Wednesday 3 September 2014

Yomut,göl without a tribe

At least 50 main carpets with the Yomut choval göl are known.A carpet in the Wiedersperg Collection is one of the few utilising a triangular form;the majority were woven using the round Type A göl

77-Wiedersperg,Pacific Collections 119

With its sparse ornamentation the Wiedersperg rug gives an impression of great age.A more crowded example formerly in the Pinner Collection has 15 vertical rows of triangular göls

78-Pinner Sale,Rippon Boswell(76)

A salient example was published by Eberhart Herrmann

79-ATT 4-92

A piece with Bertram Frauenknecht featured an arabesque elem


The judicious spacing of the Herrmann example places it approximately a rung below the most iconic of all examples,the Myers rug in the Textile Museum.A second Herrmann piece features a Tekke-like göl,very rare,but also known from a fragmented carpet, ex Patterson Collection

81-Herrmann,ATT 5-101


Later examples with the Tekke göl become claustrophobic


The carpets were woven with three or four horizontal rows.Their vertical count was between nine and fifteen.Yomut main carpets in general have an elongated format,as opposed to the square shapes found in Salor and Tekke mains.

Three-row main carpets.

A resonant example was published by David Sorgato

84-Hali 167

David Reuben`s piece displays two different elems,a characteristic feature as yet unexplained

85-David Reuben,Gols and Guls II-19

A carpet with Zia Bozoglu was at Christies in the `80s and features a cross secondary


Peter Bausback`s example employs a box-star secondary with elaborate hooks and an arabesque elem design

87-Bausback 1977 

With an immaculate lotus palmette border and rhythmic proportions,the following was exhibited at the ICOC Pacific Collections show,and employs a dyrnak type secondary ornament

88-Pacific Collections 119

A carpet recently auctioned in Vienna with a fascinating minor ornament rose to 54,900 euro

89-Austria Auction Company,15 March 2014(124)

An index of three-row main carpets can be viewed  HERE  

Four-row main carpets.

It`s hard not to escape the feeling that a number of these carpets are mechanical in execution,especially as the number of
göls increases.A lofty example was sold at the Thompson sale,interesting for its single row of triangular göls.It also has the beautiful serrated leaf border,seen most often on the four row examples

90-Thompson Sale Sothebys 16 December 1993(44)-later with James Cohen

Sold at Nagels in 1993 for $2560,the following fragment was notable for its wild authenticity

91-Nagels 23 June 1993(3194)

In the following year a carpet from the Loges Collection,exhibited at the Munich ICOC,sold in London for $23,290

92-Sothebys 19 October 1994(22)

Exhibited at the Atlantic Collections ICOC show,the following has a Tekke cross in the göl centre and expanding chemche secondaries

93-Atlantic Collections 185

A carpet now in the Powerhouse Museum Sydney Australia,has a darker,brooding presence

94-Hali 177-74,Collection Robert Upfold

A gallery of four-row main carpets can be viewed   HERE

The Big-Flower Elem group 

The most prestigious of these carpets display an extravagant floral elem,possibly modelled on Indian velvet textiles.A gallery of similar illustrations can be viewed HERE


However,a group of kepse göl carpets,at least six in number, employ a similar flower elem,albeit more geometricised



The following sold at Sothebys in London 1993 for a modest $6000,a price no doubt reflecting its precarious condition.It was presumably 4 göls wide, as are all members of this group.The carpet has been carbon dated to between 1488-1608(71.8%-see Ghereh 19,p.62)A nice "tribal"touch are the c-motifs within the göls.All but one carpet has the double eagle border


Not be outdone in the condition stakes,the latest contender to enter the fray was sold at Netherhamptons for just under 10,000 pounds.As in the foregoing item,it has the ultra-desirable flower elem at one end only

98-Netherhamptons 14 May 2014(1998),photos Keith Rocklin

A noisy item in St.Petersburg again depicts the floral elem at one end only,in a stiffer treatment,and has a more prosaic border

99-Tsareva,Tappeti 7

With the last three pieces we reach the acme of weaving this particular design.


101-Sovrani 108

102-Myers Collection

The above is one of the supreme Turkmen rugs.It would be hard to add or subtract anything,as,like Michaelangelo`s block of marble,everything superfluous has been removed.


A Turkmen carpet scenario.   

Today we take it for granted that the Tekke tribe created the carpets with the Tekke Göl,the Salor and Saryk likewise.In fact the evidence for this is vague, based on the attributions made by the early Russian authors up to and including Moshkova in the 1930`s .These are often inaccurate by today`s standards,and ignore one of the largest social groups active in pre-conquest West Turkestan:that of the slaves.

