Selection of Antique Kurdish Rugs from Kurdistan
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 Transcaucasia 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 reminiscent 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.
A Brief History On Antique Kurdish Rugs
The Kurds are an Iranian tribe who lived in the Azerbaijan region before Christ and have an estimated population of between 10 million and 13 million today. They occupy a 140,000 square mile region of Kurdistan (otherwise known as Eastern Iraq and Turkey) and Western Iran, including the Persian Azerbaijan mountains, the Soviet Caucasus to the North, and the Khorassan part of Northeast Persia.
The Kurds live a tremendously varied lifestyle today. Some are nomadic mountain shepherds herding their sheep, while others are village farmers who grow small crops of barley and wheat. There are also well suited and worldly businessmen as well. Regardless of the setting, however, the Kurdish people, mostly by women weavers, are still hand knotting carpets the same way their descendants have done for many generations, designing antique rugs that vividly display the spirit, adaptability, and diversity of the Kurdish culture.
Remarkably, Kurdish carpet weavers have been able to adapt carpet patterns from traditional weaving into many of their amazing creations. These adaptations are clearly displayed in village and nomadic pieces of Kurdish peoples in Azerbaijan and Caucasus.
The Northwest Kurds adopted popular Caucasian carpet designs of Karabagh and Kazak. These include the crenellated fence with schematic dragon design borders or the diagonally striped field. One can always tell the difference between these Oriental rugs versus the kinds of rugs the Turkish people weave by their spontaneously extensive assortment of colors including yellow, orange, sky blue and powder, forest green to lime, and pink.
As a matter of fact, the element of color is more important than the design in many Northwest Persian antique Kurdish rugs. The pattern’s masterful definition, definitely Kurdish, is often concealed in a splash of colors. This beautiful effect makes studying these masterful antique Kurdish rugs quite fascinating to the modern abstract artist.
Persian Kurdish mountain weavers, live with their families in black goat hair tents. These temporary dwellings can be transported easily by these semi nomadic people to the mountain pastures during the summer and back down to the valleys during the winter. These Kurdish carpet weavers use primitive, portable rug weaving looms and are masters at weaving wool into stylized natural landscapes as well as performing a variety of other rug making processes.
The Kurds use roots and plants that were gathered locally to come up with an endless display of colors. They wash, card, and separate the wool from their family’s own sheep. Some of the wool is set aside because it will be pressed into felt later. Only the best wool will be used to weave the Kurdish rugs. While they go about their daily chores and activities, all of their hand spun wool is crafted into yarn using simple drop spindles. The process of spinning wool can take longer than the actual knotting does.
Rug making is a positive way to express creativity and gives youth a chance to learn about how color and patterns symbolize the Northwest Kurdish people’s cultural, history and heritage. Evidence that was found in some of the antique Kurdish rugs indicates that children were practicing their weaving. Some of the flowers that were in the center of the carpet were wobbly, as kids’ fingers were still unsteady and not as skilled while they were attempting to help weave these tribal carpets. The design then becomes more clear when their mothers start working on the remainder of the rows of flowers in the carpet again.
About 700 miles east of Azerbaijan is another popular antique Kurdish rug weaving region located between Quchan and Borjund in Persian Khorassan. The Quchan Kurds were moved to this area by the Persian shahs during the 17th and 18th centuries. They were primarily used as a shield against the Turkomans and Uzbeks. They have been able to use the designs of the Turkomans and Baluchis for the last 300 years. To a novice collector, Northeast Kurdish rugs are indistinguishable from Baluch carpets.
For more experienced antique rug collectors, the Kurdish carpets have a larger variety of colors and are softer. In addition, the lines are roughly drawn. You’ll also find tiny flowers and animals along with the rug’s primary design to make it distinctly Kurdish. Upon further examination of the weave of these antique Persian Kurdish rugs, one sees a distinctive symmetrical rug knot. The Turkoman and Baluch rugs, on the other hand, mainly use an asymmetrical knot.
Antique Iranian made carpets that are located in the towns of Senneh and Bidjar show a weaver’s unique resourcefulness very clearly. By 1880, Senneh had become a regional capital. The weavers created their antique Persian Senneh carpets with a tighter weave, pile that’s cut more closely, and a design that’s clearly detailed. That is because the Persian gentry wanted something different. The Persian rug weavers were able to achieve this goal easily by producing silk textiles that had a knot density which rivaled workshop products in major cities.
Bidjar and 40 other villages surrounding the area began designing these carpets as well. Tribal geometric carpet designs were done away with in favor of more intricate Persian floral patterns, including harshang, medallion-and-pendant, mina khani, and the herati antique patterns.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both towns were producing large numbers of Persian rugs to meet both local and national demand. The excellent quality has remained the same over the years in spite of commercialism, which was inevitably not the case in a majority of weaving factories in the larger cities. The Bibjar carpets ranged from palace to mat sizes and embodied traditional Kurdish weaving features such as high-grade and lustrous carded wool, a wide-ranging palette of glorious colors that were dyed naturally, and a balance of pattern that was both symmetrical and asymmetrical.
Bijdar carpets are extremely durable with a rigid foundation and strong weave. They became known as Persian’s Iron Rugs because they lasted for many years. Likewise, Senneh carpets are a characteristic flat weave rugs and kilims which uses compact, ornamented curvilinear designs that contrast sharply with the bold, geometric designs of the kilims of the nomadic tribes in the Near East.
In sum, Persian antique Kurdish carpets are an outstanding example of ancient and unique tribal art that represents the Near East’s cultural heritage. There are no errors, as innovation was extremely prevalent. Perfection and symmetry are of little concern, although a most important asymmetrical harmony exists between the design and color. The excellent quality of the material and the agile craftsmanship are of the topmost value in the art of carpet-making.
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