Some remnants of carpets have been discovered at the graveyard of the village of Artik, Armenia, (XIV - IX B. C.). A fragment of a carpet reminds of the so-called jejim-carpet with the swastika symbolising water and snake. It was for this motif that foreign scientists called the Armenian rugs dragon-rugs. Both these motifs have been persistently predominant in all the branches of the Armenian medieval arts - architecture, jewellery, pottery, rug making, needlework, etc. In Yerevan, at the Karmir Bloor (VIII - VII B. C.) clews of dyed wool and various types of woolen fabrics have been discovered.
The ornaments of murals, the compositions and the harmony of red and blue colors of ArinBerd (Yerevan) have almost been transferred to the rug making of our days.
At Karmir Bloor a flaxen strip of carpet was discovered, dating back to the VII c. B. C. The fabric of this strip of carpet and the Armenian carpet are absolutely the same. Another treasure discovered here was a piece of piled carpet. Sargon II, the king of Assyria (722 - 705 B. C.) when plundering the Temple of Mousasir had also taken motley textiles and flaxen clothes. In Sargon's inscription (714 B. C.) there is mention of 130 multicolor clothes, flaxen dresses and especially of a great number of sheep flocks (up to 100 thousand) all looted from Urartu.
The historian Herodotus (485 - 425 B. C.) informs us that "the inhabitants of the Caucasus dyed the wool with a number of plants having dyeing qualities and they used it to make woven fabrics covered with drawings which never lose their brilliant color... ". In the second half of the IV century the Persian King Shapuh forced 131 thousand Armenian families, mostly urban citizens, artisans, out of Armenia into Persia. As a result, the economy, the handicrafts and arts in our country experienced a heavy setback, and it was only after two centuries that the economy began to flourish again.
The Arab historians mention that in the 80s of the VIII century the taxes levied from Armenia included 20 rugs. In 911, the caliph had been given a rug, "60x60 kangoons" (an Armenian measure) in size, on which the Armenian masters had worked for ten years. The Bulgarian king Krum (A. 0. 813-814) in captivating the Armenian inhabitants of Adrianoplehad at the same time looted a great number of Armenian rugs. The Byzantine emperor Morik (Morick) forced the Armenian population of that town out of Karin (in 590). During the reign of the Armenian Bagratides (IX - XI centuries) thanks to the large-scale trade relations under Arab domination and influence, the Armenian rugs were glorified over a large territory stretching from the Kama kingdom of Bulgaria to Turkmenia, from Baghdad to Constantinople. Ibn-Halikal in his "Book of Travels" (977 - 978) gives preference to the silk textiles of Dabil (Dvin) compared with those made in Rumium (Byzantium).
An unknown Arab geographer of the X century characterises the Armenian rugs by the word khali. According to his data, the Armenians living in Khoi, Berkri, Arjesh, Khlat, Nakhichevan, Bitlis and other towns produced "khali carpets and carpets". By the "khalicarpet" he surely had in mind the piled carpets. The Ambassador of the Arab caliphate lbn Tadlun testifies that in the first half of the X century the Armenians were busy in trading and making rugs in the Volga basin. The ground space under the enormous tent of the Bulgarian king of Kama, which could seat a thousand people, was entirely covered with Armenian rugs. The Armenians were busy here not only in trading but also in handicrafts. In a Georgian source (XI c.) we are informed of the "Armenian tapasta" (rug).
Yakoot, an Arab historian of the XIII century (1178 - 1229) wrote: "The Armenians make huge rugs in the town of Van. The rugs made in Kalikali (Karin) were called 'khali' after the name of the town". As a result of the policy carried out by the Byzantine Emperors the Armenian municipalities along with the urban population were gradually forced to move into the inner parts of the Empire. This weakened the country and made the Seljuks invasion easy. These deportations became massive during the Turkish - Seljuk and Mongolian - Tatar invasions. In such conditions, rug and carpet making was carried out only by people settled in the impregnable mountains.
