Many of the carpets that we think of as “Caucasian” or even more simply as “Oriental,” are in fact from Azerbaijan. Despite this great misunderstanding and a general lack of knowledge among citizens of the United States concerning Azeri carpets, carpet making has played a significant role in Azerbaijan’s own culture and identity, as well as the larger culture and identity of oriental rugs.
Carpets have been a defining element of Azerbaijan’s culture long before the country’s modern borders were defined. Indeed, archeological findings confirm that carpet related products have been produced in Azerbaijan since at least the 2nd millennia BCE. The ancient production of carpets within Azerbaijan has been additionally confirmed by the writings of the many who recorded their visit to the country throughout history. From ancient Greek historian Xenophon to Venetian traveller Marco Polo, a student of Azerbaijani carpets can ascertain the influence, beauty and ubiquity of the creations. Carpets were also frequently referenced in Western European paintings and Azerbaijan’s own national literature, speaking to the national and international cultural significance of the rugs.
Today, Azerbaijani carpets are part of the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, but they have always been significant as both a luxury object and an everyday item. Since ancient times, the number of quality carpets a family had was a sign of their wealth. Holding great monetary value and suggesting prestige, in the Middle Ages the local population paid their taxes with carpets and the royalty gifted them to rulers of other states. But carpets were and continue to be more than a luxury object. One of the most important items of everyday life, the Azerbaijani people not only weave carpets but also sit on them, pray on them, eat on them and drape them over their furniture and walls, for warmth and decoration.
Carpet making has always been well integrated into Azerbaijan’s society, existing as a point of pride, a defining element of culture, and a source of income for many. However, certain processes of rug production have not only helped shape Azeri culture, but also speak to the qualities inherent within the people who produce them and the land where they are produced. The process of preparing the wool so that it may be converted into yarn, dyed, and eventually woven into a carpet, for example, is quite labor intensive and was fulfilled with the help of close relatives and neighbors. Called imajilik, this type of mutual help is quite typical of the country. It is not just the people that are fit for carpet making, but the land too, possessing rich flora and numerous plants with qualities that make them capable of creating dyes. The stability and beauty of these natural dyes have won Azerbaijani carpets international fame. It is not just Azerbaijan that is suited for carpet making; carpet making is suited for Azerbaijan.
Post Written by Kelsey King, Karabakh Foundation Program Officer
“Azerbaijan Carpets.” Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2010. Web. 20 May 2011.
“The Development of Carpet Weaving in Azerbaijan.” The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum. Web. 20 May 2011.
“The Traditional Art of Azerbaijani Carpet Weaving in the Republic of Azerbaijan.” UNESCO. Web 13 June 2011.