Data received from written sources, folklore and ethnographic field studies are sufficient grounds to examine the technical-technological features of a carpet or carpet-weaving, and they allow us to conclude that this occupation was widespread in historical Armenia. The task is different in the question of revealing carpet-weaving centres and especially carpet types. In this case, examples of carpets from a carpet-weaving centre of a historical-ethnographical region (marz) and the factual data about them are of primary importance.
So, to study the main questions, we have tried to bring together the available information on the early carpets, separate fragments, other textile examples and images of carpets found in medieval Armenian miniature-painting, and, comparing them with the 19th-20th-century carpets kept at the museums in Armenia and other countries, and also with the data in the written sources, to present the assortment of typically Armenian carpets and the carpet-weaving centres as much as possible. In this case, in the sense of a number of carpet-weaving centres of Armenia, we have attached a great importance to the data gathered during our ethnographic field work. All this mainly refer to the provinces of Artskah, Syunik, Utik, Ayrarat, Vaspourakan and Bardzer Hayk in historical Armenia.
Among the early written sources on Artsakh, we attach significance to the information mentioned in the history of Aghvank and referring to the 7th century. According to it, in 680, those, who pursued the treacherously murdered Prince Jevanshir, reached the murderer’s father’s house in the province of Artsakh, destroyed and demolished it, taking away ”silk-woven and silky brocades and karpet flat weaves of many colours” among other riches. In this case, the provenance and weaving type are mentioned quite concretely. To make an idea about the traditions of carpet-weaving in Artsakh, of importance is the 10th-century Arab bibliographer Ibn Haugal’s information on the existence of a market called “Sunday” in Partav, where carpets and other textiles of local production, as well as those brought from the neighbouring villages, were offered for sale. This information actually supplements the authors of the Aghvan history and allows us to conclude that carpet-weaving went on there and occupied a notable place in the activities of the Armenians of the region.
Numerous 13th-18th century carpets and karpet flat weaves, among them the famous “Erakhoran” (Three-Apse, 1202), “Guhar” (1680), and the one ascribed to Nerses III, Catholicos of Gandzasar (1731), with Armenian inscriptions and especially dragon-carpets dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries belong to Artsakh. Images of devices and instruments necessary for carpets and carpet-weaving in manuscripts made in local scriptoria and architectural structures also witness to the carpet art of the region.
The 19th-20th centuries are more richly presented in written sources and textile examples that have come down to us. The examples referring to this period reveal several dozens of carpet types, decorated with compositions typical of dragon carpets, three-apse carpets, that of 1731 and their variants that have become traditional in the carpet-weaving centres of Artsakh.
In the sense of the traditional carpet-weaving in Artsakh, of special importance are Yervand Lalayan’s observations made in the 1880s. Based on them, he informs that in Artsakh, people were weaving carpets everywhere, mainly in winter months; they wove for their own needs and, partly, upon orders.
Our ethnographic field material of 1979-1989 and the Artsakh carpets kept in museums, especially those with Armenian inscriptions and data on the places of their weaving, supplement the above-mentioned examples and also point to the fact that this occupation was widespread in Artsakh.
Thus, in general, this region is presented as a centre of the Armenian carpet-weaving culture, where it had survived continuously for many centuries, and was characterized by a variety of carpet types and specific features. In this circumstance, it is very important that all this is grounded as far as possible with concrete sources and carpet examples.
We think that the fact that Artsakh was actually the only province in historical Armenia, where five half-independent principalities with Armenian population existed up to the early 19th century, played a decisive role. Though nomadic and semi-nomadic ethnic groups had penetrated and established in Artshak, the Armenians continued to lead their comparatively usual economic-cultural life.
The aforesaid information about Artsakh equally refers to Syunik, Utik, Tavush and Lori in so far as these areas were characterized by a cultural similarity and interconnections, and this was naturally reflected in this sphere as well.