Marco Polo, the Italian traveller (XIII c.) passing through Turkmenia (the name given to the Turkish - Seljuk state of Cappadocia in the XI - XIV centuries) commented: "The Armenians and Greeks in the three major towns of Konya (lkonio), Kaiseri (Kesaria) and Sivas (Sebastia) made the most beautiful and finest rugs". The Armenians of those three towns had been deported in the first half of the XI century from Vaspurakan, Ani, Kars. In XI century Armenian colonies were founded in Egypt as well, where the Armenians continued making rugs. In addition, the Armenians were also making rugs in the Ukrainian, Polish, Bulgarian, Roumanian and Hungarian Armenian colonies. According to the Russian historians Karamzin and Glinka, the first Armenian colony in Kiev, founded in the early 60s of the XI century, had grown into a large settlement by the end of the next century. Here the Armenians were engaged in jewellery, sericulture and rug making. By the example of the Armenian commercial inns, other Armenian colonies began to appear in Astrakhan, Nor-Nakhichevan, Theodosia, Moscow and Petersburg. The Armenian traders in Nor-Jugha acquiring facilities in Persia and Russia especially from the Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1667 - 1672), began to trade over Russia on a large scale. The yearly turnover of the silk textiles and rugs exported from Persia into Russia and Europe constituted some 22 thousand bales. Interesting facts have been preserved on the Armenian traders of Cilicia, Cyprus, Western Armenia and Persia having established commercial ties with Europe over the Mediterranean. In the price list of the commodities exported from Cyprus to Florence from 1275-to 1330, one can find the price of the Armenian carpets, as well. Another source informs us that the Armenians (1340 - 1354) were selling rugs in the square of the church of St. Donation in Brugge. During this period (and perhaps even earlier) the Armenian commercial ships sai-led to France, Spain, England and Holland. In the period of the Crusades the commercial links with France grew stronger. In the XIII century the Armenian rugs in France were known as the "Sarracin" rugs.
In the Armenian manuscripts the word 'carpet' was first used in the translation of the "Bible" (V.A.D.), whereas we find the word 'gorg' in the XIII c. as a synonym to carpet. The Armenian linguist Grigor Ghapantsian was of the opinion that the Armenian word gorg originated from the Hittite-Armenian word - stock in the form of koork, koorkas. The linguist E. Sartivent explained that the koork was used as a cloth for covering horses or mules. By the way, in the Armenian villages of the 40s' of XX century horses could still be seen covered with such car-pets the samples of which are preserved in the State History museum of Armenia. There are other records and pictures concerning the Armenian rugs still preserved on the Armenian medieval architectural memorials and on the frescos of churches.
In the Armenian miniature art and murals we find rugs, ornamented cushions, coverlets and needlework shawls, displaying the seated Virgin, Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Saints. The ornamental forms of the Armenian rugs and carpets are often repeated in the various ornamentation found in the miniatures of the Armenian manuscripts. One would better say they repeat and complete one another as elements of the common national art. The Armenian Catholicos Abraham Kretatsi (1735) has left behind a record testifying the importance of carpet and rug making in the Armenian domestic life. He informs us that in the village of Khndzoresk a great many people had been making carpets and rugs. But, as the historian informs us painfully, the Turks came, massacred them and plundered everything they had. And only very few of the remaining people continued to make them. Now, after the age-old deprivations, that art of vital necessity has been restored again in this part of the country.
In the second half of the XIX century and the first fifteen years of the XX century, Armenia was a major rug exporter. The Armenian population in Turkey, Persia, Russia (and especially the Transcaucasus) took up the production of rugs and carpets with a new impetus. In Western Armenia there appeared workshops for silkworm breeding and rug making and people began to weave Armenian traditional rugs, carpets and other cloths.
In 1902, in Caesarea alone there were 2000 looms, and in its suburbs - 1500 (of which 700 in Kemerek and its suburbs). In Caesarea there was even a shop commission with its own rules and statutes. Both the workers and the head masters were Armenians. Its yearly output amounted to 10000 rugs (both silk and wool). The silk was supplied by the Armenian population of Brussa, the wool - by that of Kyurin. The number of looms operating in Sebastia and Caesarea amounted to 10000, that of the workers - 12000. The Armenian rugs exported from Western Armenia (Turkey) were sold mainly in Europe and America where the products of Karin, Baberd, Manazkert, Moosh, Sassoon, Van, Akhtamar, Norshen, Vostan, Artskeh, Berkri, Moks, Shatakh, Akni, and other towns were given high prices.
