Located at the crossroads of the Caucasus, Europe, and Asia, Azerbaijan is a land with a very ancient history and rich culture. Since ancient times, the local population here has been engaged in craftsmanship. Various types of applied arts, ornaments, and carpets reflect the fine arts begun in historic periods. Examples include motifs engraved in stone, pottery products, and metallic objects. Karabakh Carpets As an archaeological monument, the settlement of Garakopektepe (5th-4th centuries B.C. – 12th-14th centuries A.D.) brought to light handmade pottery, bronze weapons, and other elegantly engraved home goods. Material cultural artifacts discovered in the hills below the lowlands of Karabakh where there are hundreds of human settlements are exhibited not only in Azerbaijan, but also in the museums of France, Germany, UK, Russia, and other countries. The first urban human settlement in the Caucasus emerged in the Uzerliktepe territory of Karabakh. Excavations revealed that the residents who built the settlement (3.5 m in height at the end of the 2nd century B.C.) in Uzerliktepe (6-7 m current height) used clay-made braziers called “moving fire.” These enabled them to transport fire from one place to another. In this period, Uzerliktepe settlers had already mastered the secrets of producing plant dyes used to paint many clay pots found in homes. For this purpose, they used mainly two colors: black and red. Archaeological excavations revealed that weaving, dyeing, and production of pottery and metal objects were developed among local settlers in addition to farming and breeding cattle. As one of the ancient cultural centers of the world, the city of Khojaly is rich in material artifacts discovered during archaeological excavations. Craftsmanship appears to be one of the most distinct parts of daily life of the settlers living in this territory 3-4 thousand years ago. Rich artifacts were also found in Khojavend, Agoglan, and other territories of Karabakh. Since prehistoric times, the city of Barda has been famous in Karabakh. Barda became the residence of rulers, a military fortress, a trading center, and a magnificent center of fine arts. In describing this city, Ibn Hovgal, an Arabian historian of the 9th century, called it the Mother of Arran. According to written sources, over 100,000 people populated Barda in the 7th – 10th centuries. Four big markets and special handicraft-making centers existed in the city. During this period, Barda exported its silk to Iran and Khuzistan and carpets were made by special order. Another author, Al-Mugaddasi, wrote that Barda was the main city, or the “Bagdad,” of this province. He described the carpets of Karabakh and Barda as well. The Arabian author Al-Istehri (10th century) wrote that Barda exported madder (an herb-made red dye) to India, while Al-Mugaddasi and Ibn Hovgal described red cochineal dye called “ghyrmyz” exported even to Europe. The 11th and 12th centuries were a period of Azerbaijani renaissance, economic growth, urban expansion, and development of many types of art. At that time, along with many other regions, the carpets of the Karabakh region became very famous in Middle Eastern markets. Strongly influenced by the Uygur (Turkic minority) culture and Chinese communities in the first half of the 13th century and the middle of the 14th century, Mongols brought elements of their culture into Azerbaijan. As a result, new designs and patterns emerged in Azerbaijani fine arts, particularly in carpet weaving. As one of the most developed applied arts, themes and compositions used in carpet weaving were also reflected in Karabakh carpets. Progress was observed in Azerbaijani fine arts, particularly carpet making in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many European artists depicted Azerbaijani carpets in their paintings, which decorated the mansions of Europeans at that time. The carpets of Karabakh held a special place among all carpets depicted by artists. The «Mugan» carpet included in the Karabakh Group is seen in the paintings of Hans Memling (15th century), such as «Maria with Child» and «Portrait of a Young Man.» Under the rule of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736), carpet-weaving centers grew rapidly. Beautiful carpets were made in the region of Karabakh also at that time. In the 18th century, the Karabakh carpet-making school was located mainly in Shusha, called the pearl of Azerbaijan. These carpets were called Khojavand first. Since the 18th century, they were known as Khojan, and since the 19th century as Goja in Shusha. Actually, the name of