The existence of carpet-weaving in Syunik was recorded by the two images of carpets carved on the tympanums of the central entrances of the church of the Holy Virgin in Areni and the narthex (gavit) of the church of St. Stepanos of Amaghu Noravank dating from the mid-13th century, which have already been examined. They are also particularly important in giving an idea on the design of a concrete example. As in Artsakh, carpet-weaving was a traditional and widespread occupation in this historical-ethnographical region, in later periods as well. For instance, describing the situation in Armenia after the raids of Nadir Shah, Abraham Kretatsi tells about the village of Khndzoresk: “Many rugs (khali) and carpets (khalicha) had been woven in this respectable village, but now one could hardly find a weaver, even among old women”. In this same period, the artisan village of Paraka in the province of Goghtan was famous for its carpet-weaving traditions, which is witnessed by the phrase “Paraka karpet” (Paraka flat weave) in the source references.
Other sources also give an idea about late medieval carpets and carpet-weaving culture. Such are the tombstones in the village of Noratus in the province of Gegharkunik in Syunik. Their decorative details, especially of those dated from the 14th-17th centuries, are linked with the ornamental traditions typical of carpets. It should be noted that among the decorative details of khachkars (cross stones), it is their edge bands that are most closely related to the carpet art and in the case of Noratus khachkars, such manifestations are obvious. However, besides them, there are carpet fields, which are accentuated by fringes and are decorated with rosettes and large elongated rhombic compositions. One of the tombstones shows musicians on a carpet. All this is essential to have an idea on the late medieval traditions of carpet-weaving culture in the basin of Sevan and especially Gegharkunik.
The 19th-century statistical research referring to the area’s economic culture and crafts contain important information on the subject under study.
In this respect quite interesting are observations made by A. Parvitski and A. Ter-Markarov in the province of Nor Bayazet in the 1880s-1890s. According to A. Ter-Markarov, Gyozaldaran (now Vardenik) was famous as a remarkable carpet-weaving centre, where various textiles were made, among them carpets and flat weaves (karpets) woven of yarn dyed with natural colourings. Conveying all this, Ter-Markarov also notes that there were special storage places, called tsalk, where carpets and other textiles were kept. A. Parvitski presents the same description about the villages of the south-western part of the province of Nor Bayazet.
Archbishop Mesrop Smbateants conveys sufficient information on carpet-weaving in Gegharkunik. It refers to the use of carpets, their assortment and even special features in their ornamentation. In particular, he informs that carpets were used in wedding ceremonies in Nor Bayazet, floors were covered with carpets and felts. He notes that carpets were included in a bride’s dowry. He writes that in Basargechar (now Vardenis), women “weave khalicha and karpet, and woolen clothes for their men and sons, as provincials from Yernjak”. This piece of information is valuable in particular, as it points to the certain local peculiarities and their connection with carpet-weaving traditions in Nakhidjevan. It should be emphasized that data on the carpet-weaving culture of Gegharkunik and accordingly Sevan basin, in the 19th-20th centuries equally refer to carpet-weaving centres in the provinces of Kogovit, Masyatsotn, Chakatk, Bagrevand and Vanand, as well as northern provinces of Vaspourakan and Turuberan, in so far as a significant part of the Armenians moved from these parts in 1830-1870 to settle down in the area under study.
The carpet-weaving traditions of Artsakh and Syunik are closely related to the carpet-weaving centres with Armenian population in the northern-western areas in Iran, especially Araxpar (Gharadagh) with the centre of Ahar. By the way, Abas Mirza’s ex-secretary Mirza Yusuf Nersesov, whose parents had moved to Hadrut from Ahar at the end of the 18th century, gives important evidence on the once large number of the Armenians in this famous carpet-weaving centre. Priest Ter Baghdasar Gaspariants from Shushi, who wrote travel notes on Gharadagh and the Armenians living there, writes: “…there are numerous Christians living here and a lot of monasteries, and they are pious and patriotic, and their mode of life is like that of the people from Karabagh”. This author also gives mention of the fact that the Armenians live in Lenkoran (Talish) as well.
