Kurdish rugs are as diverse as the ethnic weavers who created them. The presence of Kurdish weavers in the northwestern area of Persia and the Iranian Kurdistan region has led to some stylistic overlap. Antique Kurdish rugs are one of the few under-recognized rug types to emerge in the past 30 years. Kurdish groups traditionally populated the eastern edge of Turkey, northern Iraq, western Persia and small areas near Persia’s eastern borders. Although these antique Kurdish village carpets feature motifs that are reminiscent of Caucasian designs, Kurdish weavers were a very small minority in areas north of Persia.
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As their designs reflect, Kurdish weavers aren’t part of a homogeneous group. There are many clans and sub-groups, such as the Jaff and Sanjabi, who produce individual designs. Antique Kurdish rugs feature elegant curvilinear shrubs, superb Herati motifs, Memling guls and exquisite floral. Their style ranges from formal to whimsical. The designs are varied and the colors are exuberant. The rug patterns and symbols used by Kurdish weavers have been absorbed by neighboring weavers and have become part of the larger culture. From the graphic style and the fine fleece to the beautiful colors and iconic patterns, antique Kurdish rugs have innumerable traits that make them highly desirable.
Kurdish Rugs: Long mistaken as Northwest Persian or Caucasian village weaving of indeterminate type, antique Kurdish rugs and carpets have only recently come to be recognized for their distinctive sense of design and fine color. Many of those produced in the Sauj Bulagh region are extremely early, possibly dating before 1800. Kurdish rugs were produced in medallion patterns and more commonly in allover designs, either floral, Mina-Khani patterns, or geometric, like the so-called “Jaff” type. The color of Kurdish rugs is at times astounding, with transparent terracotta and burnt orange tones, gorgeous blues and greens, and vibrant saffron yellows. These color effects are greatly enhanced by the lustrous, silky wool that Kurdish weavers commonly used.
Collection of Tribal Antique Kurdish Rugs and Village Carpets
Until relatively recently Kurdish rugs and carpets were essentially an unrecognized genre of village weaving production. For the most part they were mistaken for the rugs of other, neighboring peoples, about whom more was known.
Nowadays Kurdish rug production is better understood, and it has become increasingly possible to separate Kurdish weaving from the Yuruk Turkish, Caucasian, and Northwest Persian rug productions of which they formed a part.
Thanks to the seminal book by W. Eagleton (An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs and Other Weaving, 1988) and to the more recent and extensive study by J.F. Burns (Antique Rugs of Kurdistan.
A historical Legacy of Woven Art, Seattle, 2003), one can now recognize the Kurdish contribution to Oriental rug weaving not only in the great heyday of nineteenth century production, but even in classical rug weaving going back to the seventeenth or sixteenth centuries.
But notwithstanding all this progress, there is still a tendency to see Kurdish rugs as a variant or subset of antique rug styles rather than an autonomous, distinctive genre in its own right. To some extent this is justified.
Kurdish populations have and remain widely distributed across the Middle East from Anatolia into Iran. While they have their own Iranian related language, their culture tends to acquire a local quality depending on where they live.
So it is not surprising that the Kurdish rugs of Anatolia have designs and techniques that look Turkish (690 and 2433), just as those in the Eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasus regions made rugs that looked Caucasian (2793and 3175), while those in Iran made Persian looking rugs (40485 and 2918).
But the rugs produced by Kurds in all these regions all have a special set of qualities that link them to one another and distinguish them from the larger context in which they were made. These qualities are consistent and clearly discernible, and it is this that sets them apart as Antique Kurdish Rugs.
Perhaps the most significant feature of Kurdish weaving is its commitment to color. While a taste for rich color is by no means the private preserve of Kurdish weaving, it is difficult to find a Kurdish rug that does not have it. A varied and saturated palette is a sort of sine qua non for Kurdish weaving, as all the examples shown here demonstrate. 690 and 2433 from the Nazmiyal Antique Rug Collection would most readily be called Yuruk Anatolian.
But most Yuruks from the later nineteenth century with designs of this type rarely have such rich or varied color. The same may be said of Kurdish rugs with Caucasian cast like 2793 from the Nazmiyal collection. The design here draws equally on pile and kilim traditions from the Transcaucasus region, but the particular rage of colors – autumnal oranges with soft blues, greens, and aubergine is now recognized a distinctive Kurdish palette of the Sauj Bulag region in Northwest Iran.
At times the particular combination of designs indicates a Kurdish background, as in the case of 3175. The field design with its finely detailed octagonal lattice is reminsiscent of Kuba Caucasian rugs, while the so-called “crab” or double vinescroll border is Karabagh Caucasian.
The combination of these otherwise distinct Caucasian elements, however, can be seen as Kurdish. 40485 from the Nazmiyal collection is made up of a Mina Khani trellis design of Persian type, but combined with portions of border patterns. Kurdish rugs are known for their penchant for the Mina Khani, but a particularly Kurdish feature is also this use of borders as field designs. The combination of the Mina Khani, the borders, and the spectacular color identifies this piece as Kurdish in spades.
Designs that one can label as specifically Kurdish are more difficult to identify, but they do exist. Perhaps the best-known example of this type is the diamond lattice found commonly on Jaff Kurd bag faces from Northwest Iran like this example (696). Baluch rugs have somewhat similar designs, but they are not quite like this, nor do they tend to have such spectacular, rich color. Again, note the blend of blues, greens, aubergine, and rich orange and yellow.
Another type of design that appears to be particularly dear to Kurdish weavers is a larger diamond lattice made up of serrated leaves linked by rosettes, like 2918 from the Nazmiyal Collection, from Northwest Iran. Although it appears to much more geometric, the design on the Anatolian Kurdish rug no. 2433 is also essentially the same idea, although it has hooked cruciform medallions rather than rosettes connecting the serrated leaves, with an additional lattice of lines.
While the particular range of rich colors with the lavender cochineal field is distinctively Eastern Turkish or Yuruk, this lattice design is unusual for that region and relates to Iranian Kurdish pieces like 2918. The connections between these two pieces suggest that Kurdish groups widely separated in geography nevertheless preserved an underlying unity in their weaving traditions.
When one recognizes all the various kinds of piece assembled here as part of a larger body of Kurdish weavings, another important aspect of Kurdish weaving emerges – its versatility or wide range of design. Kurdish rugs embody the stark, bold rectilinear geometry of nomadic weaving just as the do the more sinuous curves of classical Persian and Turkish rug design. This is no doubt the result of the extensive peregrinations of the Kurds, inhabiting as they do such a wide swath of the Middle East.
But it is still remarkable how much all these manifestation of Kurdish weaving have uncommon no matter how far these people traveled and despite the widely divergent traditions that they reacted to in the course of their history.