Goja carpets is linked to the village of Khojavand. The city of Shusha in Azerbaijan was famous for its unique carpets since ancient times. The carpet-making arts were enriched by national traditions and witnessed several stages of their development in this region. According to the statistical data of the years of 1840-1850, the number of craftsmen doubled in the city of Shusha and the majority of them were engaged in carpet making. Carpet weaving was one of the main professions in Shusha due to the favorable geographical location, the abundance of suitable raw materials for textiles, and the wide use of this material in everyday life. The demand for Karabakh carpets both in domestic and foreign markets impacted its development comprehensively. In that period, carpet making in Shusha reached the highest level artistically and technologically and was improved further due to its location at the crossroads of caravan trading routes with Iran, Turkey, Arabia, India, and Russia. It also played a special role in the social and economic life of Karabakh and the South Caucasus as a whole. In the 19th century, carpet-making specialists of various professional weaving skills worked in Shusha. The quality of carpets made here was higher than those of Khorasan. Shusha carpets became very popular at the end of the 19th century due to their specific artistic and technological features; even among carpets of the Karabakh Group of Azerbaijani carpets. Similar to other regions of Azerbaijan, the carpets of Karabakh are divided into two groups: flat-weaves and pile-weaves. The first group represents carpets called hasir, chatan, buria, palas, jejim, kilim, verni, shedde, zili, sumakh, and ladi that are made using flat-weave techniques. Carpets and carpet-like products related to the group of flat-weaves are made on the basis of simple threading, complex threading, and simple wrapping methods to link weft with warp. The second group includes pile-weaves. Carpets and khalys form part of this group. Weaving of pile carpets is done using a knotting method that entails using a wrapping knot or a gullaby knot. Art specialists claim that the development path of pile-weaves and flat-weaves consists of four main and consistent stages. The first stage is considered as the primitive period in the art of carpet weaving. Palas and jejims made in Karabakh are related to this preliminary stage. Carpet products made in that period do not contain any ornament. They are simple and single colored. Afterwards, carpet makers started to weave palases with stripes using natural dyes of animal wool. Stripes of palases related to the early period of carpet making and woven using threading methods have three artistic forms of development: a) plain stripes b) wavy stripes c) stripes with ornaments In general, palases were widely known among nomadic people, including the area of Mugan, while jejims were used in Agjabedi and Jabrayil. Usually, palases were made on a vertical loom and jejims on a horizontal. The second stage in the art of carpet making is actually its first stage of development from both the technical and artistic points of view. During this period, the kilim weaving method based on an interweaving technique begins to develop. The appearance of this technique enabled the weaving of simple motifs or forms on the carpets. As in many other regions of Azerbaijan, palases and kilims were used as internal and external decorative covers on pavement and the ground in front of nomadic tents, huts, and wedding houses. Barda and Jabrayil are particularly known for kilim production. The third stage is characterized by the invention of the weaving method used for verni, shedde, zili, sumakh, and ladi. With wider use of complex wrapping techniques, this period created ample opportunities for the development of more complex carpet ornaments and various-sized decorative elements. Known as the third stage of carpet making and differing in the complex wrapping techniques, sheddes and vernis were mostly made in places with livestock breeding. Therefore, we can often observe stylized figures of animals on this type of carpet. In the highlands of Karabakh, there are many examples of saddlecloths for horses, camels, and bulls woven using shedde and verni techniques as well as curtains, mafrash, and other home goods. The source of shedde and verni production is thought to be Barda and Nakhchivan. There are very few cases of vernis made of silk in the region of Karabakh. Zili, made using the complex wrapping technique, is considered to be a more advanced form of carpet by comparison to shedde