Armenians are the earliest known weavers of oriental rugs. Ulrich Schurmann, a reknowned expert on oriental rugs, believes that the Pazyryk rug, the world's oldest known rug (5th cent. B.C.), can be attributed to the late Urartians, or early Armenians, based on the rug's structure, design, and motifs .
Marco Polo and Herodotus are among the many observers and historians who recognized the beauty of Armenian rugs. They noted the rugs' vivid red color which was derived from a dye made from an insect called "ordan" (Arabic "kirmiz"), found in the Mount Ararat valley. The Armenian city of Artashat was famous for its "ordan" dye and was referred to as "the city of the color red" by the Arab historian Yaqut .
It is also theorized that the word "carpet", which Europeans used to refer to oriental rugs, is derived from the Armenian word "kapert", meaning woven cloth. The Crusaders, many of whom passed through Armenia, most likely brought this term back to the West. Also, according to Arabic historical sources, the Middle Eastern word for rug, "khali" or "gali", is an abbreviation of "Kalikala", the Arabic name of the Armenian city Karnoy Kaghak. This city, strategically located on the route to the Black Sea port of Trabizond between Persia and Europe, was famous for its Armenian rugs which were prized by the Arabs.
"The Armenians and Greeks who lived intermingled among the Turcomans
... weave the choicest and most beautiful carpets in the world "
Geographically located at the crossroads of many great empires, including the Persian, Ottoman, and Russian, Armenians lived scattered throughout the Caucasus and the Anatolian Plateau, as well as other parts of the Middle East, Europe, and the Far East. Although under foreign rule for most of their history, Armenians were the leading artists, architects, and merchants within these empires.
The merchants in Armenia, in particular, used this dispersed network of expatriated Armenians to their advantage as they acted as the middle-men for trade between the Mediterranean, Asia, and Europe. By the 14th century this trade network was firmly established between Northern and Southern Europe. Thus, many Armenian rugs made their way to Europe. This is evidenced by the appearance of Armenian rugs in many European paintings, the most notable of them being Hans Holbein's (1425-1524) portrait of George Gyze, a merchant who is depicted as sitting at a table covered with a popular Armenian Kuba rug .
The Role of The Armenian Carpet in Society
The invention of the Armenian alphabet in 406 A.D. marked the beginning of the golden age in Armenian literature. The writings, paintings, and illuminated manuscripts produced in this era provide insight to the significance of the role of the carpet in Armenian society and oriental rugs in general. The written histories and heroic tales contain references to the Armenian rug. Armenian miniature paintings of royalty and religious scenes as well as the famous illuminated manuscripts also contain many illustrations of Armenian rugs.
Armenian rugs were status symbols that were placed on the floor or hung on the wall to create an ambiance within the home, palace, or church. Dining on rugs was customary among Armenians and non-Armenians. The numerous kings, emperors, caliphs, sultans, and princes that presided over the Armenians prized these beautiful Armenian rugs and often demanded them as part of a yearly "tax" along with mules, falcons, and salt-fish. Extravagant rugs, woven with gold or silver threads, were placed on the thrones and at the feet of Armenian royalty.
The Armenian Church, which adopted Christianity in 301 A.D., regarded the Armenian rugs as treasures of the church. Although prayer rugs are today associated with Islam, historical references confirm that Armenian prayer rugs were woven by Armenians well before the emergence of Islam in the 7th century. Rugs were also woven to commemorate a special event, such as a royal wedding, or to honor the dead. Rugs were placed on coffins during royal funeral processions and would be buried along with the coffin.
The Caucasian Armenian Rug
Geographically, the Caucasus are located between the Black and Caspian seas, the gateway between Europe and Asia. Inhabitants of the Caucasus are primarily Armenians and Azerbaijani (Azeri) Turks with a smaller number of Georgians and Kurds. Other ethnic groups include the Abkhaz, Circassians, Chechens, Lesghians, Mingrelians, Svans, Laz, and Talish.
Although there is a wealth of historical information available about the Caucasus, the rugs from this region are commonly misrepresented. Many Caucasian rugs are often labeled "Cabistan" or "Kazak". However, these names do not correspond to any known geographical location or groups of people. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of the "Kazak", it can be traced to the area in the south Caucasus, between Tiflis and Erevan. According to official Russian census figures for the late 19th century, it is most likely that Armenians and Azeris who were living side-by-side in this region wove the "Kazak" rugs.
Caucasian rugs can not be classified based on patterns as is common with Persian and Turkish rugs. Because rugs were commonly traded throughout the region, rug patterns were widely dispersed and would inevitably be copied. In order to identify and classify Caucasian rugs their construction must be examined. This includes the variance in the color of the warp, the arrangements of the strands, the dyed color of the weft, the way the ends are finished, the way the sides are bound, and the quality of the wool (i.e. coarseness vs. lustrous).
