Caucasus Reconnaissance

Striking caucasian motif

Bold and striking – that’s what Nisha is looking for.

Remember me? Several months ago I wrote a short primer on carpet motifs on this blog. I was a complete novice in all matters woven back then, and the blog entry was as much an attempt to educate myself as it was a presentation on the topic. I did it because my old friend Nisha – never a stranger to pressing friends, family and sundry strangers into unpaid servitude – realised that I was living in Turkey and at a loose end, and quickly seized on the opportunity.

You’re in Turkey, she said, so inform yourself about carpet designs. Later she said, casually, you should find out more about Caucasian rugs in particular, because they are striking and unusual, and I want to add more of them to Arastan’s portfolio. And then, quite brazenly, the Caucasus is so much closer for you than for me, why don’t you do a short reconnaissance trip there for Arastan… all expenses paid, but please travel by local bus and sleep in homestays because, you know, the stories you gather and blog about are so much more entertaining then.

So here I am, armed with Nisha’s buying guide and her carpet catalogue, either adventurous or gullible or just plain foolish, travelling under leaden skies on the barren coastal plains of northern Azerbaijan on the way to Quba, historically one of the great centres of carpet weaving in the Caucasus.

Pomegranate seller in Quba

Pomegranate seller in Quba market demonstrating the importance of colour coordination!

But wait. Before I tell you what I hope to find there, let me mention, for starters, that I suffer miserably from fear of flying, such that even the relatively short journey from Ankara to Baku required significant self-dosage with anti-anxiety medication, which, though effective, seems to create worrying gaps in my short-term memory.

So, what specifically am I looking for and where? I am here to research some of the fabled carpets of the region – the karabaghs and kazaks and shirvans and qubas that are so dear to collectors and interior designers.

This endeavour will take me primarily to Azerbaijan, but also to neighboring Armenia – a surprisingly difficult transition given that the two countries have been either at war or close to it for the last twenty years. (You have to pass through Georgia.)

Azeri jewellery

Azeri Pendant – will be hoping to find more of these

I’m particularly interested in finding out whether new carpets are being woven with the same attention and artistry as the nineteenth-century gems that grace many textile museums, and, if so, where and by whom and at what prices. And how Arastan can source them reliably. But while carpets are my main target, I will also be investigating the state of other decorative crafts, such as metalwork and embroidery in northern Azerbaijan, stone and wood carving in Armenia, and jewellery wherever I can find it.

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