In the 1910s, bishop Karapet, a monk at Echmiadzin, also wrote on the questions of the presence of the Artsakh Armenians in Gharadagh. In particular, he found out that “both old inhabitants and settled migrants, all the Armenians found in these parts until the 17th century, disappeared without leaving any historical evidence, converting into Muslims or being dispersed. Nowadays, the Armenians living in Gharadagh descend from Gharadagh emigrants of the 17th century and, no doubt, resemble the Karabagh Armenians in their dialect and habits”. Examining the sources at hand and his records of conservations, bishop Karapet expresses his belief that several offsprings of the Melik Shahnazarian family had also established in this area, in the 17th century.
The historical-ethnographical material gathered by folklorist Harutyun Hovsepian born in the village of Khanagah in Gharadagh, offers a most distinct insight into the questions under study. In particular, in his observations, he finds out that early in the 20th century, only twenty-nine Gharadagh villages that paid taxes to Tatev Monastery remained out of forty-five villages mentioned in a manuscript of 1513. He also notes about the connections with Artsakh that “before the establishment of the Soviet power, the Armenians of Karabagh and Gharadagh were on permanently friendly terms, i.e. married their daughters and took brides, etc”. Here, carpet-weaving was widely spread and mainly runners were woven.
By the way, continuing our discussion on the propagation of traditions of the Artsakh-Syunik carpet-weaving, we must add the data conveyed by Ter Baghdasar Gasparian from Shushi and Galust Shermazanian on the Persian Armenians who note that the provinces of Urmia, Salmast, large and small Aghbaks and Sulduz famous for their carpet-weaving, were densely populated with the Armenians. In general, the questions concerning carpet-weaving of the Armenians in these regions need a separate study. Here, it is only necessary to accentuate that in the carpet-weaving centres of the regions south of Lake Urmia and north-west of Isfahan, carpets were chiefly made in the so-called “Armani baf” knots, which distinguished carpets woven by the Armenians in Iran. Of importance is the fact that the Iranian specialists explain all this by the fact that “the ancestors of these carpet-weavers, the Armenians who immigrated to Iran from the Caucasus and Armenia in the 17th century, wove carpets mostly decorated with “Herat” (in our version, “Gladzor”) motif in the above-mentioned carpet-weaving centres, especially in Malaher and neighbouring settlements. Let us add that the tradition of weaving carpets with Armenian knots occupies a significant place in other carpet-weaving centres as well, such as in Sultanabad, Anjilas, Lilihan, also in the environs of Lake Urmia – in Maragha, Urmia, Salmast, Marand, etc.
The early written data on the other carpet-weaving centres in historical Armenia are mainly presented in the Arabic written sources and those chiefly refer to Ayrarat.
However, prior to that, the flat weave fragment found in the burial mounds in Artik, and the carpet fragment found during the excavations of Karmir Blour near Yerevan were known to us. Besides, the Roman historiographer Tacitus had given mention of large and heavy carpets, which existed in Artashat in the mid-1st century BC. Already in the developed Middle Ages, Arab historiographers represented Dvin and Artashat as such famous centres of carpet-making that “no other country in the world had”. Comparing this information with the fact of finding the fragment of a carpet in the burial mounds in Artik and the flat weave found from the excavations of Karmir Blour and the information conveyed by Arab historiographers of the later period, it becomes possible to conclude that the city of Artashat and the neighbouring provinces had been a carpet-weaving centre for at least one and a half millennia, and no doubt, they should have influenced greatly the formation of Armenian carpet-weaving traditions, in general, and those of Ayrarat, in particular. Moreover, it follows from the information of Arab historiographers Al Istahri and Ibn Rousteh that Armenian carpets, especially the most famous Ayrarat carpets, had become an object of imitation in such carpet-weaving centres of Persia, as Isfahan and Shiraz, due to their best features in decoration and techniques.
Unfortunately, the written sources do not impart direct evidence concerning the carpet-weaving of Ani, the royal seat of the Bagratids and the renowned centre of crafts and other economic occupations. Though Armenian historiographers did not directly touch upon this subject under study, they have descriptions of some fabrics with features typical of a carpet and their good traits, and also they indirectly recorded the existence of carpet-weaving and conveyed important details about their specific features.
