Monday, June 19, 2006

Mid-Amu Darya/Ersari/Beshir and why we know nothing!

Interestingly, when I posted this Beshir rug from my post below on Turkotek, I was sent by one of the moderators to an incredibly confusing discussion about what constitutes Ersari and Beshir rugs. The answer, as I understand it, is that we have no idea. The Beshir, for example, may not be a tribe at all. As a result, one contributor to the discussion even suggests that Beshir rugs should merely be called OMAD (Other Middle Amu Darya) rugs. Alas, we return to my post earlier about the confusion of Central Asian rugs and the mystery of all those rugs which "experts" put into the Middle Amu Daya category. As one deconstructs these issues further, we find that perhaps Central Asian rugs plainly defy categorization.... At the same time, however, it is the desire to categorize them that makes them so interesting.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Bukharan Beshir Turkmen

When one goes looking for carpets in Bukhara, one runs into endless numbers of Beshir carpets. Many of these carpets are of huge sizes, and they likely at one time laid on the floor of large rooms in the homes of wealthy merchants. Most of these larger rugs, which are also mostly in poor condition, have the five medallion design (large medallion in the center, and two smaller ones on each end). This one (which I just picked up), however, is quite a bit different. It is filled with what are usually the secondary guls in the five medallion design, but these guls are almost seamlessly attached to each other to make a crowded field:

My question is who are these "Beshir" Turkmen who seemed to make so many rugs for the inhabitants of Bukhara, and when was this done? My guess is that they must have lived nearby, perhaps in the Turkmenistan oasis of Mary (otherwise known as Merv). I also assume that most of these carpets were made at the turn of the century, anytime from the late 19th century into the 1920s. By the 1930s, however, one would assume that such displays of wealth as large Beshir carpets would have been greatly discouraged in Bukhara. Does anybody want to shed more light on who made these Beshir carpets? Were they in fact members of the Beshir Tribe among the Turkmen?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Confusing Central Asian Carpets

My favorite section of the Peterson's Guide to North American birds has always been the "confusing fall wrabblers" section. The name of this section sounds funny indeed, but the truth is that there are always those "confusing fall wrabblers" in almost any categorization of anything (figuratively speaking). For Central Asian carpets, this usually falls into the "mid-Amu-Darya" category. This is one of those categories where people seem to lump alot carpets that are not easily categorized into set groups. Also, presumably, these carpets come from the middle area of the Amu Darya river (which covers most of what is today Uzbekistan). The carpet pictured here is indeed confusing.

It has a border common to certain Turkmen designs (especially Ersari--see previous post), but the colors and the middle "gul" design do not look all that Turkmen. I bought it in Bukhara about seven years ago, and even the salesman was at a loss in terms of categorizing it (something one rarely witnesses in Central Asia). I am not sure what it is, but I like it--probably because it defies most usual categories. Anybody have an opinion on what it is? Perhaps, it is yet another example of the "mid-Amu-Darya" category...

The Elusive Ersari Turkmen carpets of Bukhara

For anybody who has ever browsed the many beautiful, old, and often tattered rugs in the musty cupola rug shops of Bukhara, you will have many times been told that the rugs you are looking at are Ersari Turkmen rugs. The large Beshir rugs that at least used to be sold all over Bukhara are one sub-category of the Ersari rugs. Others have very different features. I had seen so many such rugs over the years in Bukhara that I started just refering to all large Turkmen rugs that were obviously not a standard tekke design or a standard yomut design Ersari. One example is this large rug I bought in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan a couple of years ago.

It looks like many I had seen previously in Bukhara, and I assume it once was housed there (but maybe not). Its patterns look to be a mixture of different Turkmen designs, and it has the year 1903 woven into it in Roman numerals. On Turkotek, somebody told me it may be Armenian, but I think that is less likely having come from Central Asia and not from the Caucasus region.

I often think that rugs like this were made on order for wealthy Sarts (i.e. people living in the oases of what is now Uzbekistan). Thus, the colors and patterns may have less to do with the weavers' ethnic/tribal identity and more to do with the tastes of the purchaser. But, who was weaving carpets for order in the Bukhara area at the turn of the century? The quality looks Turkmen, but who knows? Were they Ersari Turkmen? Were they not Turkmen at all?

Are there experts on Central Asian carpets?

There probably are experts on Central Asian carpets, but I do get a sense that--like many things--the knowledge of such experts is limited by the complexity of the subject. I am not an expert on Central Asian carpets...I am a collector. As an outsider to the field of "experts," I do not intend this website to be a criticism of such experts, but a challenge to them. Those of us who have spent a significant time looking at carpets in former Soviet Central Asia have much to say about the various categories and other means of classifying these carpets. Generally, people will tell you that this carpet or that is a Tekke Turkmen carpet or a Uyghur carpet or a Kyrgyz carpet, etc., etc. Of course, the question is not only what makes a carpet a Teke Turkmen, a Uyghur, or a Kyrgyz product; but also who is (and is not) a Tekke Turkmen, a Uyghur, or a Kyrgyz. These are, of course, complex questions, but they are also what makes Central Asian carpets (and Central Asia for that matter) so interesting!

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