The Richard E. Wright Research Reports; a Compilation of Notes Concerning the Nature and Origins of Textiles
 
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Early Days at the Loom in Transcaucasia

December 2013

Kuba was the site of a significant local carpet-making commerce in the first quarter of the 19th c.  Travellers going north along the Caspian coast passed through Kuba district and noted this weaving activity.  Since the Russian empire’s administrative bureaucracy regularly reported economic activity via serial publications, a section of an 1836 economic report having to do not with the eastern Caspian littoral, but with the interior and more western portion of what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan, commented briefly on the production of rugs and kindred items: [1]

“The manufacture of carpets, woolen footwear, palasi [kilims in general], popon’ [horse covers], sum’ [bags], shaly [shawls], or woolen material for cloth is familiar to the women in almost all villages; the better carpets are considered to be [those from] Gadzhi-Samlik, Keloonii, Karachop and Tyakl-Muganli; Chelyaburt and Chanakhchi woolen footwear, and Zangezur shawls are preferred product types, [as well as their] being undertaken in other places of the province. “

These place names, some familiar to rug buffs and some not, are more or less in the Karabakh/Ganja districts.  It may merely be by chance that the report for this particular year dealt only partially with weaving activity, with earlier years having had more to say.  But perhaps not, and the report may merely reflect a Tiflis, the region’s capitol, [now Tblisi], centered view in that Russia, while it absorbed Georgia early in the century, had only quite recently gained control of eastern Transcaucasia.  Be that as it may, the report does sketchily deal with carpet-making areas in the Transcaucasian interior.

There is, as well, a parallel government serial publication for the year 1856 which focused on a part of the Caspian coast -- Apsheron.  [2] This peninsula provided Baku city with a good location but otherwise was rural in nature.  The subsequent oil boom radically altered this setting and for the most part turned the peninsula into an oil field.  “Baku is nothing but an oil town” grumbled an American civil engineer passing through on his way home from work in Central Asia immediately before WWI.

Carpets and carpet-like goods are mentioned.

Goods and Crafts.  On Apsheron peninsula in Baku uezd, [district] for want of mills and factories, rural craft activity limits itself to rugs, village woolen cloth, saddle-bags, coarse cotton sackcloth, and felts.  Among these items rugs alone form a modest item of rural commerce, and other production goes for domestic use.  The most carpet-making activity takes place in the villages of Amiradzhan, Bil’lili and Surakhani – by women; also, sackcloth and cotton and woolen cloth are woven by men.”

Familiar place names in the rug world. 

It is the case that a Persian-speaking ethnic group was established in several pockets in eastern Transcaucasia, most notably in the Kuba district, and on the Apsheron peninsula.  Academic area specialists are uncertain as to how and when these people arrived but there is agreement that they did so a long time ago.  (See “The Tats of Kuba” and note the ethnographic map, 1896 imperial census.)  Tat village weaving seems to be of high quality, and somewhat favors persianate motifs and patterns. 

In brief, along with the travel accounts these two government reports underline the existence of an established weaving activity in Transcaucasia at the time it became connected to Europe.  These domestic manufactures with their minor commercial aspect would in time become a big business, the region’s second most important export.


[1]Obzorenie rossiiskix’ vlad’nii za Kavkazom’ part III, 1836, p. 299

[2]Kavkazskie Kalendar za god 1856, p. 500 ff.  Copies of this serial are hard to find; 1856 is the only one in the Library of Congress.  Volumes with rug data which were not hunted for by RR are 1849, p. 64;1864, p. 253; 1868, pp. 410, 414; 1869, p. 40; 1881, p. 201; 1889, p. 72 – all containing carpet information.  Unknown pages in the issues for 1845 and 1846 also contain rug data.


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