Traditional Turkmen carpet (or Turkmen rug) making in Turkmenistan also is not just an art. It is a real universe that has absorbed all the diversity of local people culture. On the one hand, there are carpets that are produced in large quantities for export to neighboring countries, mainly Iran and Pakistan. On the other hand, there are carpets that are produced in accordance with the traditions of various Turkmen tribes.

Classic Turkmen carpets are renowned for their traditional techniques and patterns. The techniques used in creating these carpets include hand-knotting, which involves tying individual knots to form the carpet’s design. This meticulous process requires skilled artisans who have mastered the art of carpet weaving.

A little excursion into history

The house in the East begins where the carpet is laid, says Turkmen proverb. Rich heritage of carpet making of the Turkmen nation dates back to III and IV century BC.

The pottery discovered by archaeologists on the territory of Turkmenistan which dates back to III BC as well, preserved national ornaments identical to the patterns on the Turkmen carpets. Parthian carpets exported to Europe in III BC, along with Chinese silk were the main items of trade between East and West.

In XIII century Italian traveler Marco Polo described Turkmen carpets as the thinnest and the most beautiful in the world. The images of Turkmen carpets are found in the paintings of Italian Renaissance masters such as Lippo Memmi “Madonna” (1350); Nicolo di Buanakorso “Betrothal of Mary” (1380); Lorenzo di Credi; fresco of Pistoyski Cathedral. After the rapprochement between Russia and Central Asia in the middle of the XIX century, Turkmen carpets filled in the palaces of the Russian aristocracy. They were especially loved by the Emperor Alexander II.

Two Turkmens standing on a carpet in front of a yurt (early 20th century)
Two Turkmens standing on a carpet in front of a yurt (early 20th century)

Today, the best samples of carpets are exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg. A painting by Holbein “George Guise” depicts Teke “gel” which is now known in the art as “Holbein” pattern (1475). Turkmen gels (ornaments on carpets) are symbolic for the Turkmen nation. Each represents a unique pattern attributed to individual tribes and traditions of the depicting events and images in the ancient art of Turkmen.

In 1914, art historian A. Felkerzam wrote that “ancient Turkmen carpets cannot be confused with any craftworks of other tribes or nations. Their unique ornaments and technique of carpet making are noticed from the first sight. One cannot precisely describe those ornaments or compare them by colors or with geometrical figures.”

Soviet post stamp with Turkmen carpet weavers depiction (1950)
Soviet post stamp with Turkmen carpet weavers depiction (1950)

Patterns of carpets

The patterns found in Turkmen carpets are rich in symbolism and cultural significance. One of the most prominent patterns is the gül, or the “gul” motif. This motif is a medallion-like design that is repeated throughout the carpet’s surface. Each gül motif has its own unique meaning and can vary in shape and size depending on the region and tribe.

Some examples of traditional carpet patterns from Turkmenistan
Some examples of traditional carpet patterns from Turkmenistan

Other common patterns include geometric shapes, stylized animal motifs, and intricate borders. These patterns often reflect the nomadic lifestyle and natural surroundings of the Turkmen people. The colors used in Turkmen carpets are typically bold and vibrant, with red, blue, and yellow being the most common.

The traditional techniques and patterns of Turkmen carpets have been passed down through generations, with each carpet telling a story and representing a piece of Turkmen culture and heritage. Today, these carpets continue to be highly valued and sought after for their beauty, craftsmanship, and historical significance.

Turkmen carpets

Turkmenistan is divided into several regions, and each region has its own unique traditional techniques and patterns in carpet weaving. Here are some examples of Turkmen carpet techniques and patterns by region:

  1. Akhal Region: In the Akhal region, carpets are known for their fine quality and intricate designs. The main technique used is the symmetrical knotting technique, also known as the “Gördes” knot. The patterns often feature geometric motifs, such as octagons, diamonds, and stars, with vibrant colors like red, blue, and white.
  2. Mary Region: Carpets from the Mary region are characterized by their bold and striking designs. The weaving technique used is the asymmetrical knotting technique, also known as the “Senneh” knot. The patterns often consist of large, centralized medallions surrounded by smaller motifs like flowers, leaves, and animals. The colors used are typically deep red, blue, and black.
  3. Tejen Region: Carpets from the Tejen region are known for their unique patterns and color combinations. The weaving technique used is a variation of the symmetrical knotting technique. The patterns often feature repeating motifs like stars, diamonds, and stylized animals. The colors used are usually bright and vibrant, including red, yellow, green, and white.
  4. Dashoguz Region: Carpets from the Dashoguz region are recognized for their intricate designs and fine craftsmanship. The weaving technique used is a combination of symmetrical and asymmetrical knotting techniques. The patterns often include geometric motifs, floral designs, and animal figures. The colors used are typically rich and warm, such as red, brown, and gold.

These are just a few examples of the traditional techniques and patterns found in Turkmen carpets by region. Each region has its own distinct style and characteristics, reflecting the cultural heritage and artistic traditions of the Turkmen people.

Types of carpets in Turkmenistan

There are three main groups of Turkmen carpets:

  • Teke, Akhal-Teke, Pendi
  • Yomut, Choudour
  • Beshir, Kerki, Kizylayak

The main differences between these groups are colors and patterns of the carpets. Teke carpets have large double octagons with the terraced frame. There are hexagonal shapes inside those octagons and special triangle on a small stick, which looks like a bird step. This is a symbol of a bird (gush). The hexagonal star is divided by the diagonal lines with a small diamond inside. This kind of “gaz ayak” (goose leg) can be found on ancient artifacts such as stones in north-west of Turkmenistan and Mangyshlak. Another symbol on Teke carpet is called “donuz burun” which means pig nose. Given Muslim traditions which are predominant in the region, it becomes clear this symbol in Turkmen carpets was created in the pre-Islamic era.

How carpets are made
How carpets are made

The salor gel is one of the most ancient and famous ones for its harmonious structure. It has the shape of octagonal star medallion surrounded by small triangular pyramids topped with extremely generalized image of a sheep head. The ornaments and design of salor gel are distinct due to its linear-circuit principle, different from the colorful plane compositions of Teke carpets and others.

Another popular gel is on Yomut carpets, so called “kepsa gel” and diamond gel called “dyrnak” (claws). Some of the Yomut gels include images of animals, such as camels, dogs and birds. Mostly, the images feature birds that exist in nature, such as sultan chicken and duck-headed duck on the carpets of Gasan-kuli. Another image already mentioned above is the head of a wild boar. Wild boars were depicted in heraldry of Sassanian kings and decorated their crown (II-III CE).

But there is a Transcaspian and much more ancient image of a wild boar, which can be mentioned without the direct connection with the fanged boar, the symbol in carpet ornaments. Yomud gel is a horizontally-elongated rhombic octagon with jagged edges. It is bright, colored in red and white. Sometimes the gel is composed of vertical elongated rectangles. In addition, there are horn-shaped protrusions on the contour or X-shaped medallions inside.

Famous films with Turkmen carpets (video)