The two most obvious characteristics of Turkmen weavings in general, and of carpets in particular. Are their use of geometric ornamentation and their predominantly red to red-brown palette. Red had already achieved considerable symbolic significance in the Neolithic period – the habit of covering skeletons with red ochre was widespread before the 5th millennium B.C. – and during the Bronze Age in Central Asia was associated with the warrior class. Turkmen weavings with white or light ground colors are unusual and were probably used only during weddings and important religious festivals.
The principal motif found on Turkmen weavings is the gul, a geometric, usually octagonal, motif of an emblematic nature. The fields of carpets are usually decorated with rows of ‘major’ guls interspersed regularly with smaller “minor” guls of different shape. This field is surrounded by major and minor borders and although it is unusual to find instances where the ~frame’ cuts into the major guls, it is not difficult to read the composition of any Turkmen carpets field as a section of an infinite repeat.
At the ends of carpets and at the bottom of bags and ensis, there are usually extra panels, called eleems. Some, usually by the Tekke, are piled with simple stripes; but generally they are more elaborately decorated, often with different patterns at top and bottom. The elems themselves are followed by flat-woven ends (although these are very often missing from older pieces). According to Moshkova the one exception to the general rule is to be found in Saryk carpets which always had large flat-woven ends hut never any elems.
The ancient traditions of the Central Asian nomads were not able to survive the various encroachments which took place during the 19th century. Continuous warfare plus the growth of central government powers weakened nomadic autonomy and led to increasing poverty. Towards the end of the 19th century, Turkmen weaving became more and more commercialized as the Turkmen’s themselves fell under Russian domination.
Turkmen weaving changed from being essentially a domestic occupation to being a marketable export. Designs, sizes and color schemes were adapted to meeting the growing demands of western markets. The consequences of this interference with a traditional tribal art form, epitomized, perhaps, by the increasing use of synthetic dyes, were disastrous. The final death blow came, however, with the introduction of Soviet rule during the 1920s. Old Turkmenistan became a Soviet Socialist Republic, in which ideological concept the nomadic way of life had no place. Peoples were forcibly settled or resettled under rigid state control.
The Age of Turkmen Weavings
The labels old and antique applied to Turkmen weavings in the international carpet market are intended to be significant historical and stylistic indicators. Antique pieces are those presumed to he more than 100 years old and thus, to a large extent, this class of weaving has little or none of the signs of degeneration referred to above; weavings thought to he from the first half of the 19th century or earlier are especially valued by collectors. However, many ‘old carpets from around the turn of the century are well worth serious consideration, particularly if they. Too, have escaped the degenerative process.
Turkmen Rugs made after the Revolution, mainly in state-run workshops, are of no interest to serious collectors and the new collector should also he wary of imitations and copies made in Pakistan and elsewhere, which are marketed as Bukhara.
Naturally. It is best if the age of a weaving can he determined with some exactitude, especially as the adjectives ~old’ and ‘antique’ begin to lose their relevance as indicators of quality the nearer we get to the 21st century. However, as with all Oriental rugs, the dating of Turkmen weavings is extremely difficult and requires a considerable amount of experience. A number of criteria can he used as aids in the dating process hut there is still considerable disagreement, even among experts. Dyes, motifs, materials and condition all have their parts to play and there is also a comparatively small number of dated pieces which have a limited role as pointers.