A typical Armenian rug contains a division of fields, medallions, and motifs that employ geometric shapes. A large proportion of the inscribed Armenian rugs contain cross shapes, human figures, and geometric bird and animal figures not commonly found in non-Armenian rugs. These animal figures and crosses are believed to have religious significance since they are consistent with motifs found in Armenian manuscripts and relief sculptures on Armenian churches and monasteries . Also, the use of red cochineal dye, which has been documented as being produced by Armenians, is common among the inscribed Karabagh rugs .
H. M. Raphealian has studied the meanings of symbols in oriental rugs, including Armenian rugs, for over 50 years. Interestingly, he believes that many of the motifs used in Armenian rugs and Armenian art in general, were a result of Armenia's contact with Asia, particularly India and China, as early as the 4th century A.D. . Some of these motifs include figs, Asoka trees, pine cones, turtles, serpents, and birds.
Provincial village women were the primary weavers of rugs, although there are Armenian inscriptions referring to male weavers. All of the rugs were woven with wool, which was locally obtainable. Cotton was only used as weft threads and for edging. According to Arthur T. Gregorian, "Armenian rugs are woven firmly with the nap clipped very low, making the rugs supple and soft. A great preference is shown for delicate shades of soft blue, touches of green, coral, old gold, and tans. All the patterns are outlined in either natural brown or wool dyed to this shade". The weavers knew that over time this brown color would fade faster than the other colors, thus it was used for outlining motifs. This color was obtained from the use of an iron pyrite in dyeing the wool.
Common Armenian Rugs
As stated above, the term "Kazak" does not correspond to any known tribe of people. The Kazak rugs were woven in the area between Tiflis and Erevan, a region mainly inhabited by Armenians even today . In general, the Kazak rugs contain large scaled patterns, several medallions, and bright contrasting colors.
There are three types of Kazak rugs : 1. Bordjalou - a district south of Tiflis whose rugs are coarsely woven, contain simpler designs such as many latch hooks, and use vibrant colors including madder red, blue, ivory, and natural brown. 2. Rugs from the area south of Bordjalou and north of Erevan - These rugs have a shorter pile, are larger, have fewer wefts between each row of knots, and contain more formal medallion designs. 3. Rugs from Erevan and areas to its southeast including Echmiadzin, Ekhegnadzor, Martuni, and Shamshadeen - These rugs are thinner, double wefted, up to 15 feet long, and contain simpler designs. The more common colors are red and darker shades of blue, with less ivory.
Karabagh refers to a region, not an ethnic group. The population of Karabagh is mainly comprised of Armenians and Azeris. However, the population in the larger cities of Mountainous Karabagh, including Shushi, Stepanakert, and Agdam were, and still are, mostly Armenian.
The Karabagh village rugs are similar to the Kazaks. They are all wool, have a thick pile, a coarse weave, and are double wefted. The most notable design is known as the Eagle Kazak, or the Sunburst rug. There are several Sunburst rugs containing Armenian inscriptions in existence . Murray Eiland considers these rugs the ancestors of the famous 16th century Dragon rugs, which contain elongated geometric animal and plant forms, because they are most similar in texture, design, details, color and structure . Due to the complexity of the Dragon rugs it is believed that they were woven near an industrial city, most likely Shusa, where fine materials and a variety of color dyes were available .
Another Karabagh village rug is referred to as the Cloudband Kazak because its medallions contain multiple "S" shaped forms which resemble Chinese Cloudbands. These carpets are variable in construction and were woven over a wide geographical area. However, there are also several Cloudband Kazak's containing Armenian inscriptions.
Genje, also known as Kirovabad or Elizabethpol, is an area also inhabited by Armenians and Azeris. The rugs of Genje are also very similar to the Kazaks and Karabaghs in their knotting, pile, and texture. Some of the distinguishing characteristics include the multiple colors used in binding the sides, an uncolored wool warp, and red or light gray wool weft strands. The designs of the Genje rugs contain smaller repeating geometric patterns, often in a diagonal arrangement (see rug below). They are typically more blue and white and are lighter in color.
Shirvan is south of the Greater Caucasus and east of Genje. Rugs from this region containing Armenian inscriptions have been collected, although the population is mostly Azeri, with small groups of Armenians and Tartars. These rugs have a shorter pile than the other rugs listed, finer knotting, a white woolen weft, and a warp consisting of brown strands twisted with white. There are many designs, including some with Persian influence, meaning that they are more floral than geometric. The main colors employed are blue and ivory and the rugs are not as bold as Kazaks. Many of the rugs are prayer rugs.
