Carpets from Turkmenistan


Introducing names and functions of various Turkmen weaving and knotting products.

In a society and economy that relied on limited supplies and means of survival the Turkmen wasted not one scrap. Everything they produced must have been practical and of good use – extravagance, given our understanding of the word, was nonexistent. Therefore, all their weavings were functional because everything not needed in daily life was considered to be a luxury.

Turkmen society was certainly aware of the processing of wool into rugs and rug products. Such objects were kept as a sort of capital investment to be sold in difficult times (the Turkmen experienced rather frequently) and often they facilitated a restart after a bankrupt existence.

This economic exchange depended on the quick selling of the rugs, and so every member of the tribe knotted and wove as soon as materials were available.

At times these tribes would also trade for and buy and sell such objects.

The various Turkmen weavings were named after their intended use.

In 1970 there was an important exhibition of Turkman Carpets and the ethnographical significance of their ornaments in the Ethnographic Museum of Hamburg.

I was one of the organizers and we followed several aims.

First of all we tried to show Turkmen products from the view of their creators, the weavers rather than from the perspective of collectors, scholars and esthetics from the west whose opinions were already very well known.

Second, we tried to show the function and names of different products for the first time and correct some incorrect names like osmolduk that was used for over one hundred years, instead of the correct term, asmalyk.

Our third aim was to identify the work of different tribes through structural analyses of their technical features.

Here is a list of the different Turkmen objects (weavings):

  1. Khali
    This is the main rug of the Turkmen and the largest they produced. The main rug Gol.
    The average size of these rugs is four to six square meters (250cm-300cm by 150cm-200cm). The different sizes of the dome tents (Oy), which could have diameters of anywhere between 3.5 and 5.5 meters, was the major reason for the variances we find in these pieces.
    On special occasions, the main rug was laid out to cover half the floor, specifically the area opposite to the entrance where the head of the household would sit. Hence, the maximum length of the carpet was always less than the diameter of the whole tent and it would also be less than half as wide as the tent itself.

  1. Tentband
    Both structural and decorative tentbands are known as yolami, bou and yup. The pattern is applied in knots (one knot on three or four warps) on a white ground (ak yup). These bands were used as decoration on the inside of the yurt or Oy, where they encircled the tent and covered the places where the vertical lower section crossed or joined the roof poles.

  1. Kapunuk or Kaplyk
    This is a decoration for the tent opening. Pirkulyeva mentioned some Ersari attached their Kaplyk from the outside. These weavings were mostly made by Ersari, however, their real use was to decorate the entrance from the inside.
    We have identified ones made by the Tekke, the Saryk, the Salor, the Choudor, and the pseudo-Choudor. Presently we still do any Goeklan, no Eagle Gol II, no Yomut or no Igdir tentbands. We know of only one Arabachi example. Before 1970 all Kaplyks were generally attributed to the Yomut because of their white ground panels and curved leaves.

  1. Tainakcha, Konakcha or At-Joli
    These are horse blankets carried as decoration at festivals and at tournaments. To posses a good horse was extremely important in the life of a Turkmen. The love of a Turkmen for his horse was immensely high and sometimes the ranking of an excellent horse was higher than the family. Those made by the Yomut are the numerous.

  1. Cherlyk or Eyerlyk
    These are saddle covers. They were widely used and were fastened to the saddle itself.

  1. Khalyk
    This is an ornamental article used in the wedding procession. Moshkova describes it as the breast-decoration of the wedding camel. They are extremely rare as far as they have presently been examined (two examples from the Rickmers´s collection are in the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin), they seem to have been made by one single tribe, most probably the Tekke. This author’s own investigations among the Turkmen in Iran indicates the Yomut knew little about them.
    An old member of the Tekke in Mashhad stated they were used by the Tekke a long time ago. This old man said that the Khalyk was hung on the outside entrance or front end of the bridal litter (kejebe or Persian kajaweh), which held the bride.

  1. Mafrash or Kap
    This is a bag narrower than the torba(see number15 below) and appear to be used only by Turkmen women. One type is Ania kap, a bag used specifically to hold a mirror.

  1. Dis Torba or duz torba
    This is a small bag used to store salt, which is very important in the life of nomads. In a number of shapes such bags were also made for other specific purposes, for example holding sugar, tea, flour, rye and so on.

  1. Bokhche
    This is a bag most probably used only by the Turkmen women. It has a characteristic construction: four triangles are knotted to the sides of a rectangular flat woven kelim; when these are folded they form the front of the bokhche. It has been suggested bokhches were made to keep the Koran or holy bread but still we don’t know exactly why they were made or what their function actually was. They were mostly woven by the Yomut.

  1. Tutash, Tudaj or Ghazan Tutash
    This is the term used for a pan holder, an example how ubiquitous the knotted product was in the life of the Turkmen. These are always made in pairs.