and verni because of its weaving method and artistic look. The motifs of Karabakh zilis contained not only depictions of animals, but also primitive geometrical elements. Even though Barda was the main weaving center for zilis, they were also made in Aghdam, Yevlakh, Fuzuli, Agjabedi, Lachyn, Beylegan, and Kelbajar. In these regions, carpet products were woven using the sumakh technique as well. Flat-weaves and carpet products differ in their specific ornaments. These elements represent a combination of palas stripes, classic elements related to kilims, elements of shedde and verni, and the motifs common to zili, ladi, and sumakh. Flat-weaves in use continuously since ancient times became an integral part of the households of people living in the region of Karabakh just as in other regions. Carpet makers in the past used the technique of flat-weaves for the majority of mafrashs, khurjuns (saddlebags), heybas (a variety of saddlebag), chuval (sack), chul (saddlecloth), yukuzu, and other household products to produce a lighter weight and softness. This tradition never faded. The fourth stage of in the art of carpet making is the period of developing the technique of pile-weaves formed on the basis of knotting, meaning the gullaby knotting method replaced the previous wrapping method. Applied since prehistoric times, the knotting technique made it possible to weave complex compositions differing from all other methods. The development of this technique sparked the invention of new tools in carpet making (such as iron scissors and knives). Other instruments (like heve (stupa) and kirki) were also used. Art specialists exploring carpet making divide the carpets of Karabakh into three groups: I. The Group of Aran. This group includes carpets from Barda and Agjabedi. In the past, the region of Barda became famous for its pile-weaves such as Barda, Khan-Garvand, Achma-Yumma, Aran, Goja (old), Buynuz (horn), Daryanur, Balyg (fish), Shabalyt Buta (chestnut buta), as well as flat-weaves like shedde, verni, and zili. Carpet masters called the carpets of this group Aran carpets. The carpets of Nakhchivan are similar to the Karabakh group in their technical features and therefore, are included in this group. Within Agjabedi’s pile carpets, Lemberan, Karabakh, Khantirme, and flat-weave carpets like jejim and zilis were widespread. The Garagoyunlu carpet was also woven here. II. The Group of Shusha. This group includes Malybayli, Lempe (lamp), Bakhchada Guller (flowers in a garden), Sakhsyda Guller (flowers in a vase), Nalbaki Gul (saucer flower), and Bulud (cloud) carpets. Carpets named Atly-Itli (horse and dog), Rustam and Zohrab, and Daryanur were also made in Shusha. As a part of the Group of Shusha, the Lempe (lamp) carpet is woven in all carpet-weaving centers of Karabakh. III. The Group of Jabrayil. This group is comprised of such carpets as Khanlyg, Gara Goyunlu, Gubadly, Kurd, Gasymushagy, Bahmanli, Mugan, Talysh, and flat-weaves such as palases and jejims. In addition to Shusha, villages such as Dashbulag, Dovshanly, Chanagchy, Tug, Taglar, and others played an important role in carpet production in the mountainous part of Karabakh in the 19th century. Incontestably, lowland regions such as Jabrayil, Aghdam, Barda, Fuzuli, and Yevlakh are considered main centers of carpet making due to the fixed sources of raw materials in comparison with mountainous areas. There were a certain number of villages where people made carpets for sale. The sizes of Karabakh pile- and flat-weaves are relatively large in relation to other carpets. This region’s carpets start from 2 m2 and reach to 20 m2. Sometimes, one can also find carpets as large as 25-30 m2. Knot density of Karabakh carpets varies from 30×30 to 40×40. In one square meter of carpet made in this region, the number of knots ranges from 90,000 to 160,000. However, there can also be carpets with a density of 200,000 knots per square meter. These carpets are woven using the gullaby knotting technique. The knot height of the carpets from the Karabakh Group varies from 6-10 mm. In spite of the lesser density of these carpets, they are strong, thick and quite resistant. The compositions of Karabakh carpets are rich, meaning that these carpets have complex design structures. As we see in the other regions of Azerbaijan, the design of pile-weaves during the development period of carpet making in the region of Karabakh is composed of various elements. In general, the carpet composition consists of two parts: 1) central field 2) border The motifs of the central field and the border are interlinked