Akstafa rugs, a sub-type of Shirvan rugs, are runners containing medallions and stylized birds (Note birds at the top and bottom of the rug below). As mentioned above, the use of animals is common in Armenian rugs. In addition to conventional Shirvan rugs a few Akstafa rugs containing Armenian inscriptions have been cataloged .
Definitions (taken from ):
Warp - The warp threads run vertically through the length of a textile. The threads making up the warp are stretched on the loom before weaving begins. When the rug is completed and cut from the loom, the exposed ends of the warps make up the fringe. Warp material may be wool (which is most common in Armenian rugs), cotton, silk, or, rarely, bast fibers.
Weft - The weft threads are inserted perpendicularly to the warps, and the run across the loom. They may be made of any of the same materials as the warps, but they are ordinarily visible only from the back of the rug. The number of wefts that pass from side to side between the rows of knots are referred to as shoots. Armenian rugs may from the Caucasus and Anatolia have 2 or more shoots between the rows of knots, but in parts of Persia, Armenian rugs may have only a single shoot. At times the wefts are dyed.
Pile - The manner in which the yarn is twisted around the warps to form pile is described as the "knotting" process, and we refer to each segment of pile as a "knot". There are 2 common types of knots, the Turkish (or symmetrical) and the Persian (or asymmetrical). All but a few Armenian rugs are symmetrically knotted. The "knot count", or number of tufts of pile in a given unit of area, is one measure of a rug's quality.
Edge Finish - Often the manner in which the edges are overcast (covered with a simple running stitch or selvaged (finished with a woven band) gives us information relative to the rug's origin. The purpose of both overcast and selvage is to reinforce the edges, which are particularly susceptible to wear.
"Weavers, Merchants, and Kings. The Inscribed Rugs of Armenia", by Dr. Lucy Der Manuelian and Dr. Murray L. Eiland, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1984.
"Rugs of Armenian, Their History and Art", by H. M. Raphaelian, Anatol Sivas Publishers, New Rochelle, New York, 1960.
"Oriental Rugs and The Stories They Tell" by Arthur T. Gregorian, 1967, Nimrod Press, Boston.
"Oriental Rugs", by Murray L. Eiland, Expanded Edition, New York Graphic Society, Boston, 1976.
"The Color Treasury of Oriental Rugs", by Stefan Milhofer, 1971.
Caucasian Rug Images found at http://earth.oconnell.net/RugNotes/Caucasia.htm
The term Armenian carpet designates, but is not limited to, tufted rugs or knotted carpets woven in Armenia or by Armenians from pre-Christian times to the present. It also includes a number of flat woven textiles. The term covers a large variety of types and sub-varieties. Due to their intrinsic fragility, almost nothing survives--neither carpets nor fragments--from antiquity until the late medieval period.
Traditionally, since ancient times the carpets were used in Armenia to cover floors, decorate interior walls, sofas, chairs, beds, and tables. Up to the present, the carpets often serve as entrance veils, decoration for church altars and vestry. Developed in Armenia as a part of everyday life, carpet weaving was a must in every Armenian family, with carpet making and rug making being almost solely a woman's occupation.
Armenian carpets are unique "texts" composed of ornaments wherein sacred symbols reflect the beliefs and religious notions of the ancient ancestors of the Armenians from the depth of centuries. Armenian carpet and rug weavers strictly preserved these traditions.
The imitation and presentation of one and the same ornament-ideograms in an unlimited number of the variations of styles and colors contain the basis for the creation of any new Armenian carpet. In this regard, the characteristic trait of Armenian carpets is the triumph of the variability of ornaments that is increased by a wide gamut of natural colors and tints.
The Armenian words for carpet are "karpet" (Armenian: կարպետ) or "gorg" (Armenian: գորգ). Though both words in Armenian are synonymous, the word "karpet" is mostly used for non-pile rugs and "gorg" is for pile carpets.
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 "karpet" (Armenian: կապերտ), formed of root "kap" (Armenian: կապ) which 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.
The 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 the Kaptavan Church in Artsakh (Karabagh) and is dated 1242-1243 AD. Grigor Kapantsyan, professor of Armenian Studies, has posited that the 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 "qali", which entered into Turkish as "qali" or as "khali" in Anatolia Ottoman Turkish and Armenian, 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, in Byzantine territory, renaming it Artzen in Rum or Arzerum/Erzerum/Erzurum.
The art of Armenian carpet and rug weaving has its roots in ancient times. However, due to the fragile nature of carpets very few examples have survived. Only one specimen has been discovered from the ancient (pre-Christian) period and relatively few specimens are in existence from the early medieval period which can be found in private collections, as well as various museums throughout the world.