In the towns of Eastern Armenia and the Transcaucasus - Kars, Yerevan, Olti, Surmalu, Kaghzvan, Karakilissa (now Kirovakan), Karvansara (ljevan), Alexandropol (Leninakan), Akhalkalak, Akhaltsikha, Tiflis, Borchalu, Nakhichevan, Agulis, Gandzak (Kirovabad), Partev, Kazakh, Khuba (Kuba) this form of traditional Armenian art made also a new headway. In Shushi there even operated a rug making workshop - school.
In the Iranian towns also with Armenian population there was a growing interest towards that art. Only in Tabriz there were already 10 rug making Armenian workshops with mostly Armenian workers. However, the market suggests its own rules resulting in the appearance of elements of eclecticism in the techniques of the Armenian classical rugs. The skilful weavers of traditional rugs endowed with their creative individuality continued to develop this unique and national art with their own innovations.
The First World War and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey (in 1915) utterly destroyed the national economy of Armenia. The remnants of the Armenian population survived from the Turkish yataghan found refuge in Syria, the Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, France, Italy, Iran and Russia. Western Armenia was completely emptied of its Armenian population. The entire property of the two million victims and the hundreds of thousands of refugees were looted. During the years of the First World War and following the Armistice, the Armenian rugs and carpets looted by the Turks were especially sought after and highly priced in the home markets of Turkey and abroad, though under the label of Turkish rugs!
Hunger and poverty, the flow of refugees resulting out of the I World War, threw out into the foreign markets enormous numbers of Armenian rugs and carpets. In 1918, according to eyewitnesses, from the district of Ijevan alone some 5000 rugs were sold at the most trifle prices, and another 3000 from Zanghezour found their way to Europe and America.
From ancient times carpets and rugs have been regarded as a vital necessity in the Armenian domestic life. Probably it was the lack of wood as a building material that made the people to cover the ground floors of palaces, public and ecclesiastical buildings with bast mats, matting, carpets and rugs. In almost all the towns, villages or settlements of historical Armenia people used to make the so-called jejims, house-flannels, coverlets, curtains, khurjins, blankets, salt-bags, horse-coverlets and finally carpets and rugs. This type of handicraft was so strongly linked with the domestic life of the people that it had become a necessity for every family. The carpets and rugs formed an indispensable part in the dowry of the Armenian girls, who familiarised themselves at an early age with that art and, till their marriage, prepared their own dowry of rugs and carpets themselves.
One can find numerous records concerning the rugs and carpets in the Armenian folklore, the tales, legends, etc. In studying the tale of "Anahit" as elaborated by Armenian well-known writer L. Aghayan, one finds out that rug making was highly appreciated among heathen Armenians. From time immemorial, the simplest and primary variant of floor coverings was the mat woven with green branches, reeds, grass, etc. Technically it did not differ from the floor cloth made of flaxen or woolen threads. When the common woven drape began to give way to the striped floor-cloth with its surface covered with narrow or large stripes of natural colors (as the dyeing technique was unknown yet), there was need to enrich those simple rhythms with the simplest geometrical forms. At first they had to break that colored line, the narrow stripe, and proceed in zigzag lines. This break in the horizontal line gave way to an altogether new type of technique unknown as yet in weaving. It meant the birth of carpet weaving. With the juxtaposition of the broken, horizontal and vertical jagged lines, it became possible to bring about various geometrical designs on the flat surface in the form of triangles, quadrangles, squares, rectangles, circles, hexagons, octagons, etc.
The use of various colors made its way to new graded forms, "volumes", patterns familiar to the applied arts, under new interpretations. Thus, the carpet became a complex fabric with a diversity of themes, with a definite system of patterns and ideological content. The various forms of the floor-mat and carpet differed from each other by their weaving techniques. A rhythmic break in the horizontal line or stripe combined with the addition of a vertical pattern in the fabric brought about a qualitative change which gave the differentiating feature to the woven carpet compared with the fabrics of the other floor-cloths.