Historiographer and catholicos Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi gives mention of the gifts King Smbat I Bagratid sent to Yusuf Amira of Atrpatakan, among them carpets that were “wondrous and remarkable bazmakans (a textile upon which one sits or relaxes) with the red of cochineal…”. Writing about Ashot Bagratid, Stepanos Asoghik notes that “he was so lavish when giving out things to those in need that when he died, he had no coins, or jewellery or bazmakans”. However, these textiles and findings referring to carpet-weaving, found during the excavation of Ani, especially the fragments of a flat weave, evidence that the “universally famous” Ani, the city of many crafts, was certainly a centre where high quality carpets were made. In this respect, to form definite ideas, it should be taken into account that the Armenian royal court and the elite in general were closely connected with the Byzantine royal court in the ways of living, on the peculiarities of which there is a lot of information. In particular, in the sense of the subject matter, of importance are data on the industries envisaged to satisfy the royal needs. Among them, carpet-making was of prime importance, though Byzantium also imported carpets from Spain, Baghdad and Assyria. The sources of some elements found in the Byzantine royal court should be searched for in the historical-cultural complexes in the historical Armenia of the post-Arsacid epoch, particularly referring to the 6th-10th centuries, as it was in these centuries that the Armenian military and political elite had a continuous presence in the capital of Byzantium. The Bagratids of Ani and the Artsrunis of Vaspourakan occupied the third and the fourth places among the most revered rulers in the Byzantine royal court. Thus, we have all grounds to explain the reports by Arab historiographers about the carpets made in trading cities of historical Armenia by the presence of large trading houses in these cities, and it is natural that such trading houses should have been in the capital of Ani as well. Thus, taking into account that famous carpet-making centres Dvin and Artashat were in Ayrarat, we can note with confidence that this province in historical Armenia was known as a developed centre in this sphere in the Middle Ages. However, it is necessary to take account of the fact that in different centuries, the Armenian population of Ayrarat was subjected to mass deportations and subsequent resettlements. As the result of these processes, pivotal interethnic and ethnic changes took place in the demography of this region. Particularly, after the well-known deportation organized by Shah Abbas, the Armenians from a number of provinces in Western Armenia were settled in these parts. At the same time, a mass flow of Muslim tribes expanded, which resulted in the fact that the Muslims prevailed in the population of Ayrarat in the 18th century. So, the continuity of cultural traditions was broken, and traditions typical of other historical-ethnographical regions of historical Armenia became widespread in these parts. Naturally, the volume of carpet-weaving decreased, though it is known that it survived to a certain extent. In this aspect, the information conveyed by Artem Araratian from Vagharshapat in his travel notes is quite telling. He wrote that in the 1790s, his mother kept her family by selling carpets she wove. Later, from the mid-19th century, the Armenians who had moved from the north-western settlements of Iran, which were densely populated with the Armenians, significantly contributed to the formation and development of new carpet-weaving traditions.
In Arab sources, Bardzer Hayk and its centre, the city of Karin, in particular, received much attention as a carpet-weaving centre. The earliest known information that has come down to us is by the 13th-century bibliographer Al-Kifti, who speaks about an 8th-century Armenian praying carpet (namat). The carpet was decorated with thematic scenes of a royal court milieu and, according to the information, was remarkable for its unique colours and delicate execution. Karin, the name of that city, as mentioned above, was closely connected with the origins of the word “khali” (carpet), which indicates the importance of this occupation. At the same time, a number of evidence in Arabic sources allows us to make an idea on the assortment of carpets typical of this region, among them the carpets called mahfur.