"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; yet they are burdened by the pressure to keep alive a tradition nearly destroyed in the Armenian Genocideof 1915, and subverted by a technology that condemns handmade fabrics to museums and lets machines produce perfect, but lifeless cloth."
The Pazyryk Rug
Various rug fragments have been excavated in Armenia dating back to the 7th century BC or earlier. Complete rugs, or nearly complete rugs of this period have not yet been found. 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. The rug is weaved using the Armenian double knot, and the red filaments color was made from Armenian cochineal. The eminent authority of ancient carpets, Ulrich Schurmann, says of it, "From all the evidence available, I am convinced that the Pazyryk rug was a funeral accessory and most likely a masterpiece of Armenian workmanship." Gantzhorn concurs with this thesis. It is interesting to note that at the ruins of Persopolis, 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. The historian Herodotus writing in the 5th century BC also informs us that the inhabitants of the Caucasus wove beautiful rugs with brilliant colors which would never fade.
The Christian Period
Apart from the Pazyryk carpet, 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 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 Genocide
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 evidence to suggest 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.
The Soviet Period
After a short-lived republic, Armenia fell to Soviet rule in 1920 and within a short period, carpet making in the Caucasus, as well as Central Asia, would take a new turn. The Soviet Union commercialized the trade and sponsored much of the production. Thus, carpet making went from a mostly home craft to a mostly commercial craft. However, in rural areas, the carpet making tradition in some families continued. Although commercial carpet makers were mostly free to practice their art, religious themes were discouraged. During this period the designs on Armenian rugs also changed somewhat, although the overall character remained. Many "Soviet carpets" were also produced depicting Communist leaders.
The Modern Era
With the fall of the Soviet Union, carpet making in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh continued. Private companies, as well as home workshops, were again revived. Among some weavers, the traditional method of using rug motifs from Armenian churches, manuscript art and cross-stones was also revived. After the Nagorno-Karabakh War, some carpet making workshops were formed to help the many displaced Armenians find employment. Today the traditional art of Armenian carpet making is kept alive by weavers in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh using all the methods, techniques, and designs from ancient times. This is remarkable considering the history of Armenia.
Armenian carpet weaving that at the initial period coincided with cloth weaving by execution technique have passed the long path of development, starting from simple fabrics, which had been woven at the braiding frames of various form to pile knotted carpets that became the luxurious and dainty pieces of arts.
Carpet-weaving is historically a major traditional profession for the majority of Armenian women, including many Armenian families. Prominent Karabakh carpet weavers there were men too. The oldest extant Armenian carpet from the region, referred to as Artsakhduring the medieval era, is from the village of Banants (near Gandzak) and dates to the early 13th century. The first time that the Armenian word for carpet, gorg, was used in historical sources was in a 1242-1243 Armenian inscription on the wall of the Kaptavan Church in Artsakh.
Art historian Hravard Hakobyan notes that "Artsakh carpets occupy a special place in the history of Armenian carpet-making."Common themes and patterns found on Armenian carpets were the depiction of dragons and eagles. They were diverse in style, rich in color and ornamental motifs, and were even separated in categories depending on what sort of animals were depicted on them, such as artsvagorgs (carpets), vishapagorgs (dragon-carpets) and otsagorgs (serpent-carpets). The rug mentioned in the Kaptavan inscriptions is composed of three arches, "covered with vegatative ornaments", and bears aneagle-artistic resemblance to the illuminated manuscripts produced in Artsakh.
The art of carpet weaving was in addition intimately connected to the making of curtains as evidenced in a passage by Kirakos Gandzaketsi, a 13th-century Armenian historian from Artsakh, who praised Arzu-Khatun, the wife of regional prince Vakhtang Khachenatsi, and her daughters for their expertise and skill in weaving.
Armenian carpets were also renowned by foreigners who traveled to Artsakh; the Arab geographer and historian Al-Masudi noted that, among other works of art, he had never seen such carpets elsewhere in his life.
On the opinion of various authors that the origin of the oriental carpets and rugs did not have any association with nomadic tribes, and Central Asia. They consider that the "oriental carpet is neither of nomadic origin, nor do its origins lie in Central Asia; it is a product of ancient oriental civilizations in the Armenian Uplands at the crossroads of the oldest trade routes between west, north and south."
