Carpets in Uzbekistan: history and traditions (II part)

Types of Uzbek carpets
The wide species specificity and variety of techniques used by the Uzbek craftswomen are the most reliable confirmation of the development of the carpet tradition. The types and techniques of the classic Uzbek carpet are well known thanks to the specimens preserved in various museums around the world.

Firstly, it is the long-pile dzhulkhirs carpets (Uzbeks of Samarkand, Jizzakh, Zaamin regions). It is dzhulkhirs, that are the earliest type of knotted carpets. We also see robes from similar fabrics on the Bactrian composite sculpture. These facts allowed a number of researchers to argue that the long-pile weaving technique, akin to the dzhulkhirs of the 19–20 centuries, is the oldest autochthonous (Bactrian) technique associated with the culture of Mesopotamia. Pearl medallions on some Samarkand dzhulkhirs are already a replica of Sogdian silk patterns. Thus, the Bactrian and Sogdian traces are distinct in the carpets of this group.

Dzhulkhirs. Pastdargom district, Samarkand region, the first quarter of the twentieth century.
Dzhulkhirs. Pastdargom district, Samarkand region, the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Short-haired carpets – gilams – appeared among the Uzbeks quite late. Like the dzhulkhirs, they were initially woven in separate panels on a narrow-walled machine, and then sewn together. The stitched carpets – gilams, dzhulkhirs – clearly start from the tradition of making Basque ribbons that served to tie the yurt. The latest gilams are solid, woven on a wide-loom machine.

Joynamaz. Uzbeks. Nurata Oblast, 1895. Collection of Dennis Marquand, USA.
Joynamaz. Uzbeks. Nurata Oblast, 1895. Collection of Dennis Marquand, USA.

The most significant group of Uzbek carpets is smooth-woven. As one of the first Central Asian carpet researchers S.M. Dudin, “among Uzbek carpet products it is far from rare to find specimens that, with all their decorative merits, depth and transparency of tones, with all the simplicity and even sketchiness of the pattern, significantly surpass many of the Persian and Asia Minor carpets, not to mention the noisy and motley Caucasian ones.”
This group includes kohma, gajari, terme, takir, beshkasta (produced by various tribal groups).

Kokhma-gilam. Uzbeks. Northern Afghanistan or Surkhandarya, late 19th century
Kokhma-gilam. Uzbeks. Northern Afghanistan or Surkhandarya, late 19th century
Gajari Gilam. Baysun, Surkhandarya. 1980s
Gajari Gilam. Baysun, Surkhandarya. 1980s
Besh-chestnut. Uzbeks. Zaamin district, Jizzakh region, the beginning of the twentieth century. State Museum of Applied Arts of Uzbekistan, Tashkent
Besh-chestnut. Uzbeks. Zaamin district, Jizzakh region, the beginning of the twentieth century. State Museum of Applied Arts of Uzbekistan, Tashkent

Sumacs are extremely rare. Each species is distinguished by its own textile technique, but all, with the exception of takir, are woven on a narrow-walled machine, in separate panels, which are then sewn together. Gajari and besh-kash – as a rule, composite carpets combining panels/stripes made in different techniques.

Sumac. Uzbeks.
Sumac. Uzbeks.

Many neighboring Turkic peoples of the region have the techniques of kochma, terme, gajari and besh-kash. This fact allows us to consider most of the smooth-woven products as part of the general Turkic “steppe” carpet tradition.
As for the takirs, this is the Uzbek name for the kilim technique, known since antiquity among many peoples of Eurasia. In Central Asia, kilims were mainly produced by local Arabs (Gilam bazaar). However, the kilim weaving technique was also used by the Uzbeks.

Takir-gilam. 1980s Baysun, Surkhandarya.
Takir-gilam. 1980s Baysun, Surkhandarya.