Slavery was indigenous to everyday life in West Turkestan.The Turkmen were the main suppliers of fresh slaves through their frequent raids into Persia.Wealthy captives would be taken to the major slave-trading centres of Bukhara and Khiva to be ransomed.Commoners would be employed for simple toil,usually in agriculture or domestic service.A labour-intensive occupation such as carpet-weaving lends itself perfectly to the use of slaves.A carpet workshop would best function with a team of young and able-bodied weavers whose reliable input could be calculated on a daily basis without regard for remuneration or health.Slaves could be deployed like machines with occasional resting times.A plan of production costs could accurately be drawn up;they did not require leave or holidays.Children with strong backs,good eyes and nimble fingers would have provided the best workforces.The most competent among them could then train the next generation,as their peers became too old for the job,and would then be sold on. The workshops may have been situated amongst the Turkmen themselves,presumably peopled by young girls and women.The males would have been located in workshops based in urban centres,whose characteristic weaving style was a “Turkmenising” one,i.e workshops specialised in the creation of nomadic type carpet designs,such as the multi-combination   Yomut choval.The “Eagle-Group” carpets might be an example of  Turkmenising ,but other conservative styles lent themselves perfectly to reproduction by slave-labourers,as the designs were unchanging and simple to learn.At some point in time the göl forms of the Tekke,Salor,Saryk and others were created in a controlled artistic environment. Carpet designers very carefully worked out the various göl shapes for use on knotted rugs,which accounts for the unity of Turkmen carpet design.One accepted tenet of  carpet scholarship is that the Turkmen women wove  the “nomadic” carpets which have come down to us.Travellers to Turkestan did report on the industry of Turkmen women,never seen without a piece of embroidery or spinning wool in their spare time.Actual sightings of women weaving rugs are based on hearsay,which could be due to the situation of women in purdah.However the greater freedom enjoyed by nomadic women was frequently remarked upon.Presuming that the men were often away on raids,they would have had to oversee the slaves labouring in the fields,as well as mastering the burden of extra work caused by the absence of their menfolk. 

Clearly,Turkmen women were proficient in the textile arts of all sorts.Embroidery and the making and repair of clothing would have been paramount,as was the creation of felt and flatweaves.These are items in daily use by pastoral nomads,but knotted carpets are a luxury,a heavy transport item best suited for barter or sale.Wealthy women did not weave carpets.This activity was delegated,as William Irons reported in the 1960`s.Weaving carpets is actually a lowly occupation,but it would have taken place,time fitting,in a social context.As a back-breaking activity it was best performed by slaves.

One casus belli for the Russian sorties into Turkestan was to free Russian citizens who had been kidnapped and held as slaves.The Russians eventually abolished slavery in Turkestan,but it did not vanish overnight.This had to do with the nature of Muslim slavery,quite different to that practised in the West.The slaves in Turkestan were more integrated;they were clothed and behaved in general as the locals,although they formed a distinct group.The Turkmen justified their forays on jihadist grounds;if need be,sunni captives  would be “made” shia by their captors.Far from home,in time the slave population(said by Abott to have been half the population in the Khiva area!)would have accepted their lot.They were often treated fairly and could free themselves,sometimes choosing to remain in Turkestan where living conditions were better than at home.Carpet work-forces would have represented an elite.After the collapse of the slave-trade the re-stocking of carpet workers came to an end.Simultaneously the demand for carpets in the West grew rapidly.The lacuna was filled by Turkmen women taking up extensive carpet-weaving activities at home,and eventually in factories set up by the Soviets.This was along the lines of the Kustar production-offensive mounted by the authorities in the Caucasus.It is known that the Turkmens bemoaned their inability to reproduce the older style carpets.By the time Russian researchers arrived in Turkestan,this was all a thing of the past.There is no mention of slavery at all in their works.

A further aspect to this might be considered.If the Turkmen göls were a kind of tribal emblem,who instigated this?The Turkmen always proudly described themselves as lacking an overall leadership(except in times of national crisis,as in the war against Russia)They were known as a lawless anarchic band.If the various “göls” were actually the “flags” of each tribe,who then decided this,and when?The idea starts to sound distinctly Soviet,like Moshkovas`s concept of the “dead göl”,whose implementation would have required a Central Committee.Can it be that a great many old Turkmen carpets were woven by slaves?And that the progenitors of design were not humble Turkmen tribeswomen,but professional carpet designers working in an urban,Turkmenised environment,whose Timurid- based designs eventually went viral?


  1. No, John, the Sovrani Yomut choval is the best! Greetings for Pasqua

    1. Dear Francesca,there is no Yomut choval in Sovrani(at least not in my edition)which piece do you mean?


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