naturally. Decorations in the central field of a Karabakh carpet are composed of plant (floral) elements, images of home goods, drawings of living beings (such as people and animals), and shaped elements (stairs, squares, rectangles, polyhedrons, hooks, acute and dotted angles, pins or spikes, circles, octagon stars, undefined forms). All plant motifs are divided into 2 groups: geometrical and curvilinear. Geometrical elements are used as filler or secondary devices. In comparison with other regions, these elements were mostly used on Karabakh carpets. Plant elements seen on the carpets of Karabakh are divided into two types by their forms: 1. geometric elements 2. curvilinear elements Geometric elements play an auxiliary or supplemental role as filler elements in the general design of carpets. In comparison with other regions of Azerbaijan, these elements are widely used in the carpets of the Karabakh Group. Curvilinear motifs are more stylized in relation to plant elements. These forms were mainly used in the Tebriz carpet making school in the 15th-16th centuries. They have strongly impacted not only the carpets of Karabakh, but also the carpet-making schools in the Middle East and Asia Minor. One can also observe various animal figures on the carpets of Karabakh, such as domestic and wild animals, including birds and insects. The maral (a type of large deer or Siberian stag) often seen on Karabakh carpets is the common totem with the same symbolic meaning for all Turkic peoples. It was the sign of progress for all these people as a symbol of immense strength. The ever-changing wood-like horns of the maral are interpreted as the symbol of rejuvenation, permanent renovation, and the pace of time. With the invention of the carriage, Sumerians (considered to be the tribes of Altay Turkic people settled in ancient Mesopotamia) harnessed horses to draw it. The horse totem is also related to the sun. Oghuz Turkic tribes worshipped horses in their settlements and many facts support this. Tribes related to the Altay family of peoples had the following religious totems: bull, lion, horse, tiger, eagle, dragon, maral, and wolf. A bull or ox stepping out of water embodies strength and might. Ancient drawings of bulls were found among Sumerians, in Caucasian Albania, and in Central Asia. The figure of a bull or ox, considered the symbol of moon worshipping, decorates the central part of the emblem of the Shirvanshah state of the 15th century. To remind viewers of the lunar symbol, the bull figure’s horns were deliberately depicted in the form of a crescent. Tigers woven on the carpets of Karabakh reflect strength in the symbolism of Turkic peoples and are also the carriers of all human feelings. The figure of a tiger played an important role in the development of the genealogy of tribes settled in ancient Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Altay, and the Yenisey river basin, and it was one of the main totems. The figure of a tiger can also be seen in the ancient Altay astronomic calendar. The figure of an eagle or hawk seen on Karabakh carpets is the source of sun and light. In the art of Turkic peoples, the eagle symbolizes the lord of sun, fire, lightning, and thunder. The totem of a dragon often observed on the carpets of Karabakh is a mythical animal widely used in the arts and daily life of the peoples of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and even in the territory of Siberia. The totem of a dragon is the animal spirit that helps people to have a successful life. The dragon is the embodiment of strength, flexibility, wisdom, and foresight. It was believed that dragons took the lead and shed light on roads during Sumerian rituals. Ancient people believed in the existence of dragons. One can also observe the figures of lions woven on the carpets of Karabakh. Since ancient times, lions were considered a sign of sun, fire, serenity, and might in the East. The Sumerian God of War was drawn as a winged lion. In the religion of ancient Turkic peoples, totems played an important role. Totem beliefs are one of the most ancient forms of religion. In totems, ancient people embodied their worship of animals. The totem was also a symbol of tribes. Ancient people believed that totems could protect them. The elements that are more visible and take the main place in the general design of Karabakh carpets can be divided into five groups: a) The Buta. As one of the most widespread motifs, the Buta is seen on both flat-weave and pile-weave carpets of Karabakh. The Buta motifs of various regions of Azerbaijan were used in different forms