The development of carpet and rug weaving in Armenia had been the barest necessity that had been dictated by the climatic conditions of the complete Armenian Highland. The type, size and thickness of carpets and rugs had also depended upon the climate of every specific region within the territory of Armenian Highland. The dwelling houses and other buildings in Armenia were constructed exclusively of stone or were cut in rocks with no wood flooring inside traditionally. This fact was proved by the results of excavations carried out in medieval Armenian cities, such as Dvin, Artashat, Ani and others. There has been the necessary source of raw materials in Armenia, including wool yarn and other fibres, as well as natural dyes. The most widespread raw materials to produce yarn for carpets and rugs was sheep wool, as well as goat wool, silk, flax, cotton and other.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, when the carpet weaving started to develop at Near East, Armenia "was one of the most productive regions" in this regards. It was conditioned by the existence of "good quality wool, pure water and dyes, especially beautiful purple dye."
One of the most important conditions for the development of carpet and rug weaving was the availability of towns and cities, where the arts and crafts might develop. These cities and towns also served as large commercial centers located on main ancient trade routes that passed by the Armenian Highland, including one of the branches of Silk Road that passed across Armenia Silk Road#Persian Royal Road.
Abd ar-Rashid al-Bakuvi wrote that "the carpets and as-zalali that are named "kali" are exported from Kalikala (Karin) that was located on the strategic road between Persia and Europe. According to the 13th-century Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamavi, the origin of the word kali/khali/hali, a knotted carpet, is from one of the early and important Armenian carpet centers, Theodosiopolis, Karin in Armenian, Qaliqala in Arabic, modern Erzerum. He says, "А Qaliqala on fabrique des tapis qu'on nomme qali du nom abrege de la ville". Academician Joseph Orbeli directly writes that word "karpet" is of Armenian origin.
Between the tangible reality of the Pazyryk carpet and the Mongol domination of the Near East in the 13th century virtually nothing survives, not even fragments. Our knowledge of oriental rugs is entirely from literary sources. Of these there are three categories: the Arab geographers and historians, who represent the most important witnesses of rug making, the Italian merchants and travelers, and the Armenian historians. The most common term for these Near Eastern floor and wall covering in these sources are Armenian carpets or carpets from Armenia. It is only later, as the Ottomans conquered these areas, including all of Armenian in the 16th century, that the term Turkish carpet began to be used, but that too was replaced in the 19th century by the term Persian rug or carpet because the great commercial agents of England, the U.S., and Germany began setting up looms for quantity weaving in Iran to supply the ever increasing demand for the oriental rug in their countries.
The Medieval Arab sources – al-Baladhuri (a 9th-century Persian historian), Ibn Hawqal (a 10th-century Arab writer, geographer, and chronicler), Yaqut (13th-century Arab geographer), and Ibn Khaldun (a 14th-century Arab polymath) among the most famous - speak regularly about the wonderful Armenian carpets of Qali-qala and the medieval Armenian capital of Dvin ("Dabil" in Arab sources) as well as their use of the Armenian red cochineal dye known in Armenian as vordan karmir ("worm's red"), the fundamental color of many Armenian rugs. Marco Polo reports the following his travel account as he passed through Cilician Armenia: "The following can be said of Turkmenia: the Turkmenian population is divided into three groups. The Turkomans are Muslims characterized by a very simple way of life and extremely crude speech. They live in the mountainous regions and raise cattle. Their horses and their outstanding mules are held in especially high regard. The other two groups, Armenians and Greeks, live in cities and forts. They make their living primarily from trade and as craftsmen. In addition to the carpets, unsurpassed and more splendrous in color than anywhere else in the world, silks in all colors are also produced there. This country, about which one might easily tell much more is subject to the Khan of the eastern Tatar Empire."
According to the 13th-century Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi, the origin of the word kali/khali/hali, a knotted carpet, is from one of the early and important Armenian carpet centers, Theodosiopolis, Karin in Armenian, Qaliqala in Arabic, modern Erzerum. He says, "А Qaliqala on fabrique des tapis qu'on nomme qali du nom abrege de la ville". Academician Joseph Orbeli directly writes that word "karpet" is of Armenian origin.
Armenian OrphaBeauty born from gratitude and horror, the Armenian Orphan Rug went on long-awaited public display Tuesday at the White House Visitor Center.
The storied rug’s nearly weeklong display two blocks from the White House culminates a lobbying campaign led by California lawmakers and the Armenian-American community. It’s unveiling Tuesday morning was a history lesson, a political statement and, not least, an aesthetic revelation.
“Ahh,” said Libby Heffern, the wife of the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern. “Magnificent.”
Heffern was among dozens of enthusiasts who flocked to see the roughly 11-foot-by-18-foot rug, partially rolled out on a platform in a corner of the visitors center. A priest from an Armenian Apostolic Church in Maryland chanted a blessing, reporters from three Armenian television networks lit up the scene and several members of Congress posed for pictures.
