The major tribal groupings for Turkmen weavings from Central Asia – Salor, Saryk, Tekke, Yomut, Arabatchi, Chodor and Ersari. There are also many minor groupings. Amongst the Yomut are the Guklan, Jaffarbai, Ogurjali. lmreli, lgdyr, Atabai and Abdal and among the Ersari are the Chob-Bash, Beshir and Kizil Ayak. In addition, sonic believe that it is possible to distinguish the Tekke weavings from Mary(Merv) and those from Achal.
The problem with such a list is that it implies a greater degree of certainty than is justified at present. There arc many problems in attributing weavings to specific tribes, and even more when it conies to sub-tribes or groups. Colors, designs and motifs are not sufficient in themselves, as there were many designs and motifs used by all or some of the major tribes and the borrowing of patterns occurred more often than one realizes. This was increasingly the case with the growth of commercial weavings in the second half of the 19th century. There are some Turkmen rugs obviously made in a commercial environment which are of very good quality and bear surprisingly early dates which there is no good reason to challenge; sonic of these, it is interesting to note, hear woven Armenian inscriptions, proof if it was needed of their manufacture in a commercial workshop or factory.
One can hardly ignore individual tribal attributions, especially as those of the best-known and most common types of weaving to specific tribes are not in much doubt. Such attributions assist a learner towards a clearer understanding of Turkmen weaving as a whole, as well as being of value in dating, assigning specific motifs and. (if course, in determining rarity and market value.
An excerpt from au essay by the British writer and Turkmen specialist Robert Pinner sums up very well the progress which has been made in Turkmen scholarship and the continuing problems caused by attributions. The essay, entitled ‘Work in Progress’, appeared in Hali (no.42 London, 1988, pp.15-19)
‘There are three reasons why Turkmen carpets have been investigated in greater detail than others: the initiative of the Russian authors and collectors of the turn of the century, headed by Dudin, Bogolyuhov and Felkerzam; the great collector interest which set root in Europe and America before World War II; and the strong tradition that maintained relatively distinct characteristics of designs, drawing style, structure and colors for the rugs of the different tribes.
Siawosch Azadi’s catalogue of his 1970 Hamburg exhibition, itself strongly influenced by the Soviet ethnographer V.G. Moshkova, was the forerunner of post-war Western literature on Turkmen carpets, as was indeed Jon Thompson’s publication of the ‘S group’, later identified as Salor.
Not all the groups of Turkmen weavings identified during the last decade on the basis of uniform characteristics Could be attributed to specific tribes. It proved possible for those of the Arabachi and, more speculatively, for the Guklen (who took over the place briefly occupied by the ‘Imreli’) but is has so far proved impossible, for instance, for the group characterized as “Fine Brown Yomut” or as “Eagle Group 2” which shares many designs and design elements with ‘Guklen’ pieces, but differs in structure and colors.
Compared with our understanding of tribe-related designs and technical features, we have made much less progress in our ability to date Turkmen carpets. It is not difficult to come to believe that we can date most Turkmen rugs with a fair degree of accuracy, when we are really following, and in turn supporting, a dating schema which is conventional rather than one based on evidence. The fact is that we have sufficient evidence to date fairly accurately most – but not all – Turkmen carpets made in the last 100 years. We can make more or less intelligent guesses at the dates (if a fair proportion of pieces made 50 years before that hut, with rare exceptions, we have no evidence on which to judge the date of rugs made at the beginning of the 19th century or earlier.’
The Age of Turkmen Rugs as Demonstrated by the Heraldic Nature of their Designs.
The gul has three principal characteristics: its basically octagonal shape: its internal quartering with one basic pattern repeated four times. Which is emphasised by the diagonal coloring of these four individual sections; complete or fractional representations oh animals. Usually birds. in each quarter, which in sonic instances have become almost completely abstract in their rendering, similar in some respects to European coats of arms or escutcheons. Similar emblematic motifs with these three characteristics can he found on the weavings of many Turkic peoples from widely differing regions.
Depending on the importance with which each of the proud Turkmen tribes viewed their principal heraldic motif. Its main use would obviously he as a repeat pattern on the large main carpets. The designs and individual motifs hound on less important weavings would usually be drawn loom a wealth oh patterns not necessarily belonging to one tribe only.
