The Role Of Islam in Turkmen Rugs Weaving.

It would seem obvious to look for Islamic influences on Turkmen carpets hut to what extent these exist is debatable. The representation of animals and human figures on Turkmen weavings is not particularly unusual;
It cannot be assumed that Islamic proscriptions against depicting living creatures, particularly human beings, were generally followed. Such proscriptions were certainly ignored by the artists working in the royal ateliers of the great Islamic dynasties of the Ottomans. Safavids and Mughals, who even went so far as to depict the Prophet Muhammad and his followers, though the Prophet’s face is often left blank or is veiled. Depictions of human beings on tribal rugs from all the great Islamic weaving countries of the East are also not unusual, especially on weavings made to celebrate or commemorate weddings. However, it could be argued that a certain uneasiness persisted when it came to representing human figures, hence the great emphasis on abstract or semi-abstract ornament in Islamic, as well as in early Christian and Byzantine art.
Thus, when asking how far Islam influenced Turkmen art, one should Remember that the question could just as easily be asked the other way round. Mongol influence spread out over the whole oh Central Asia. Persia. The Caucasus and Anatolia and was. Arguably the basis (if the wealth of patterns available to all Turkic peoples: it is the most it is the most important ingredient in the melting pot of influences from many different cultures. If we hear such antecedents in mind, design comparisons can often be most revealing.
Fundamental to the field designs of Turkmen carpets is the concept of the infinite repeat. Anatolian rugs of the 15th – 16th centuries (and in some cases perhaps earlier) with so-called Holden’ designs are sometimes strongly reminiscent of Turkmen rug designs.
The relationship between Anatolian and Turkmen design can also be seen in the field pattern (if another carpet in the Vakiflar Museum. The principal motif of this rug is one large ‘star’ medallion which is flanked by four small star-filled octagons, each (if which is flanked by four semi-abstract motifs. That this is intended as an infinite repeat is –shown by the fact that the border ‘cuts into’ the overall field design: the Relationship between the secondary motifs and. for example, the minor guls on an Arabachi chuval can hardly be disputed.
There is also an obvious relationship between some Turkmen guls and the stylized floral palmettos found on 18th century Caucasian ‘blossom’ carpets. A well-known large fragment of a main carpet in the Metropolitan Museum, New’ York, despite its ‘eagle groups’ type design, does not have the structural features considered to differentiate the three ‘eagle groups’ both from Yomut weavings and from each other. Its structure bears some similarity to Caucasian rugs and its field motifs are clearly related to those of some Caucasian blossom carpets, especially the motifs with ~serrated’ edges, as they are to the Yomut kepse gul. Many more such analogies could be made as one looks at the weavings illustrated on the following pages and they show that Turkmen weavings share certain designs and motifs with Anatolian rugs which date hack until at least the Seljuk period.
Similar analogies can also he found Ion border patterns. The so-called ‘curled leaf’ border seen on Tekke asmalyks, Salon and Tekke kapunuks and on a very small number (if early Tekke main carpets, can also he found in very similar form on 18th century shield’ carpets from the Caucasus.
The so-called kotchanak border seems, at first glance, to he a series of rectangles with double-hook projections at top and bottom alternating with highly stylized palmettes. However, comparisons with the borders of early rugs from Anatolia which have border patterns generally accepted as being based on Kufic script suggest that this is its origin.
The use of script as ornament is an extremely important characteristic of Islamic art, deriving from the extraordinary calligraphic artistry which developed because (if the Koran and other sacred and secular literature. Thus it is possible to find dither potential sources for carpet patterns in both Persian and Turkish manuscripts. A miniature from a manuscript of Nizami’s Khamseh, painted in the hate 15th century in Herat, then the capital of Iran’s easternmost province, Khorasan, shows the ruler of Samarkand seated on a carpet; this carpet’s field has a repeat pattern related to the ‘plaited star’ or ‘star and cross’ design mentioned earlier.