Nearby were two other foreign gifts to presidents: a French vase presented to President Herbert Hoover after World War I, and Japanese cherry and dogwood blossoms encased in acrylic, given to President Barack Obama.
The rug, the vase and the encased blossoms had each been presented in gratitude for U.S. generosity after international catastrophes.
“The American people should be proud to display this rug,” said Southern California resident Hratch Kozibeyokian, a director of the Armenian Rugs Society. “This carpet is a symbol of a good deed. Why should it be hidden from public display?”
Hidden away – Armenian-Americans and their myriad Capitol Hill allies believe – has until now been the rug’s fate.
The rug was intended to thank the United States for relief provided to victims of what Obama has diplomatically called the Meds Yeghern, which is Armenian for “great calamity.” The half a dozen House of Representatives members who convened Tuesday, including Republican Rep. David Valadao and Democratic Rep. Jim Costa from California’s San Joaquin Valley, used another word:
By some estimates, 1.5 million Armenians died at the end of the Ottoman Empire, from 1915 to 1923. Historians and governmental bodies have characterized the catastrophe as genocide, a term first recognized in international law in 1948 as referring to actions intended to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
Armenian girls in the Ghazir Orphanage operated by the Near East Relief, located on a hilltop in what’s now Lebanon, took 10 months to complete the rug before it was presented in December 1925 to President Calvin Coolidge. The rug – depicting lions, birds, unicorns and eagles – contains 4,404,206 hand-tied knots.
“Each one of those knots was made by a child who lost her parents to the slaughter,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “The rug brings to life the shattered families.”
Measured precisely, the rug is 11 feet 7 inches by 18 feet 5 inches. It’s previously been displayed in the White House in 1984 and 1995. Groups that include the Armenian National Committee of America and the Armenian Assembly of America wanted it shown anew at the famed Smithsonian Castle as part of a reception last year for a new book, “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug.”
The Smithsonian display never transpired, though, and many activists blamed a White House worried about antagonizing Turkey. Turkey has lobbied long, hard and successfully against the Armenian genocide resolutions that lawmakers introduce in every Congress.
The word “genocide” doesn’t appear on the visitor center’s display explaining the rug’s background, and U.S. diplomats avoid using the term in public.
“The characterization of those events,” John Heffern carefully told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his 2011 ambassadorial confirmation hearing, “is a policy decision that is made by the president of the United States.”
No such hesitation is voiced by the lawmakers whose districts include Armenian-American voters, and the initial White House refusal to display the rug incited a lobbying campaign that included group and personal letters, behind-the-scenes phone calls and pressure on social media.
“The Armenian Orphan Rug not only symbolizes the terror and the struggle of the Armenian people,” Costa said, “but also their fighting spirit.”
The rug is on display at the White House Visitor Center, 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, through Sunday.
The red color of Armenian carpets was made from "vordan karmir" or "worm's red" dyestuff.
The fact that "vordan karmir" dye was used in making of the oldest surviving carpet "Pazyryk" is a perfect example of this and has already been proven by the scientists in particular by I. Rudenko.
"Pazyryk" dates back to the 5-4th centuries B.C. and can be seen nowadays at the Hermitage museum.
Arab historians noted that Armenian carpets were the most valuable because they were made from high-quality wool and were dyed with durable "vordan karmir" pigment. This also explains why Armenian carpets were known in the Arab world as "kirmiz" (red).
By Liana Aghajanian, Los Angeles
The story of two rugs, one given to US President Calvin Coolidge, and another recently found in a home in San Diego, helps unravel the history of the US's first humanitarian aid effort and the tragic fate of Armenians in Turkey 100 years ago.
When Maggie Mangassarian-Goschin walked into the home of 97-year-old Elibet Kunzler last July, she instantly knew the importance of what she had found.
Lying in the middle of the living room was a striking, colourful rug with more than 800,000 hand-tied knots. It was decorated with exotic plants, prancing deer and leopards that almost looked like they were leaping off the ground. To Mangassarian-Goschin it was clear this was an incredible missing piece of history.
The rug was woven by refugee orphans in Lebanon who had been saved from the 1915 Ottoman-era massacre of 1.5 million Armenians - a massacre that many scholars regard as genocide. More than 3,000 rugs were made and given to American donors who had paid for the children to be looked after.
This one remained hidden for almost 70 years in Kunzler's home, travelling with her from Lebanon, to New York, New Hampshire and finally San Diego, where she settled with her husband and children.
"I had a feeling, that there was something with this rug, because I had never seen anything like this in my entire life," says Mangassarian-Goschin, director of the Ararat-Eskijian Museum in Mission Hills, California, which specialises in Armenian antiquities.
