rugs are produced in the regions lying on both sides of the Caucasus Mountains. This region is made up of three countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The Black Sea and Turkey lie to the west, Iran is to the south, Russia is to the north, and the Caspian Sea to the east. Good Caucasian rugs are among the most desirable in the world and may be the most costly per square foot. If very finely woven, these rugs are from the Eastern side of the Caucasus by the Caspian Sea. Somewhat coarsely woven and thick rugs are from the Central region, which is Armenia. Georgia, specifically, did not develop a rug industry. Rugs dating before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 are more desirable. Following the revolution the industry made a 5 year plan to manufacture a certain number of rugs, resulting in lower quality rugs that were made with low quality synthetic dyes. 19th century Kilim and Soumak rugs produced in the Caucasus region that are in good condition are rare and are especially valuable to collectors.
Karabagh is a mountainous region that is subject to dispute between Azerbaijan to the east and Armenia to the west. Karabagh rugs made just north of the present Iranian border have taken on the Persian floral influence in their designs although in construction and general appearance they are similar to Kazak rugs. Other Karabagh rugs resemble those made in Shirvan. Overall, Karabagh rugs have the most varied design traditions of any in the Caucasian rug family. An old Karabagh rug in good condition is rare and highly collectible.
Karagashli is a village in Russian Daghestan, which is in the North Caucasus mountains. Karagashli rugs utilize the design elements and primary colors - red, blue, and yellow - that are common to other Caucasian rugs, especially Kuba rugs. However, Karagashli rugs feature a unique design motif; a slanted palmette that repeats down the center of the rug and is surrounded by small geometric figures of birds.
Kazak rugs are woven in the Caucasus region, not in Kazakstan. The city of Kazak controls a series of valleys extending from modern Azerbaijan into Armenia and Georgia. The area is populated by Armenian and nomadic Kurds. Kazak rugs in blue, ivory, red, and yellow are some of the boldest and most colorful of the Caucasian rugs. Rugs are rarely as large as 6' x 9'. Designs feature s-shaped hooks, eight pointed stars, a crab shaped gul, and other bold geometric design elements. It is not uncommon to see in these narrow rugs a pattern that features a medallion repeating three times lengthwise. The wool overcasting finishing the sides of these rugs is often colorful as well. Like all old Caucasian rugs, these are wool on a wool foundation or, in rare cases, wool on a goat hair foundation. An old Kazak rug in good condition is as valuable as any antique Persian rug.
The area between Shirvan and Daghestan in the Eastern Caucasus is Kuba, which is considered the administrative capital of the area. Kuba rugs come in many qualities, but none are considered low quality. While medallion compositions do appear in Kuba rugs, they are best known for their meticulous all-over patterns of small, detailed motifs. It is not uncommon to see a dark blue field and borders in colors like red, yellow, and white. The Chi Chi design Kuba has an all-over pattern of octagons. Kuba rugs are some of the finest of the Caucasian rugs due to their dense, tight weave and careful, precise designs. Kuba, having been a Khanate of Persia, shows Persian influence in their rugs with stylized, almost geometric floral patterns in some of the rugs. It is not uncommon to see these dense floral patterns in Kuba rugs of the 19th century. Sizes tend to be small, 3' x 5', or long and narrow.
Pazyryk (Paz-uh-rik) Rug:
The oldest rug in existence resides at the Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg): it is called the Pazyryk rug. The rug came from the Eastern Altai region in Russia, from the Pazyryk Burial Mound. This rug is of wool and was woven sometime in the 5th or 4th century BC. It measures approximately 6'1" by 6'8". The rug was very likely made in Tabriz, which is located in northwestern Iran. The rug was originally buried with its owner. The tomb was subsequently raided, and the opening that the robbers left behind allowed water to seep into the grave containing the rug. The rug froze and was thus preserved in ice until the 1940's when archaeologists from the former Soviet Union discovered the rug. Job, the owner of our company, viewed this rug at the Hermitage Museum in 2007 and found it to be in unexpectedly good condition relative to its age: the rug only has two areas of significant decay. In this photo, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum (2006), you will see one corner of the Pazyryk rug.
Principal weaving area in the Caucasus from the central east coast of the Caspian Sea 200-300 miles inland, which is in the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan. Rugs made here have a very fine weave and low pile. Rugs made prior to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 are very desirable. Shirvan having been part of Persia and now being the closest of the Caucasian weaving areas to modern Iran, some scholars feel their rugs show more Persian influence than do other Caucasians. Sizes are between 3'-4' wide and 7'-10' long. Colors tend to be bright shades of blue, red, yellow, ivory, and green.
Soumak is name of a region in the Caucasus where the Soumak weaving technique was likely invented. The weaving technique involves wrapping strands of wool around pairs of warp threads, which is a process that results in what is sometimes referred to as brocade. Due to the wrapping technique, when woven rows are compacted, the resulting texture is thick and the wool rises somewhat from the body of the rug. The Soumak weaving technique is also seen in rugs and bags from Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey. Rugs are predominantly woven in tribal, geometric motifs. Soumak rugs from the Caucasus region pre-dating the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 would be highly valuable and are difficult to find in good condition. Some Soumak rugs are being made in India and China using similar construction in both traditional Caucasian patterns and Persian influenced designs with all-over floral motifs.
Talish people live in the Republic of Azerbaijan near the Iranian border. Rugs woven by the Talish feature the geometric designs and deep primary colors typical of Caucasian rugs. Rugs are usually long and narrow with a single colored field of blue or blue-green surrounded by wide, layered borders in contrasting colors. Some rugs will have stars, octagons, or hooked diamond-shapes in the field. Talish rugs with the plain field are considered more highly collectible.