The types of the Armenian carpets and their development show that there came a transitional moment in the weaving technique - that of the rug making. The weaving of carpet, giving the possibility of creating a complex and diverse form of patterns and compositions, made the whole surface subject to vertical, long or short splits, which, on the one hand, loosened the toughness of the fabric, and, on the other, deprived the carpet of displaying any circles, or vertical lines or stripes. The tendency and efforts of avoiding these two short-comings led to the making of the rug and its weaving techniques. In the case of rug making, knots were added to the vertical wefts, the two ends of which were brought out on the visible side of the rug. In the case of cloth weaving, the patterns were needle-worked on the warp; thus the main difference between the weaving of floor-cloths, carpets and the rug was that the patterns of the rugs were exclusively created through the knots. Such rugs were later known as knot-rugs or knot-carpets.
Thus the main differentiating external feature of a rug was its pile. That is why it is often called a piled rug or carpet (the Turkish expression of "khavlu khalicha" is derived from the Armenian word "khav" meaning pile, nap in Armenian). This napped surface was obtained by cutting the ends of the knotted threads over the surface of the rug. It was usually 4 - 6 mm. in length for the Armenian rugs. At times its length was even measured in centimeters, in accordance with the demand of the clients. Rugs, which have a shorter nap, were very thin and light, not typical to the Armenian rugs and might be of machine product.
Most familiar types of the Armenian rugs are divided into seven groups, such as, the palas, mazar (transition from the drape to the carpet), jejim, the matnakash carpet (a double faced carpet, the most important of the group), the shoolal carpet, the oghjids, both straight and diagonal, which the Armenians call kazakhi, the Turksverni, the kurds-yamani. The latter also include the famous Armenian snake-carpets, the Sileh, (zileh), the Sumakhi (Shamakhi) carpets and finally the fringed carpets. The materials used in the Armenian rug making, such as the weaving thread (wool, silk flax, hemp, cotton), the dyes (vegetal, animal, mineral, chemical) the instruments, the weaving techniques and the ornaments date back to remote times.
Of various domestic animals, living in the Armenian territory, our rug making ancestors have given preference to the kind of sheep giving the white, soft and long - hair wool. The best thread was that obtained from the spring shearing. The density of the knots for each square decimeter of the area of the rugs varied in most places; thus Ijevan and Zangezur rugs counted 901 1600 knots, Vaspurakan - 784 - 900, Artsakh (Gharabagh) - 1300 1600, and those of Sebastia, Karin up 2025 - 2100. They first made the warp on the loom, then the drape of the mouth of the rug (2,5 - 3,5cm.) followed by the layer or the weaving of knots which were mostly made in doubles. The chain was done in one or both direction from right to left. In stamping the middle - thread usually one working thread was used, or sometimes, two. The rug was woven either individually or collectively.
The skilled masters tied all the knots of the patterns, while the comparatively inexperienced ones filled the gaps. In selecting the decorations it was the clients' wishes that were mostly take into account, with either the vegetal, animal or imaginative patterns predominating.
The most ancient instrument of rug making discovered in Armenia was the so-called "ktutich" dating back to the II B. C. It was made of bone and was very similar to those in use up till now. The investigations have shown that the horizontal loom was the simplest and oldest form of instrument, which was in use in the mountainous regions of Armenia up to the XX century. Being primitive and small in size, it did not offer the possibility of making large carpets and rugs. The huge vertical looms were also known in Armenia from ancient times, and one can find them mentioned in the popular tales, books of historians and many archeological finds. The vertical wedged loom, which was in use up to the 70s of the XIX century, had a number of advantages over the horizontal one. The rug maker was free to see the rug before his eyes as the painters do, to make comparisons of the colors and forms, to make instant corrections on the spot, to keep the symmetry and enrich the compositions with new ones, if necessary. In addition, it gave ample opportunity of making rugs in great sizes.
As the Armenian rugs and carpets entered the world market the Armenian rug making masters began to improve their instruments of production. The vertical wedged loom had a number of technical shortcomings which often resulted in having the wefts broken, or the whole surface of the fabric somewhat unequal when shaped as a quadrangle.