For this reason, the literature on Turkmen weaving sometimes differentiates between the tribe – specific principal motifs of main carpets, which originally had au heraldic function, by calling them guls or, in Moshikova’s terminology. ‘Living guls’. These motifs used on bags or as minor motifs on main carpets are differentiated by the spelling gul. These are the ‘dead’ heraldic motifs of tribes which had lost their autonomy, the motifs themselves becoming less significant as a result. Thus what Moshkova described as the “Salor gul” is not found on any known main carpet by that tribe but on hater weavings by the Tekke and on some attributed by Siawosch Azadi and others to the Guklen. It is, in other words, a “dead gul”. Moshkova explains that before the middle of the 19th century, the great tribe of the Salor was defeated in a series of battles with the Tekke and was absorbed by the latter. They were driven from their ancestral grazing hands by the Tekke and Sarvk and with this loss of both sovereignty and, eventually, identity, their tribal emblem ceased to have any heraldic significance; it was taken over by their conquerors and was used subsequently both by them and by other tribes a id appeared mainly on bags . In contradiction to Moshkova’s hypothesis. however, a different gul appears on all t lie known main carpets attributed to the Salor . Nevertheless, her principal thesis has never been properly discussed or adequately disposed of. It seems strange, not to say i improbable. that a victorious tribe should have adopted the ma in emblem of the tribe it had defeated: indeed, it might seen a more convincing hypothesis were it to be argued that the defeated tribe would have adopted the emblem of its conquerors or, as seems possible with the Baluch tribe. to have been forced to abandon their own emblem altogether. a development which can be seen on the Baluch rugs from East Iran and Afghanistan, many of which have Turkmen guls, variants thereof and other elements borrowed from the repertoire oh Turkmen weaving. Furthermore, we have seen at least one typical Salor main carpet which, were it not for its design and color, would have been dated unhesitatingly by most experts to the second half, perhaps even the last quarter of the 19th century.
Equally difficult to reconcile with Moshkova ‘s hypothesis is the tauk nuska gul which appears in many variant forms on the main carpets and other weavings of several different tribes auth sub-tribes, including those of the Yomut. Ersari, Arabachi and Chodor.
Dietrich Wegner ( Tribus no.29, Linden Museuni, Stuttgart. 1980) offers an alternative explanation for the difference between gul. He argues that equating the term gul with the Farsi word for flower, gul. is hardly logical or sensible. Although motifs similar to Turkmen guls appear on tribal and village weaving from Iran. the Caucasus and Anatolia and are called guls in these regions, Wegner points out that the old Turkish word kol forms part oh the names of many rivers and lakes between the southern Altai and West Turkestan; he states that every kinship group had a particular river or lake which it revered because of the part it played in its differing but similar death rites. More recently. the archaeologist. James Mellart, in The Goddes from Anatolia (Milan,1989), has pointed out that gul is Turkish for “lake” and that this, rather than “flover” is the origin of its usage in the context of Turkmen motifs.
Another interpretation of the gul as an heraldic symbol is the hypothesis that it developed from the tamgha or oneghum. The 14th century historian Rashich-ad-Oghuz listed twenty-four tribes of the Oghuz. the ancestors of the Turkmen’s. and said that each was allocated its own brand (tangha) and totem in tile form of a bird (oneghun). The tamghas were simple motifs, that of Salor Khian, founder of the Salor tribe, being a hook-like form ;for Mahmud Kashgari in the 11th century, this same tamgha had become a slightly more complex arrow-head form with an extra extension . The Soviet author Karpov states that the ‘tagma’ or ‘tavro’ has been used by both Mongolian and Turkic nomads as a sign of ownership since ancient times. But in ‘ Tagma – Brands of the Turkmen’s’ ( Turkmenovedenie nos.8-9, Turkmen Researsh, vol.2), he assigns yet another tamgha to the Salor.
It is possible that these originally simple ‘brands’ were rendered in an increasingly complex manner through the generations until they became the guls we know from 19th century Turkmen weavings. If one takes this origin a I theory further, it is possible to argue that at some stage, the oneghun or animal totem was also incorporated. In this context, it is interesting to consider the motif seen on a waiving depicted by a 15th century Italian painting attributed to Sassetta, The Madonna and Child in the Pallazio Cini,Venice (after Pittenger, oA Miscellany in Oils’, Hali 38, 1988, diagram 1). It is interesting that the reciprocated hook forms in the four corners of this motif have been interpreted as residual representations of birds and the motif within the Chodor ertman gul certainly seems to have an avian on gin.
However, firm evidence for the development of the gul from the tamgha does not exist because such apparently simple motifs as the latter have become lost in the complexity of the modern gul. But it is interesting to speculate that all the tribal guls had a common origin and that all the Turkmen’s were once, long ago, an homogeneous group. Certainly we know that at one time the Salor, Saryk and Tekke had common settlements and were known as the ‘Stone Salor’.