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illustration 7
Like the quartered Tekke torba major gol, the chemche minor gol found on most Tekke torba is another important Turkmen icon. However unlike it, the chemche minor gol is found on various Turkmen main carpets, on smaller weavings and on all types of storage bag. Its appearance on the weavings of almost every Turkmen group makes it perhaps the most ubiquitous of all design elements.

The obvious association with four points of the compass has been mentioned by other writers and while this presentation will not attempt to define the meaning of the chemche, or any other icon, it will offer ideas concerning their possible developmental history.

There are numerous ways it was expressed and the one above shows the chemche in its most familiar form. But it must be noted many others display considerable variance in details within the vertical and horizontal arms, as well as those attached to their outer perimeter. These differences tend to be more pronounced in post-classic examples, while the earlier are more subtle. In the latest weavings there is often little to no variation, each chemche looking exactly like the others in a type of cookie-cutter fashion.

There are numerous early four points of the compass-style textiles discovered along the silk route and we will illustrate two that demonstrate an undeniable relationship with the chemche.

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illustration 8

This silk textile was discovered by Sir Auriel Stein in a sanctuary near Dunhuang, located in Western China that was part of a complex of caves known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddha. This complex was a key site on the silk route and in of them, Cave 17, Stein stumbled on a hidden library that had been sealed up since the 11th – 12th century AD. It contained important documents, paintings and other artifacts, including some textiles.

This example comes from that library and can be dated no later than the 12th century AD and the iconographic similarity to the much later Turkmen chemche is significant. The place of the textile’s manufacture is unknown and somewhat debatable but a location in somewhere in western China is most probable.

Stein’s discovery of this textile, many others and countless other ancient artifacts produced and traded along the silk route, was at the time of their discovery historically significant and republishing it and others furthers understanding how the iconography found on Turkmen pile weaving developed.

The design relationship a textile like this one shares with the chemche becomes more apparent the more it is examined, and even more compelling when seen within the framework of other examples this presentation documents.

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illustration 9

Here is another likely candidate for comparison. This textile, which is also silk but dates several hundred years later circa 1400 AD, comes from Spain. Both share the same central hub with four radial arms ending with paired hook-like elements. It is not surprising the first demonstrates a much closer relationship with the chemche, as it comes from a closer geographic area and more analogous cultural environment.

Trade along the silk route played a significant role in transmitting cultural styles and traditions across large geographic distance, and the apparent design parallels seen here are no doubt the result. The Spanish textile has a far more contrived and ‘courtly’ style in comparison to the less refined but more distinct articulation of the other.

Setting up a comparison like this gives food for thought, as well as a way to reference how and from where an icon like the chemche developed. Again, taken alone, it might not carry much importance but considering this presentation will cite a number of others, our contention early silk route textiles like these provided important iconographic components of the Turkmen gol surely becomes more tenable.

One quite interesting feature of the Spanish textile is the crenellated border with dots surrounding the main design. This enclosure, or trellis, was a style rarely used by the Turkmen except for one group, the Chodor, whose weavings will be mentioned later. The dots within the crenellations of the surround are the pearls referred to in the title and, while frequently seen in early Central Asian textiles, they do not figure prominently in the Turkmen weaving tradition.

     
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