The carpet-weaving traditions in Bardzer Hayk continued in later centuries as well. Though they did not have the level and fame of the times of the developed Middle Ages, the information referring to the late 19th century and early 20th century shows that it was a profitable activity, so much as merchants and catholic missioners bought the local carpets at a cheap price. In the Late Middle Ages, Baberd and Derjan were noted among the carpet-weaving centres of this province. Flat weaves and carpets of Baberd were widely known. As for Derjan and neighbouring provinces, which on the whole comprised the historical region of Dersim, according to the historical-ethnographical data of the late 19th century, they were known as centres of carpet-weaving and making flat weaves, which were equally widespread among the Armenians and the Kurds. Materials referring to the territories between Akn, Yerznka and Kharberd in the mountainous parts of Dersim show that the local Armenians, among them Kurdish-speaking Armenians, and those who were Kurdified in the 16th-17th centuries were widely engaged in carpet-weaving and flat-weaving. Gevorg Halajian, who studied the mode of life of the Armenians and Kurds of this region, gives mention of a number of villages famous for carpet-weaving and flat weaving, whose products were well-known all over Dersim. These are Chmshkadzag, Havlori and Ghlibta in the region of Khozat; Ashurek, Tandzik, Harsi, Ziaret in the region of Ovachg; Silvan in the Akn region of Dersim; Parti, Kajaran, Serkevilik in that of Bolomor; Hertif, Khndzori, Ter Ovan in the region of Kzlkiliseh. In general, it may be noted that Dersim was such an Armenian carpet-weaving centre, as Artsakh, and has greatly influenced the carpet-weaving traditions of the centres in Western Armenia and Asia Minor.
In the Arab written sources, Vaspourakan is presented as a region famous for carpet-weaving as well. The so-called Pazyryk carpet is the most important source in the study of carpet-weaving of Vaspourakan and its attribution to this region does not arouse any doubts. Yakut al-Hamavi tells about Van, quoting the observations of the 9th-century Arab traveller Abu Avni, that large carpets were woven in this city. It should be said that visiting different parts of Armenia, Arab historiographers firstly paid attention to occupations, habits and objects, which were novel and interesting to them, a circumstance that is typical of probably all travellers, in general. By the way, this fact explains the scarcity of information on the subject under study in the Armenian sources. Our bibliographers considered them ordinary objects and did not find it necessary to record any information connected with them.
In this case, Abu Avni, appraising highly large carpets at their true worth, considered it necessary to emphasize the special nature of the carpets woven in Van, which was perhaps, expressed in being unusually large. A 10th-century anonymous Tajik traveller conveys important information to assume that carpet-weaving was developed in Vaspourakan and neighbouring provinces. He notes that Dvin and Salmast were well-known for producing belts, Dvin also for carpets, and Khoy, Berkri, Akhlat, Archesh and also Salmast were famous as centres of making flat weaves.
Let us note that all this has an immediate connection with carpet-weaving. However, the traveller attaches special importance to the zili flat weaves woven in Salmast. This circumstance is particularly noteworthy for us as well.
The thing is that over one millennium later, Aram Manoukian mentions of the tradition of making such flat weaves in the same region, in the villages with Armenian population in Salmast. Aram Manoukian, the devoted fighter for national liberation, when passing through villages on his way to Van in 1905, had observed that local well-off inhabitants used such flat weaves as blankets. It may be impossible to find another such obvious proof that traditions were preserved in the Armenian carpet-weaving centres. Mirakhorian notes that carpet-weaving was developed in the eastern provinces of Vaspourakan: in Aghbak, Artaz and others. Being in these provinces in the 1880s, he recorded that in winter months carpet-weaving was the chief occupation of the Armenian women. When speaking about the Armenian carpet-weaving in historical Vaspourakan, its close interconnections with the carpet-weaving centres of Syunik and Artsakh, as well as north-western Iran, should be taken into consideration. These connections were expressed in technique and decoration. Traditions of the province of Nakhijevan-Goghtan, a distinguished Armenian carpet-weaving centre, may be attributed to the Vaspourakan carpet-making school. An outstanding feature of carpet-weaving centres in Nakhijevan-Goghtan is that this region bore the immediate influence of the carpet-weaving centres of Artsakh, Syunik, Ayrarat, Araxpar, and naturally, the north-eastern provinces in Vaspourakan, and in this aspect, this region is a source to reveal the carpet types characteristic of the above-mentioned area.
