Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Armenian carpet and it’s significance

Posted by Fredsvenn on December 8, 2014

Armenian Dragon Carpet, XVIIth century

Galouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Photo: Gulbenkian Foundation Archives

Gohar Carpet

“Gohar” with two line Armenian inscription, 1700, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) Private collection, U.S.A.

Photo: Armenian Rugs Society

Embroidered Carpet, XVIIIth century, Etchmiadzin, Treasury

Photo. Gulbenkian Foundation Archives

Armenian girls, weaving carpets in Van, 1907, Western Armenia

Hayastan – Armenia

Armenian carpet weaving centers

The complex history of Armenian weaving and needlework was acted out in the Near East, a vast, ancient, and ethnically diverse region. Few are the people who, like the Armenians, can boast of a continuous and consistent record of fine textile production from the 1st millennium BC to the present. Armenians today are blessed by the diversity and richness of a textile heritage passed on by thirty centuries of diligent practice.

Armenian carpets are unique “texts” composed of the ornaments where sacred symbols reflect the beliefs and religious notions of the ancient ancestors of the Armenians that have reached us from the depth of centuries. The Armenian carpet and rug weavers preserved strictly the traditions.

The imitation and consistent presentation of one and the same ornament-ideogram in the unlimited number of the variations of styles and colors, as well as type of color dye utilized, contain the basis for the creation of any new Armenian carpet, while always keeping the historic tradition alive.

In this relation, the characteristic trait of Armenian carpets is the triumph of the variability of ornaments that is increased by the wide gamut of natural colors and tints.

Two of the most frequently used terms to designate woven woolen floor coverings emanate directly from the Armenian experience: carpet and kali/khali. The term “kapert” (Armenian: կապերտ), formed of root “kap” (Armenian: կապ) that means “knot”, later to become “karpet” (Armenian: կարպետ) in colloquial Armenian, is used in the 5th-century Armenian translation of the Bible (Matthew 9:16 and Mark 2:21).

It is assumed that the word “сarpet” entered into French (French: carpette) and English (English: carpet) in the 13th century (through Medieval Latin carpita, meaning “thick woolen cloth”) as a consequence of the trade in rugs through the port cities of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia.

Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, a Florentine merchant stationed in Cyprus, reported in his La pratica della mercatura that from 1274 to 1330, carpets (kaperts) were imported from the Armenian cities of Ayas and Sis to Florence.

Armenian word “gorg” (Armenian: գորգ) is first mentioned in written sources in the 13th century. This word (“gorg”) is in the inscription that was cut out in the stone wall of Kaptavan Church in Artsakh (Karabagh) and is dated by 1242—1243 AD.

Grigor Kapantsyan, professor of Armenian Studies, considered that Armenian “gorg” (Armenian: գորգ) is a derivative of Hittite-Armenian vocabulary, where it existed in the forms of “koork” and “koorkas”. Edgar H. Sturtevant, an expert in Hittite studies, explains the etymology of word “koork”/”koorkas” as “horse cloth”.

As for the Persian word “qali”, which entered into Turkish as “qali” or as “khali” in Anatolia Ottoman Turkish and is also sometime used by Armenians; it derives from the city of Theodosiopolis-Karin-Erzerum, known to the Arabs as Qali-qala from the Armenian “Karnoy k‘aghak”, the “city of Karin”.

The name “Erzerum” itself, as is well known, is of Armenian origin from the usage Artzen ar-Rum. This latter term came into being after the destruction of the important Armenian commercial center of Artzen, 15 kilometers east of Theodosiopolos-Karin, by the Seljuks in 1041 after which the inhabitants fled to Karin, then in Rum, that is in Byzantine territory, renaming it Artzen in Rum or Arzerum/Erzerum/Erzurum.

After Armenia declared itself as the first Christian state in 301 AD, carpet making took on a decidedly Christian art form and identity. This art form existed continuously unaltered until the Armenian Genocide. By the Middle Ages, Armenia was a major exporter of carpets to as far away places as China.

In many Medieval Chinese artworks for example, carpets were depicted in which the designs were typically that of Armenian carpets with some even depicting clear Christian crosses.

The art of the Armenian carpet during this period evolved alongside Armenian church architecture, Armenian cross-stones (Khachkars) and illuminated manuscript art, with typical rug motifs using the same elements of these designs. The cruciform with its variations would eventually come to dominate Armenian carpet designs.

