Carpets from Turkmenistan


Significant portions of Turkmen history are closely connected to the rise and establishment of the Seljuk dynasty in the 11th century A.D.

Kinik was the youngest grandson of Oghuz Khan and he, Kinik Khan, was also the ancestor of the Seljuk people. Perhaps this is reason why the author Mahmud Kashghari chose him to lead off the list of Oghuz Khan’s offspring despite his young age.

The tribal ancestor of the Seljuk was a certain Seljuk ebn Dukak (Tukak), who also went by the name of Timuryaligh (meaning "he with the iron bow"). Of course this bow was made of wood but he handled it as if it was made of iron.

Belonging to the Kinik tribe, he raised an empire stretching from China to Egypt, and his experience as a nomad shaped the character of his empire as a whole:

  1. His entire army consisted almost exclusively of clan members.
  2. Princes were given into the care of highly esteemed and capable tribe leaders (the Atabeks, who functioned as tutors) for upbringing and education.
  3. The most restless clan members were placed along sensitive border regions.

These characteristics demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of his dynasty, though historians offer other, diverse interpretations.

The various Seljuk dynasties were made up of the following:

  1. The Great Seljuk of Iran, 1038-1157
  2. The Seljuk of Iraq, 1118-1194
  3. he Seljuk of Kerman, 1041-1186
  4. The Seljuk of Syria, 1178-1186
  5. The Seljuk of small or Little Asia(al-Rum or Anatolia), 1077-1302

The spread of Turkic culture throughout the central and western regions of the Orient can be seen as a result of the strength of the Seljuk military and governmental systems and, of course, their highly developed culture.

The Turkmen nomads are probably not the sole inventors of the carpet knotting techniques and far more research is needed to substantiate this current and very popular claim. And it is certain Turkmen tribes were not the only instigators for the distinctly ethnographic changes that engulfed these lands. But they have certainly influenced and kept alive the custom of rug weaving and knotting – this is especially true for the people of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. (29)

Genghis Khan, also called Timuchin, The Iron One, was born in 1155 and ruled from 1206 until 1227. With the aid of his Mongol army he led destructive campaigns that helped strengthen Turkic culture throughout the middle and near Orient. In its wake many Turkmen, as well as a few Turkish tribes, moved into the west with their original geographic location being determined by how far they actually migrated.

The main destinations of these settlers were the regions west of Sir-Darya, Amu-Darya, the Caspian Sea, Small or Little Asia as well as the Azerbaijan-Caucasus region. They also moved as far as Egypt and Spain.

The founder of the "Golden Horde", according to the historian Rashid al-Din, was Batu Khan, a Mongolian prince, who lived from 1205 until 1253/54. But another author, Joweyni, has him living from 1207 until 1255. He was the second son of Prince Judji, the first son of Genghis Khan.

This Batu Khan was the leader of the "Golden Horde," and he was known to the Russians as a cruel foe and ruthless conqueror. Yet his people called him "Sayin Khan" (Syin- or Soin-Khan), which means something like The Good or The Just Khan(30).

His "Golden Horde" included a few Turkmen tribes, which called themselves the Sayin-Khan-Turkmen.

Accordingly the "Tarikhe Alma Araye Abbassi", an historic text made public in 1628 by the Persian historian Iskander Beg Munshi, referred to the Turkmen that lived along the North Persian border as Sayin-Khan-Turkmen, though they are also known as Yake-Turkmen(31). This population group consisted of the Okhlu, Goklan, Salor and Iylur (Eymur or Imrili) tribes, and many others.

It is an interesting and revealing fact the oldest grandson of Oghuz Khan, Kayi, was part of the dynasty of the Othoman (Osman).

From the 11th until the 13th century, during the reign of the Yazir (later called Karadashli), the ancestor of the Turkmen was traced back to Oghuz Khan. During the 14th and 15th century another Turkmen named Salor was believed to be the chief ancestor. However, by the 16th and 17th century, notions of their ancestry was indeed divided into two factions(33):

  1. The Sayin-Khan Turkmen traced their ancestry back to the Seljuk-King Alp Arsalan (1063 until 1072). This population group included the Salor, Saryk, Tekke, Yomut and Ersari tribes (the latter is a union of the Salor tribes).
  2. The Essen-Khan Turkmen, whose ancestry was traced directly to Oghuz Khan. The Arabatshi, Abdal, Choudor and Igdyr tribes made up this subgroup of the Turkmen people. The correct name for this alliance should be Hessen- or Hassan-Khan Turkmen (a union of the Choudor and Hassan-Khan tribes).

Timur Lang, known in the West as the Timur the Conqueror, was born in 1336 and ruled from 1369 until 1404. He continued to spread and strengthen Turkic culture and under his rule a number of Turkmen left Syria and Small or Little Asia to return to Azerbaijan, where they exerted quite some control over local rulers.

Before, as well as after, the Seljuk Dynasty there was no Turkmen empire, except for the dynasty of Kara Koyunlu (1375-1468, known as the rule of the black ram), and the Ak Koyunlu (1434-1514, known as the rule of the white ram).

These two ruling houses controlled Greater-Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, western and eastern Persia as well as eastern Anatolia. In addition, the Turkmen facilitated the founding of the Safavid Empire in Persia, though initially the Turkmen identified themselves as descendants of Sheik Safi of Ardebil, who lived from 1252/53 until 1334 (34) and was the founder of the Sufi Order.

Let us now connect the history of the Turkmen of Azerbijan and the rugs they produced.

For at least a thousand years the people now considered to be Turkmen lived on the eastern banks of the Caspian Sea – the same territory inhabited by the Turkmen dynasties mentioned earlier.

It was during the time of these empires that the territories of eastern Persia and western Turkistan (Khiva and Bokhara) were controlled either by the descendants of Genghis Khan and Timur Lang or by the Uzbek (under the reign of Mohammed Shaibani Khan, who ruled from 1500/01 until 1509/10)(35).

During the 15th and 16th century the western Turkmen, called Kizil Bash, converted their religion to Shiaism. They appeared in the history books only because of their battles against the eastern Sunni Turkmen, a related clan; and the Uzbek, their former ally.

Now let’s consider the various Turkmen tribal groups and their rugs, which were created by Turkmen women of the eastern regions of the Caspian Sea. But first we should understand the differences and functions of these weavings.