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In the kilim garden at Chaldere


Detail of a worn Yomud rug.

Notes from Anatoliar
by Saul Yale Barodofsky
Orental Rug Review, October/November, 1987, Vol.8/1

Turkey in June is always a joy! There are not too many tourists yet, and the weather is warm with cooler nights. I took the direct flight from Istanbul to Antalya (on the southern Turkish coast) and thus saved a full day of overland travel; I arrived on the evening flight and drove directly to Alanya, one and a half hours by auto. The southern coast is still developing; prices are higher than in the interior, with choice real estate tripling in the past three years. The Deutsch Mark is still strong, and Turkey is a lovely, fun, cheap place to vacation. For the American, however, it is becoming an expensive place to buy. It has been said that Turkey has become the favorite vacation spot for Germans this year, and the rest of Europe isn't far behind -- KLM has just announced its non-stop service to Izmir from Amsterdam.

There are three Konya carpet dealers now functioning in Alanya and all are doing well. Çemal Palamatcu has his house (a bit more than a simple shop) next to the harbor fortress, overlooking the water; it has a beautiful view. I spent a week there sipping tea, drinking fresh squeezed orange juice, eating fresh local fish, and looking at great rugs.

Of the 85 rug dealers in Alanya, Çemal is the only one who deals in old rugs and kilims. The other dealers have discovered what American dealers realized years ago: you make more money from a new dining room carpet than from an antique kilim, and with fewer problems. Walking past the rows of carpet shops, one is amazed at just how many new carpets there are, and how much business there is in the tourist market plus European contacts for future business when the summer season is over. All this with no government restrictions or hassles, plus lots of points in heaven for bringing in hard currency for new Turkish production. It has become a very different business indeed!

After realizing that only Çemal had anything worthwhile in Alanya (although I did see a l9th century Sharkoy roomsize kilim for $12,000, which I later heard had sold to a German tourist), we finished our business and drove through the Toros Mountains to Konya. Small camps are visible along the roadsides and up the hillsides -- people just hanging out and enjoying their summer vacations! I didn't see any rugs, but I saw a lot of big, angry dogs.

Arriving in Konya, I truly felt that I had arrived in Turkey -- more of a mix of tourists, and a real (non-tourist) economy, plus over 100 rug dealers all of whom sell old rugs and kilims. Actually, Konya is the second largest concentration of carpet dealers in Turkey, after Istanbul.

Some news from Konya: Ahmet Kavatulu has reopened Ahmet's Place (same location). Çemal Palamatcu has separated his carpets and kilims into two adjacent shops and still operates his old carpet and kilim depot. During the summer his stock is split between Alanya and Konya. Asim's Karavanserai had the largest showroom, and good prices. I did a lot of business there. Asim also has his own repair and washing facilities, and does very good work.

Now that the Mevlana Museum is almost restored, Mevlana Street is under renovation in a major way. The street is being excavated to accommodate a major underground gold bazaar. The gold merchants have no more room to expand and have convinced the city to give them their own underground bazaar -- almost like a bank vault, and weather proofed, sort of like a "Gold Mall." I'm awaiting the ice cream shops, Gucci leather boutique, and indoor gardens to complete the picture.

The repair shops are a good place to browse. Not only can one get an idea of what will be available after repairs, and who to ask about it, but sometimes the repair people have an interesting piece or three, themselves. I saw a wonderful old Turkoman carpet with very necessary repair and available, as well as some fine old fragments.

Konya is also a great place to find small bags and smaller textiles. All my friends there know to watch for these pieces for me, and they've been very good about it over the years. Imagine my surprise when I walked by a small shop in a back alley and saw two presynthetic Obruk area weft-float brocaded needle bags in the window -- just waiting for me! "You buy these from everybody in Konya except me," the dealer said. "You've never even come into my shop, so I put these in the window to bring you in." And he did, and sold them to me. Later I found out "that everyone had already asked for these two bags and had been refused. He was, he said, saving them for Saul.

This trip I noticed that both availability and prices on older pieces had altered. This is probably due to the government crackdown on antique sales after the Konya mosque robberies. I wasn't shown many old pieces, and those that I did see were expensive. People are probably a bit reticent, even with old friends, to crack their trunks just now. However, I did locate a wonderful Veramin kilim dated 1317 (1899 A.D.) and did see a 17th century Oushak small medallion carpet and a number of older central Anatolian kilims (1750- 1820).

Also in Konya I visited a rug garden in Chaldere. This is a sunning facility for rugs and kilims that have been washed. In this case it was the largest in Konya province and was operated by an old friend. He went from being a farmer to being a kilim farmer; instead of planting crops in his fields, he places wet kilims on top of the earth and turns them until they're dry. "Kissed by the sun" they call it. No fertilizer needed, and a great return on one's labor. This is a great way to see a thousand kilims all opened in one place and under natural light.

I took the train back to Istanbul, a night coach sleeper. It was very, very comfortable and costs about the price of a midlength taxi ride in New York City. If you take the train, better take food with you as the dining car is not open on this train. But the bed is comfortable, with clean sheets, all the lights work, and the toilet is clean -- not bad at all, and one sleeps most of the 12 to 14 hour trip anyway.

Istanbul was very interesting this trip. I found that most of my usual friends were very low on stock -- one man had an almost empty shop -- and everyone was complaining about the lack of business. It was a sharp shift from the new rug hustle of Alanya and the old rug bustle of Konya. I visited the Hotel Oran and saw the renovations in progress. This is a major project, from 30 to 100 rooms with a penthouse apartment on the top overlooking all of Istanbul, from the Princess Islands to the Sulimanya mosque. Naturally, this being Turkey, the May opening has been delayed until September. I'm looking forward to it.

returned home via Paris and dropped in to see Henri Dumas at the Gallerie Triff. He's an old Turkey hand, and we've been passing each other in the bazaar for eight years now. It was about time that I visited him. I was pleased with the variety and quality of kilims that he had for sale, and even more impressed with the prices he was offering to the trade. Might I suggest that you visit him before and after your Turkey buying trip? Air France allows Apex stop-overs, if you time your dates right, at no extra charge and you can add the sights of Paris to your trip.

All in all, the highlights of this trip were the fresh fish in Alanya, the good rugs in Konya, and the hospitality in Paris

In retrospect, I feel that the decline in numbers of old pieces is more a result of increasing numbers of rug shops in Turkey. Five years ago, there were only a few rug shops on the whole Turkish coast; now there are hundreds. Konya has doubled its number in seven years. All the shops that carry semi-antique rugs have diluted the presentation. It is no longer possible to find warehouses with thousands of older rugs at reasonable prices. Now in Turkey one finds hundreds of warehouses and depots. It seems that the deeper we delve into Anatolia and the more we learn about Turkish business and culture the more time we spend to find less and less. I can foresee a time in the not too distant future when all we can find for sale are brand new rugs. But, on the bright side, we did find some great pieces this trip and got 18 bales for only three weeks work.

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