At the beginning of our century the wooden wedged vertical loom was replaced by the screwed loom made by the masters of Eastern Armenia. A new kind of scissors came into being together with an improved kind of knife which made it possible to clip the nap on an equal level and to cut and tie the knots in the best way. The clean, long, white wool was washed seven times under the flowing water, then dried up and combed. The white handfuls of the combed wool were then spinned by the spindles and the spinning wheels. Then the hanks of wool were dyed by vegetal, animal and chemical dyes. Of all the colors used in the Armenian classical rugs and carpets were mainly those of bright red and the clean blue in all their hues. The golden yellow and the green colors were also used extensively. But the brown-black seldom found its place in the rugs.
Some Arab historians (AI. Mugadasi, AI. Fakih) inform us of the color of "kirmiz" (red) used by the Armenians. It is a red worm living in the soil and found only in Armenia. In spring people come and collect them in platefuls and boil them on the fire, and with the color thus obtained they dye the wool. There were workshops in the town of Artashat were people made this vivid red. In Armenia this color was called "vortan karmir", of which the medieval Armenian miniaturists prepared a great variety of colors ranging from fine pink to dark violet. The red color toron (marena), obtained from the plant of the same name, was also much used by the Armenians. The blue, light and dark yellow, the coffee-color, the beige, black and brown colors were being extracted from various plants, flowers, leaves and grass. The mixture of red, blue, green and other dyes obtained some other dyes.
The woolen threads were first enamelled in a solution of lime, then submerged into the boiling dye water. When boiling was resumed, salt or alum was added and removed from the fire for cooling. Then the dyed threads were twisted slightly and left to dry in the shade to avoid discoloring.
All the human and animal pictures are displayed in their movement and are similar to the motifs found in the Armenian rock drawings and medieval miniature art. In the age-long period of Armenian rug making one can find an enormous diversity of vegetal, animal and other motifs of nature, instruments of labor and domestic articles involving almost the entire surrounding world. But of all these things only a small part was to survive owing both to their significance in the human life and their plasticity. The snake, the scorpion, the dragon and other animals must have probably had a totemistic significance for the primitive people and existed for a long time as such. Man worshipped both the useful and harmful animals. In worshipping the poisonous animals he believed he was saving himself from their harmful effects. Totemism, as time went by, gradually lost its primary meaning and turned into decorative patterns. Every district of Armenia engaged in rug making had its own preference of displaying the vegetal and animal ornaments having local significance. Predominating in the rugs of Lori - Gugark, (Ijevan - Kazakh), are those of the deer, goats, rams, nightingales, cocks, scorpions, carts, ploughs and many vegetal patterns. In the district of Aragatsotn preference was given to the peacocks, rams horse, the Sun and stars. In the Ararat district to grapes, clusters, leaves, ears of corn and cotton flowers. In Etchmiadzin district - to lilies, doves. In the Syunik and Artsakh districts - to the sun and dragons, deer, rams, beetles, spiders and butterflies. In Shirak - to the rams, dragons, lances, etc.
Some characteristic features proper to the Armenian miniature art are sometimes being reproduced in the compositions of Armenian rugs, such as the cockfights, bullfights, connected with the regeneration of nature in Shrovetide time. The winner of such fights was regarded as an object of worship. Another characteristic feature of the Armenian national classical rugs, (Lori, Artsakh), is the depiction of a medallion in the center of the rug representing the sun as the source of life surrounded with heavenly birds, as its heralds. The sun was at times represented in the form of a curved cross, as well. Lalayan, an Armenian archeologist and ethnographer, informs us that in Akhtamar he had seen "a rug with a swastika in the field".
Other national rugs (Lori - Gugark, Zanghezur, Vaspurakan) display patterns of weapons, arrows, swords, lances, etc., as symbols of self-defense from the evils, just as the crosses were the signs of faith. Apart from them, the rug makers designed other symbols as well, which were thought to be important as part in the dowries of girls, such as, the dragon as the symbol of the guardian of water, the tree of life as the symbol of the eternity of the family, the bloom as the symbol of fertility. The S sign, which was in use in all the branches of the Armenian applied arts, was known as the backbone of fish, or a small snake, or waters. Other symbols most frequently found in rug making were also those of horns or sometimes the heads of rams. These were regarded to be a totem, the symbols of fertility and prosperity, but also those of rug making itself. And it is the horns of rams in their most diverse linear and color forms that were extensively applied and are predominant in the Armenian rugs, ancient and modern.