Now, on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, this orphan rug and others like it are serving as a reminder of the US's first humanitarian relief effort, and allowing Armenians to connect with an important, if bitter part of their heritage.
The American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief, now known as the Near East Foundation, was the first nonsectarian international relief campaign to exist in the US.
It was founded in response to the plight of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians who were subject to deportation, forced marches, starvation, and execution at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, in the early months of World War One.
Cans of condensed milk were collected at film screenings across the US, and child actor Jackie Coogan who starred in Charlie Chaplin's classic, The Kid, passionately campaigned to raise funds. More than $110 million - an incredible sum at the time - was donated to fund schools, orphanages and other facilities. These efforts saved the lives of a million refugees, including more than 100,000 Armenian orphans.
Kunzler's father, Jacob, was a Swiss missionary working for the relief committee as an orphanage director, evacuating Armenian orphans from Urfa, in Turkey, by foot, wagon and donkey to the mountain village of Ghazir in Lebanon. Once they were settled, he created rug-weaving facilities in the orphanage with the help of Armenian master weaver Hovhannes Taschjian, who trained more than 1,400 Armenian girls in the art of weaving, dyeing and patterning. The orphans were being taught a vocational trade to ensure their economic survival, while also creating the rugs to be sold and donated for fundraising.
Affectionately called "Papa and Mama Kunzler", Jacob and his wife Elizabeth were singlehandedly responsible for saving the lives of 8,000 Armenian orphans, and they were so loved that the girls decided to make a rug for their family too.
Elibet, the youngest of the four Kunzler girls, born in Urfa, was invited to choose colours, and eventually decided on blue. The orphans worked to create the rug, which Papa Kunzler then gave to Elibet. Eventually, her parents shipped it to her from Lebanon to the US, just after the end of World War Two.
Polly Marshall, Elibet's youngest daughter, who is now set to inherit the rug, remembers playing marbles with her siblings on it as a child. The Kunzler girls would incorporate the plants and animals in the rug's design - said to depict the Garden of Eden - within their game.
"It was a part of our daily life, completely," she says. "Now the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my mother play on it and I'd like to think that there's some way that spirit of these children are in this rug and [that] it attracts children through generations."
What makes the Kunzler rug even more significant is that it is considered to be a sister to the rug given to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925, as a sign of gratitude for the US relief effort, by this time renamed Near East Relief.
Though the Kunzler rug is much smaller, both rugs contain the same animals, plants, medallions and Armenian symbolic imagery.
When the Coolidge rug briefly went on display last year at the White House Visitor Center, Polly Marshall was one of those who paid an emotional visit to see it, and even found herself sneaking behind the rope to touch it.
"It was like my link to my grandparents, who I never met, and the orphans. I felt like I was touching all those lives," she says. "It's such a striking statement about these people and what they went through."
When Mangassarian-Goschin approached Marshall to see if she would allow the Kunzler rug to be displayed, she agreed without hesitation. If people couldn't see the White House rug - which has spent most of its life in storage, and was quickly returned there - they should have the chance to see its sister, she thought.
It is now slated to be exhibited temporarily at the Ararat-Eskijian museum in May.
"If this rug can help ease people's pain or help connect people to their ancestry, it's the least we can do, to make it available," Marshall says.
Hratch Kozibeyokian, a third-generation master weaver and president of the Armenian Rugs Society, says the global Armenian community is slowly realising the power of the story the carpets tell.
"There are only a few places our history is recorded - in our folk songs and our carpets," says Kozibeyokian, who helped decipher the similarities between the Coolidge rug and Kunzler rug.
But the rugs are unravelling a little-known part of American history, too.
This year, the Western region of the Armenian National Committee of America launched a campaign called America We Thank You: An Armenian Tribute to Near East Relief, to pay tribute to the organisation for rescuing Armenian orphans and other survivors of the massacres.
Shant Mardirossian, the grandson of survivors and chair of the Near East Foundation's board of directors says the story of the American generosity helps bridge the gap in the dual identities of third and fourth-generation Armenian-Americans. The US is now home to the second largest Armenian population outside Armenia.
"I couldn't be more proud of this history, that Americans who knew nothing about Armenians 8,000 miles away gave something to help them," he says. "In fact, one could even argue a whole generation of Armenians wouldn't be here today had it not been for their support."
Carpet weaving is a traditional art form widespread in all regions of Armenia, but the Karabakh carpets, due to theirs features and popularity, represent a separate category. Until the proliferation of synthetic aniline dyes in the 1870s, the rich colors of the Karabakh carpets were made of only natural substances, mostly of plants and minerals, native to that region. Indigo (blueing) was imported from the East and cochineal from the Ararat valley. Some villages and settlements have never accepted synthetic dyes, staying true to their traditional natural methods.