on Karabakh carpets. The Shabalyt Buta (chestnut buta) design of Karabakh differs in its artistic decoration from the Buta contained on carpets of other regions. b) The Ketebe (cartouche). It plays the role of a filler element in carpet composition. Usually, the oblong Ketebes enclose various inscriptions, thematic compositions, or independently designed ornaments woven by carpet makers. c) The Ana Gul (main flower). These elements, which are specific to carpet design, play an important role in defining the names of carpets. Plenty of Ana Guls are repeated on the Goja (old) carpets of Karabakh. d) The Gyol (lake) and the Khoncha (bouquet of flowers). Often seen on Karabakh carpets, motifs of the Gyol (lake), the Khoncha (bouquet of flowers), and the Padnos (salver or tray) mean medallion. The Gyols (lakes) found on carpets made in all regions of Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, can be different in form. e) The Gubbas. The Gubbas are related to the group of main elements, and they are usually placed on the top (the end) of large gyols (lakes) in carpet design. Carpet makers call these elements bashlyk (hood) or monument head. The elements of border decoration are divided into two groups: 1) elements of the main (central) border 2) stripes of the minor (flanking) borders The design of the central border is created with motifs of various geometric flowers, leaves, vines, and so on. The elements that form the garyshes (a measurement unit equal to the distance from the thumb to the little finger) of the border represent the composition of the main border and the guard stripes by dividing them into garyshes. These elements play the role of corner, complete, or middle details. Elements forming the frame of the entire border include such figures as su (water), sychandishi (mouse tooth), zanjir (chain), guard stripes, the border, and the arch. The color palette of Karabakh carpets is very rich. The colors of these carpets are vivid and bright. These colors emerged because of the natural geographical conditions, picturesque nature, gardens, forests and green lowlands of Karabakh. This region had the following schemes of producing colors: red and pink were generated from the madder plant; occasionally, red color could also be taken from the cochineal insect (Dactylopius cacti) called “ghyrmyz”; yellow and yellowish colors were extracted from straw and yellow flowers; pea-green or creamy colors were generated from onion and apple peels, respectively; oak colors was taken from nut shells; and navy-blue and blue colors were generated from the indigo plant. In order to increase the dying capability of natural colors in Karabakh, carpet makers used alum, salt, cattle urine, and other fortifying substances. Beginning at the end of the 19th century, carpets dyed with artificial dyes (unstable dye) were occasionally made in Karabakh, particularly in Shusha, just as in many other regions of Azerbaijan. Apparently, this dyeing method, not specific for Azerbaijani carpets, reduced the artistic features of these carpets. Another quality of color specifications of the carpet making art in Karabakh is explained by the fact that masters felt the warmth and cold of tones, their contrast and color consistency closely, and in the end created beautiful color combinations that attracted everyone. The rich ornamental design and color harmony on the carpets in the Karabakh collection of the «Magic Knots» Gallery exhibits these qualities. The Gallery has a rich collection of carpets, and the compositions created by the ancient masters of the carpet weaving art of Azerbaijan are applied to the carpets made today. Almost all the compositions of carpets woven in Karabakh are woven with pure professionalism and the secrets of this art are maintained today and transmitted to future generations by our carpet masters. Throughout the centuries, the carpets of Karabakh with their ancient history, rich ornamental designs and coherent color palettes attracted the attention of travelers and scholars visiting this land. Adding comfort and beauty to our daily lives, the carpets of Azerbaijan pleased foreigners in various periods of time and caught their attention tempting them to purchase carpets. The carpets and products woven on the basis of different designs spread through the lifestyles of foreigners, mainly Americans and Europeans. These carpets are preserved and exhibited as some of the most valuable and rare masterpieces of art in private collections and museums in various countries across the world.
Asya Shireliyeva (Art ciritic)
Vidadi Muradov (Art ciritic)