The next group is the embroidered rugs of the Enli-Gil and Kiz-Gil, produced by the Kungrats and Lakai. They were the most important wedding attributes and were used mostly as a curtain. Carpets with embroidery – a special page in the history of carpet weaving, clearly dating back to the embroidered carpets of ancient times (embroidered carpets from Noinula, finds 1924–25 and 2006–09).
Enli-gilam – a composite carpet that combines stripes/panels made in different techniques (Enli means a wide, i.e. literally – a carpet with an embroidered wide strip). It has three varieties – ok-enli (with a white stripe), kyzyl enli (with a red stripe) and kora-enli (with a black/brown stripe). The decor of these carpets is very diverse and may serve as the subject of a special study.

Oq Enli. Uzbeks. Surkhandarya, mid-20th century State Museum of the History of Culture of Uzbekistan, Samarkand.
Oq Enli. Uzbeks. Surkhandarya, mid-20th century State Museum of the History of Culture of Uzbekistan, Samarkand.

Kiz-gilam, or girl’s carpet, is red, rarely white. Unlike the Enli Gilam, it has the only decor motif – the already mentioned Kaykalak medallion – the basic for all peoples of the steppe, a capacious symbol of life. Its diagonal coloring brings Kungrat and Lakai carpet traditions to the Turkmen one – some Turkmen gels were also colored according to the diagonal principle – two quarters of one, and two of a different color. During weddings, embroidered carpets played not only a decorative, but also a magical and protective role. The name kiz-gilam – the conditional, genuine name of the carpets of this species has not been preserved. And the very production of kiz-gilam was interrupted even by the Kungrat.

Kiz-gilam. Kungrats. 19th century. State Museum of the History of Culture of Uzbekistan, Samarkand.
Kiz-gilam. Kungrats. 19th century. State Museum of the History of Culture of Uzbekistan, Samarkand.

In the recent past, the Uzbeks also had three types of felt carpets: felted (rolled), embroidered, and applicative. Today, in Surkhandarya, only the production of felted (rolled) felts has been preserved.
Thus, the art of the Uzbek carpet is a synthesis of the dominant Dashti-Kipchak heritage and the carpet traditions of other Uzbek tribal groups living in Uzbekistan. In the latter, early artistic traditions, in particular Bactrian and Sogdian, are more noticeable.
The classic Uzbek carpet (pile, smooth-woven, embroidered) preserves archaic features, both in terms of aesthetics and manufacturing technology: it is woven on a narrow-walled horizontal loom, in separate stripes/panels (ottomans), which are then sewn into a single piece. The vertical machine only appeared in Uzbekistan in the 1930s, in artels as a means of optimizing working conditions.

The content of the Uzbek carpet decor is mainly associated with shamanistic (Tengrian) benevolent symbols (an equilateral cross, as a kind of steppe “mandala”, a Jupiterian 12-year “calendar” as a model of cyclically current time, an eight-pointed star), totemism (zoomorphic symbols, tamgas), fertility cult (rarer and later plant motifs). The decor is laconic, just as laconic are the symbols themselves, and at the same time very informative, full of deep-seated meanings in it, which already in the 19th century were not read to the bearers of culture. By the beginning of the twentieth century the craftswomen forgot the meanings of the sacred signs; Tengrianism and its accompanying cults gave way to Islam in everyday life and religious consciousness, but not in the traditional craft, for which images connecting pastoralists with their past were still dear.

Traditional craftsmanship still valued images linking pastoralists to their past
Late medieval Uzbek carpet is a unique cultural monument, with development experience dating back to centuries. Its value gains even greater significance in connection with the disappearance of nomadism as a civilizational phenomenon. At one time, it was proved that the “nomadic steppe” was not only outside Maverannahr, but also “inside itself.” The carpet, as an expression of the creative potential of the Uzbek tribal groups, is an invaluable source that sheds light on the history and artistic ideals of the steppe world, which was an important part of the cultural heritage of Uzbekistan.
Having survived the recession for most of the 20th century, carpet production in Uzbekistan has now entered a period of renaissance. However, modern products created at various private manufactories are often far from authentic traditions. An authentic Uzbek carpet remains a stranger in the bosom of his own culture. Only in a number of provinces, such as, for example, Baysun in Surkhandarya, is this centuries-old art still alive. However, there are clear signs of its decline. Creating a modern brand of authentic Uzbek carpet is an urgent task of our days.