According to Dr. Dickran Kouyumjian, the Director of Armenian Studies Program of California State University, Fresno, various ancient sources testify about carpets and other textiles, skillfully made in Armenia. A unique example among Armenian ancient carpets, the carpet ‘’Gohar’’, which Dr. Dickran Kouyumjian called ‘’the biggest and most exquisite’’, has been made in Karabakh and has a signature identifying the weaver, Gohar, and the date 1700. “Another important carpet woven in 1731 in Artsakh for Catholicos Nerses of Aghuank is preserved in the monastery of St. James in Jerusalem”, states Dr. Dickran Kouyumjian in his article entitled “Armenian Textiles: An Overview”.
In Karabakh, as in other Armenian regions, carpets and rugs were not originally made for sale .They were considered household items and heirlooms not a product. It was considered bad luck to take a carpet out of home. Heirloom carpets had a protective significance and often symbolized fertility.
Symbols of legends Karabakh’s carpets are rich with symbols that represent family crests and ancient legends, some dating back to times. Although the carpets have changed a lot for many centuries, most of the ornaments have kept their original look. The most prevalent symbol is dragon. Though the dragon is the common symbol of carpets and rugs throughout the Caucasus, it is largely the result of a large outflow of Armenians from Karabakh in the 18th century, who have founded or revived many towns throughout the region bringing with them their carpet weaving traditions. Another symbol common in Karabakh carpets is medallion. There are five main types of medallions, though several other variations can also be found. They are most likely derived from the crests of prominent clans and meliks (semi-independent princes) who presided over the principalities of Karabakh from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Some of the medallions have the suffix “-berd” (fortress) in their names, which implies that each fortress had its own crest. These include Jraberd (Water fortress), Arevaberd (Sun fortress) and Odtsaberd (Snake fortress), which are composed of swastikas (symbolizing power and eternity) and writhing dragons.
At the beginning of 19th century the Caucasus was joined the Russian Empire and gradually the prevalence of meliks with their historical borders started to weaken. But their traditional medallions, after the fall of those princedoms, stayed long in the art of carpet weaving. Although crests and medallions are relics of the Karabakh historic royalty, many symbols used in ancestral carpets reflect day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of this ancient land. The centerpiece of such rugs is a crowned bull (ox, buffalo), the role of which in the lives of the people of Karabakh was not limited only with agricultural functions. In ancient times the bull was glorified. Even after its death, its skull was put as a talisman in a prominent place in the home. Many carpets also have images of bovine leather and sheep's wool, as well as pagan sacred symbols images. A great number of Karabakh carpets have various symbolic images of eagles, the image of which was perceived as a symbol of power, strength and striving towards infinity.
By the early 20th century the production of hand-loomed rugs and carpets had stopped in the most Armenian cities as a result of massacres and continuous dislocation, when the great part of Armenian precious rugs were lost or destroyed. The art of carpet weaving was passed from generation to generation, and the destruction and separation of families made the continuation of that tradition almost impossible. In Karabakh, however, carpet weaving as an art form and industry, was preserved during the Soviet era.
In the 19th – 20th the carpets of Shoushi were the best in the region and were sold in all neighboring cities. In 1907 in the rug factory of Shoushi 120 women were working. 600-700 rugs were produced a year, most of which were exported to Europe. During the Soviet period the factory was transported to Stepanakert. Today the handmade carpets and rugs are woven not only in Stepanakert and Shoushi but also in surrounding villages, especially in the Nikol Duman House Museum in the Ethnographic District of Tsaghkashat village. These carpets are still popular and have great fame due to their high quality. Currently, the ornaments of Armenian carpets are also used in fashion and design elements. The basic colors that are used in Karabakh carpets are tight and dark tapes of red, blue and brown.
Art historian Lauren Arnold will give a presentation on the subject of her ongoing research into oriental carpets in early Renaissance paintings.
Her online Carpet Index debuted on Flickr in 2008, and includes over 300 images of oriental carpets in Renaissance paintings. Lauren's research for her upcoming new book has led her to several startling new conclusions about the nature of these painted carpets in Italian works of art.
For one, she has fresh evidence of significant Christian iconographic meaning for them as markers of holy ground beneath the Virgin Mary; and two, she will demonstrate that before 1500, the depicted carpets are not of Muslim manufacture, per conventional wisdom, but are of eastern Christian origin.
Arnold believes that their presence in Italian paintings indicates a significant migration of Christian Armenians, Georgians, and Syrians into the Italian peninsula and elsewhere in the west in advance of militant Ottoman pressure in the east, which culminated in the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Turks in 1453.