All those patterns ornamenting the Armenian rugs were closely connected with the legendary notions, superstitions, and the pagan faith and worship rites of the remote ancestors of the Armenian people, inscribed in the ancient manuscripts and popular folk songs.
In the museums of various countries and personal collections more than a hundred Armenian rugs are preserved, mostly dating back to the XIII - XVIII centuries. These are scattered in the museums of Vienna, Berlin, London, Chicago, New York, Leningrad, Istanbul, and other cities. In composition and technique, all these rugs are closely linked with the age-old features of the Armenian applied and miniature art.
The most ancient rug is that preserved in Vienna, dating back to 1202. It was made in Gandzak (now Kirovabad), in the Banants village. It bears an Armenian inscription. It depicts a three - arched vault very similar to that found in the Armenian miniature art. Patterns in the form of palmettos, rosettes, crosses and doves abound in it. It has three circular bands, characteristic of Armenian rugs, which abound in rich traceries of rosettes and lilies. One of the narrow bands bears an Armenian inscription, informing the place and date of making the rug. The band is traced with the symbol S, which is one of the most characteristic signs found in the Armenian dragon-rugs and snake-carpets; according to the rug scholar V. A. Holley, "that sign is characteristic of most ancient rugs". The center of the rug reflects the dark vivid red of "vortan karmir".
An Armenian rug of great interest is the one being preserved at the Berlin Imperial Museum: it dates back to the XIII century, to the period of Mongol domination over Armenia. It was made in Lori and displays the fight between a dragon and an eagle against the yellowish background. On the large circular band there is a white cross and the initials of an Armenian name, testifying to its Armenian origin and repudiating the biased opinion that it must have been an Islamic work of art made in the period of Chinghiz Khan, in India. It is also interesting to note, that the composition has been reproduced in its very likeness by the Italian painter Domenico di Bartolo (Venezianos) in the murals of the hospital of Sienna, in 1440. According to the rug scholar V. S. Temourjian this rug symbolises the struggle of the Armenian people against the Mongols. The eagle was the symbol of power of the ancient Armenian Kingdom of Artaxiads, the dragon - that of the Mongol conquerors. Thus the rug, apart from its applied and decorative meaning, acquires the significance of a highly valuable work of art.
Another unique rug is the one called "Anahit", which displays the Garden of Eden. Its intricate tracery and decorations of a diversity seldom to be found on any rug, links it, with no doubt whatsoever, to the period of the Armenian medieval miniature art (XII - XIV centuries). The rug abounds in patterns of plants, palmettos and animal images, dragons, lions and bears placed in between the free spaces of the' principal motifs. The whole meaning underlined by the composition is the enjoyment of the benefits of life, the glorification of secular life by man repudiating the so-called mystic, spiritual, monastic life, expressed in the form of two stretched hands ready to pick the flower of Eden. This kind of composition has often been reproduced with some changes by both Armenian rug makers and those of the neighboring countries.
The rug preserved at the Hermitage has two narrow and one large borders like the one called "Yerakhoran". Its composition and patterns resembling those of "Anahit", are closely linked with the Armenian early medieval art. It was probably made in the XVI - XVII centuries in Poland, in the town of Sljuk inhabited by many Armenians. The rug made in 1680 (1699, 1700?), probably in Vaspurakan, is known as the "Gohar" rug. Its background is formed of quartrepetal decoration, and right in the center, in an octagonal design there are crosses and schematic pictures of birds. It has only one circular band and bears the inscription of the rug maker Gohar by name.
The Armenian hand-made rugs are especially in great demand in most European countries, such as England, Canada, France and the countries of the Middle and Near East. Armenia produces some one hundred types of rugs mostly hand-made.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the Armenian rugs, renowned in the remote Middle-Ages and even earlier, are proof of the fact that the Armenian people have played a most important role in the creation, development and perfection of rug making, one of the applied arts of the most ancient peoples of Asia Minor, the Middle East and the Transcaucasus. Today the Armenian rug makers, rug painters and skilled masters are the bearers of the centuries-old traditions of the Armenian rug making art.
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