Written and pictorial sources contain sufficient information on the carpet-weaving traditions of the south-western provinces of historical Armenia, especially of Aghdznik and Tsopk. These are the regions, which are included in the area of the origin of the Pazyryk carpet, i.e. the basin of Northern Mesopotamia and Lake Van. To these areas refer Xenophones’ dispute about the nomads who had no need to be engaged in carpet-weaving, as they had furs and grass in the fields that served them as carpets. Sources of later centuries also inform us about the carpet-weaving of these areas. In particular, the data referring to the carpet-weaving centres of the above-mentioned Dersim concern the carpet-weaving centres of the north-western provinces in historical Tsopk. It is known about the 19th-20th centuries that the Armenians established carpet-weaving enterprises in Kharberd and neighbouring large settlements and sold their products in the countries of Western Europe and the USA.
The Armenian carpet-weaving traditions also took root in the central regions of Asia Minor, Cappadoccia, as well as in the Armenian communities of the western parts of the peninsula.
Without discussing the details, the information by the Venetian traveller Marco Polo should be recalled. It refers to Caesarea and Sebastia and their environs in Armenia Minor, where the traveller was in the second half of the 13th century, when he witnessed “the marvellous carpets woven by the Armenians and Greeks, found nowhere else in the world”. It is certainly clear that to be skillful enough to weave such marvellous carpets, they needed to have experience and traditions of many years, which allows us to record the fact that the carpet art traditions in these areas should have had a significantly earlier origin. However, Armenia Minor (Pokr Hayk) and Cappadoccia that comprised part of it, in the aspect of demographic evolution have important peculiarities and all this had influenced the formations of historical-cultural complexes in this region. In the sense of the subject matter under study, noteworthy are the frescoes in the churches carved in the rocks in Cappadoccia. They also depict carpets dating from the 9th-10th centuries. It is known that they refer to the Pavlikian sectarians, whose majority comprised Armenians of that region and the above-mentioned Dersim. Naturally, these carpet depictions, especially those depicted in the fresco showing the Last Supper found in a rock-carved church near Tivrik, present the typical traditions of the carpet-weaving centres of Cappadoccia and Nerkin Hayk (Inner Hayk) or Dersim, and in their essence are rare sources conveying the ideas about the details in the decoration of the early medieval period of the Armenian carpet-weaving culture.
There is another significant circumstance as well. It is known that about two centuries before Marco Polo appeared in Armenia Minor, the local Armenian population had grown many times due to mass movements from the eastern and central provinces of the historical Armenia. In particular, parallel to the advances of the Seljuk tribes, in the mid-11th century, hundreds of thousands of Armenians who moved to these areas with their families from Vaspourakan, Ayrarat (Shirak, Vanand), partly from Artsakh-Utik, settled in Armenia Minor and neighbouring areas. Doubtlessly, these re-settlers continued to develop their characteristic cultural traditions, especially carpet art and miniature painting in these new places of habitation. Certainly, as a result, the local carpet art became enriched with new peculiarities and carpet types typical of Ayrarat, the eastern carpet-weaving centres of Bardzer Hayk, and Vaspourakan. Thus, though the traveller does not convey direct information on the carpet-weaving traditions of the above-mentioned provinces, the afore-said refers to some extent to these regions of Armenia Proper.
In general, since the decline of the Armenian statehood and under the conditions of a sharp change in the region’s military-political and demographic situation, carpet-weaving, among other economic occupations, experienced decline as well, and lost its once fame. The traditional Armenian carpet-weaving customs were preserved to some extent only in the mountainous regions of historical Armenia and in the areas inhabited by large numbers of the Armenians – Artsakh, Syunik, Lori, in some provinces of Vaspourakan, Dersim, etc. They were partly preserved in the areas with large Armenian population - Asia Minor, especially in eastern Transcaucasia and north-eastern Iran.
The new upsurge of the carpet-weaving started in the second half of the 19th century, when the demand of hand-made carpets grew in Europe and the USA, and to satisfy these needs the organizations engaged in the trade of carpets founded carpet-weaving manufactures and plants in the carpet-weaving centres in Asia Minor. Among them were the enterprises founded in Zara, Davra, Sebastia, Kyurin, Kara-Hisar, Sivri-Hisar, Urfa, Terente and many other settlements, where mainly Armenian specialists worked. The Caucasian Craft Union organized the same processes in the carpet-weaving centres in Transcaucasia, also in Artsakh, Syunik and Lori.
Canidate of Sciences (History)