  1. Cherlyk or Eyerlyk exist also in other forms(see 4 above); various types and shapes of saddle covers were made.

  1. Darak bash or Dokme darak are covers of the wool comb which stands point up. The cover protected the comb against damage and at the same time provided yet another colourful object in the tent.

  1. The Diah dizlyk is another woven decorative item for the wedding camel; these are pentagonal with small tassels and were made in pairs to decorate the front of the camel´s knee.

  1. Ok bash or Ukuchi
    This is another wedding decoration for the camel; in 1970 we thought only Yomut made them but since then Tekke ones are now known. It is interesting to note the Yomut, above others, used many different woven decorative objects in the wedding procession. The fifty to seventy roof rods called uk, of the tribal dome tent were bound together into two bundles and loaded on each side of a camel. The ok bash were then fitted on to the ends of the bundles and always made in pairs.
    We must correct C.D. Reed(who wrote in "Turkoman Rugs"; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Cambridge, Mass., 1966, page 37, fig 23) and introduced them as water bottle covers which is incorrect. They have nothing to do with water bottles.

  1. Chuval
    This is a large storage bag that was hung on the framework at the side of the tent. They are the largest of the storage bags and were made by most of the Turkmen groups. Normally they were made in pairs, and were used as portable containers for clothes and other personal items.

  1. Torba
    These were also storage bags which, as a rule have, the same width as chuval but are less deep. They were used in the same way as chuval and were made by almost all Turkmen tribes.

  1. Asmalyk
    This is another decoration for the wedding camel. But it was pentagonal in shape(rarely heptagonal) and woven similar to chuval and torba. The asmalyk were used to decorate the right and left flanks of the brides’s camel. They were always made in pairs, sometimes in quite small sizes. Maybe these small ones were for decorating young camels, which nearly always followed and completed the wedding caravan as a symbol of fertility for the newlyweds. I have never seen an asmalyk with a kelim woven back and don’t know if after the wedding they were ever used like chuval.
    For nearly a century they were called Osmoduk and in 1970 our exhibition in Hamburg corrected the name to asmalyk because we noted the meaning of asma, which means hanging, and the suffix lyk, which means belonging to the hanging. This suffix is also used for Khalyk, Kaplyk, Dislyk etc.

  1. The Chemche-Torba and the At-Torba are small and narrow bags, used repectively for keeping articles such as wooden spoons (chemche) and for the feeding bags of the horse(at).

  1. The Khorjin, or saddlebag, is a pair of identical bags woven for transportation of personal items on a horse. mule, donkey or a camel. They were made in all sizes but always in the same shape. The discussion if Khorjins are a late appearance, or were made in earlier times, is extremely difficult to answer partially because we know only a few examples of some age made by the Tekke and the Yomut. However, very few of the Tekke khorjin could be so described.

  1. Salatchak is a cradle or child’s rug. The opinion these small pieces were used as prayer rugs is erroneous. Rather it seems they were made by the Yomut, the Göklans (after 1740), the Tekke, the Ersari, and perhaps some others, not as prayer rugs.

  1. The Namazlyk and Ayatlyk were designated as prayer and funeral rugs by Moshkova and other authors. It is probable one form could have fulfilled both these functions. The funeral rug was not buried with the dead but only was used in bearing the corpse to the grave.

  1. Ensi or Engsi
    These are rugs hung at entrance of the tent. They were fitted from the outside and took the place of a door. The cross shaped design of these rugs has been responsible for the name Kachli, which is a trade name and not Turkmen. It is uncertain to what extent they were used as prayer rugs. I was told in Persia among the Turkmen tents were built and situated in such a way the entrance pointed in the direction to Mekka and everybody in the tent, who wanted to pray, had just look to the entrance.
    To my knowledge the prayer niche (Mihrab) found in several versions of ensi had nothing to do with a prayer niche because, for the Turkmen, it was an amulet or protective device and not a part of prayer.

  1. Dip Khali is, according to Moshkova, a small rug placed at the threshold of the doorway of the tent. This description would fit the small Tekke rugs which bear the Tekke gol. One can say it is a miniature Khali.

  1. An Odjak baschi is a U-shaped rug. It was laid out in the centre of the tent, where the recessed area fit around the charcoal stove, odjak, that was found in every Turkmen tent. As far as I am aware there exist nearly only Yomut examples. In the last 44 years I cannot remember having seen any from other tribes.

  1. At-Cheki is a knotted girth to fix the horse saddle. These items are the rarest of all other objects. I know few pieces, which were made by the Yomut and the later Goklan.

  1. Germech
    This is a small, torba-sized weaving made for the bottom of the tent entrance and hung from the inside. Their designs are mostly chosen or constructed like the end panels, or elem, found on all Ensi.

There are of course more shapes and products, which are made by the Turkmen. Especially mentionable are the square pieces, which measure nearly 100 x 100 cm., that were made for the wedding ceremony. For a long time they were thought to be audience rugs but now this idea has been replaced.