The Armenian tradition of carpet weaving and artistry has also played a major role in historical aspects of Armenian life. It has helped Armenians utilize rugs and rug weaving to attain their traditions during consecutive and different Armenian Kingdoms and under the yoke of diverse conquering empires throughout their long and ancient history.

The craft has also been instrumental in helping Armenians overcome and persevere near annihilation and be reborn like the phoenix rising from the ashes, in refugee camps in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide 1915, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire– to the present day condition, within the Armenian Diaspora, and the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh.

Pazyryk Carpet

– Of Armenian origin, the Pazyryk carpet, the oldest, single, surviving knotted carpet in existence, excavated from a frozen tomb in Siberia, dated from the 5th to the 3rd century BC.

The oldest, single, surviving knotted carpet in existence is the “Pazyryk Carpet”, excavated from a frozen tomb in Siberia, dated from the 5th to the 3rd century BC, now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Although claimed by many cultures, this square tufted carpet, almost perfectly intact, is considered by many experts to be of Caucasian, specifically Armenian, origin.

This extraordinary rug predates other whole examples by more than 1500 years. The rug is in a near perfect state of preservation; it is roughly six feet square and the predominate color is red-terra-cotta.

The central design is made of geometric star patterns enclosed in five successive borders, the second of which contains a continuous line of large antlered animals and the fourth from the center, a procession of men mounted on caparisoned horses. Recent scholarship inclines toward Armenia as the place where it was woven, because of the similarity of motifs in late Urartian and many early Armenian artifacts, and the long history of tufted carpet weaving in Armenia.

In the 8th century B.C., Sargon II, King of Assyria, defeated the Urartaean Kingdom and plundered its palaces. “Scarlet red textiles from Ararat”, are listed as booty. It is assumed that these highly appreciated textiles were dyed with Armenian Ararat kermes (Porpbyropbora hameli Beandt), which is referred to in the literature as Armenian kermes or Armenian cochineal.

Armenian literary sources from as early as the 5th century site their use in dyeing silk and for color used in miniature paintings. The most striking colors (red) is obtained by using 200 percent Ararat kermes in relation to the weight of the fiber on both wool and silk.

The eminent authority of ancient carpets, Ulrich Schurmann, says of it, “From all the evidence available I am convinced that the Pazyryk carpet was a funeral accessory and most likely a masterpiece of Armenian workmanship”.

Volkmar Gantzhorn concurs with this thesis: It is interesting to note that at the ruins of Persepolis in Iran where various nations are depicted as bearing tribute, the horse design from the Pazyryk carpet is the same as the relief depicting part of the Armenian delegation.

Ref:

Ulrich Schurmann, The Pazyryk. Its Use and Origin, Munich, 1982

Volkmar Gantzhorn, “Oriental Carpets”, 1998

The Armenian Orphan rug also known as the Ghazir rug

The period of the Armenian Genocide from 1894-1923 saw a demographic change in the hitherto Armenian tradition of rug and carpet making in Anatolia (Western Armenia as well as Turkey). Even though carpets from this region had established the commercial name of “Turkish Carpet” there is much evidence to assert that the majority of weavers in the Ottoman Empire were Armenians.

However, after 1923, carpet making in the newly established Turkish republic was erroneously declared a “historically Turkish craft” as is claimed, for example, by the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum where many Armenian carpets are depicted as “Turkish or Islamic art”.

During the Genocide, in addition to the catastrophic loss of many expert carpet weavers, thousands of Armenian children were also orphaned and the Near East Relief saved many of these children, some of whom ended up in the northern part of Beirut, where a rug factory would be established under the guidance of Dr. Jacob Kuenzler, a Swiss missionary.

This factory was established for the purpose of teaching young orphans (mainly girls) rug weaving, so that they may go on making a living later on in their adult lives. Thus for a brief period “orphan-rugs” were created in this factory, the most famous of which was gifted to the White House in 1925, as a gesture of gratitude and good will towards the American people by the orphans.

Known as the Armenian Orphan rug, the rug depicts a Biblical Garden of Eden featuring various animals and symbols and measuring 12 feet by 18 feet with 4 million knots. This rug is said to have been made by 400 orphans over a period of 18 months from 1924-1925.

 

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