From the late 19th century onwards, it becomes easier to identify influences from neighboring Islamic regions; this is particularly true of the field designs of many Ersari Beshir carpets, which often have patterns associated with 19th century Persian rugs, for example the ‘Herati’ pattern and the, mina-khani pattern. Lastly, rugs with more or less realistic depictions of mosques are all probably no earlier than the last quarter of the 19th century and were made by Turkmen peoples in Afghanistan; it is questionable, however, whether such rugs can he considered the -genuine’ products of Turkmen weaving culture.
Other historical and cultural entanglements provide bases for the interpretation of designs and motifs. Rather less obvious than either Persian or Anatolian influences are those traceable to China, although one would expect to find strong East Asian influence given the conquest of Turkmenistan by the T’ang dynasty rulers in the 6th century B.C. In Mackie and Thompson’s Turkmen, Turkmen guls are interpreted as being Chinese ‘cloud-collar’ medallions, taken from Chinese Ming porcelain. According to this theory, the Turkmen gul evolved from variations of this round medallion-like form, as on the early east Anatolian rug illustrated by Balpinar and Hirsch (op.cit. no.62) drawn in fig. 66.
The ‘dragon and phoenix’ is considered one of the principal motifs on carpets to have East Asian origins. A typical Chinese version and an Anatolian version such as that on a rug in the Vakiflar Museum (fig.79; Balpinar and Hirsch, opacity., Ph. 7) make good starting points for tracing the motif’s influence. When considered as a section of a larger repeat design the motif is seen to form a larger octagon; it also begins to resemble the interior quartering of a gul attributed by Moshkova to the Uzbeks (Moshkova, op.cit., P1.10/5). Comparisons with the tauk nuska gul are also relevant, as is the possibility of a connection with the ‘animal tree’ motif found just above the elems of a rare and keenly collected group of Tekke ensis . Robert Pinner has discussed this motif at length in his essay ‘The Animal Tree and the Great Bird in Myth and Folklore’ (Turkmens Studies, op.cit. pp.204 ff.), tracing it hack to at least the 4th millennium B.C. in various cultures. For the purposes of further comparison, we also show the ‘dragon and phoenix’ motif from the famous 15th century rug in the Islamic Museum, Berlin, which, significantly, was known to an earlier generation of scholars as the ‘Ming’ rug. More or less stylized ‘dragons’ appear on a number of later carpets, including, of course, the 17th century Caucasian ‘dragon’ rugs and on a type of Caucasian flat weave called Verneh (erroneously called sileh in Western literature), although on only one extant example does the motif bear much resemblance to a stylized ‘dragon’. At least one other exists which suggests that the majority of so-called ‘dragon silehs’ are, in fact, stylized representations of a camel train and almost all surviving examples can be dated no earlier than the 19th century. Another East Asian connection is provided by the design of a Chinese painted scroll, which is discussed in greater detail below.
One should exercise caution, however, in making what would appear to be obvious design comparisons and drawing conclusions as to the evolution of design history from them. A recent example is Volkmar Gantzhonn’s The Christian Carpet (German, French and English cds. Cologne, 1990), a full-blown version of the author’s doctoral thesis at Tubingen University in 1987. In this, the author seeks, without much evidence or success, to prove that the art of pile carpet-making had a Christian, specifically Armenian, origin, with the iconography traceable back to Hittite art of 2nd millennium B.C. Anatolia, Phrygian and early Attic art of the early 1st millennium B.C.
And so on. Any stylistic comparisons that can he made between Christian Armenian art and the designs of eastern weavings, indeed anything vaguely cruciform on the latter such as the kejebe pattern, the minor motif on Yomut chuvals and so on are all used to prop up this thesis. The earliest known pile-knotted textiles date from 15th century B.C. Egypt and are made of flax; the earliest wool pile carpet, the Pazyryk was found in the 5th century B.C. tomb of a Scythian prince in the Altai Mountains of Siberia; most authorities, including Hubel, Schurmann and most recently the archaeologist David Stronach. Have considered it a work (if the Persian Armenian Empire. although exactly where in this large region is a matter of debate.
This is not to say that Armenians have not always played an important role in the production of carpets: we know that they have in modern times and they might well have in ancient ones. But playing a role is one thing -writing the play quite another.

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