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Notes from Anatoliar
by Saul Yale Barodofsky
Orental Rug Review, April / May , 1988, Vol.8/4

The Chinese have a saying: "To understand why a thing is, one must first go back to the beginning." When I first went to Turkey as a kilimji in l978, I mentally divided the rugs and kilims I encountered into three categories -- production factorum (made for sale), village (non-workshop, made at home), and tribal and nomadic (made for the weaver's use). Back then, I didn't see many of the village rugs. Village production has always been small and might have lasted only for a few months. From what I have been able to figure out in the last 35 or more trips, there have been more of these "short run" lines than any of us ever expected. Old timers tell me village rugs have always been a part of rug business, although a small part.

At the beginning of this century, it was not uncommon for entrepreneurial rug dealers to contract rug production for a specific small run pattern. A similar but more recent production line in the village of Satchakara was documented by this writer in the July, 1986, issue of this journal (ORR, Vol. VI, No. 4). This kilim production line is already history. So is another kilim from the Balikishir region in western Turkey that this writer found in 1984. I bought examples of these textiles on a few buying trips, and they were discussed at one of The Textile Museum show-and-tells in 1984. Both of these groups of kilims were the results of efforts by dealers from Istanbul.

Both kilim lines used good wool, were well drawn and finely woven; in other words, virtually indistinguishable from a fine example of tribal or nomadic kilim work. It is possible that many of the so-called village rugs and kilims which exist in limited numbers are the result of small merchant entrepreneurial efforts.

A related event occurred some months ago when I was at the London gallery of Alexander Juran, a respected and highly knowledgeable carpet dealer. Upon viewing a matched set of miniature Shahsavan soumak saddle bags which I had obtained in Turkey, he suggested that they may have been specifically made by Caucasian Armenians for the Shahsavan market. If true, another icon falls by the wayside [Editor's Note: These are related to the horsecovers referred to in recent auction reports] This is a meandering way of explaining my state of mind as I began to reflect upon the new rug business in Turkey. It turns out that the present market is wide. New rugs are the driving force of the market in Turkey today. New rugs come out of Istanbul, out of Kars, and Van, and everywhere in between. How shallow the production is will only be determined by history.

Many of the new rugs use natural dyes and some use hand spun wool. This is very different from when I first visited in 1978. Then, I was amongst the few who suggested that natural dyes and hand spun wool were desirable, and economically feasible. This radical idea fell upon incredulous ears (see ORR, Vol. 1, No. 11). It is difficult to find natural dyes and hand spun wool in quantity. It is also difficult to find the weavers and dyers to use them correctly.

But in the late 1970s, those buying rugs in Turkey were fresh eyed and bushy tailed, with all of the enthusiasm of new Peace Corps volunteers. When we heard our rug friends in Turkey dreaming of creating a great rug themselves instead of awaiting its arrival on their doorsteps, we said, "Do it! It's easy." Not being aware of the inherent problems of the production rug business, we hope we will be excused our naivete. For example, how does one control the unauthorized use of wool and dyes by the weavers and their friends? In a small isolated village, a weaver is given 10 kilos of wool to weave a rug, plus two kilos of different dyes. She ends up with a five kilo carpet. Where are the other five kilos? Did she sell the extra five kilos of wool? Did she make two carpets of five kilos each, sell one, and deliver one? Did she waste five kilos of wool in making a carpet? Did she sell all 10 kilos of hand spun wool and make the carpet from five kilos of machine spun wool? Did she sell the two kilos of natural dyes and substitute cheaper synthetic dyes? Or, is she just a wasteful weaver? Smart production managers weigh up the waste wool with the delivered carpet to make sure that it all adds up, but who covers the costs of the missing wool and dyes when things don't balance?

In some cases it became very, very expensive to weave rugs in certain villages. A typical story goes that at one village they sold the rugs to a passing dealer and kept the money; barking dogs and rifle shots greeted the production representative who came for his rugs the next day. Obviously, this was not a common occurrence but it is indicative of a host of unforeseeable problems awaiting the willing but inexpert rug manufacturer. More than market demand determines the continuing production of village rugs and kilims.

Then came DOBAG and its attendant spin-offs (Çannakkale). Finally, someone was doing it right! Imagine the pleasure. Imagine the possibilities opening up to the rug dealers with dreams and imagination. Add to that the closing of Afghanistan and Iran, and the world's eyes turned toward Turkey. It was kismet, as they say in Turkey. A chance to once again make a major impact on the market.

Against this background, I have watched more and more of my rug dealer friends indulge themselves in the small production part of the market. Most of them have abandoned it rather quickly. It can be a very demanding and cruelly disappointing business.

Nonetheless, this hasn't stopped many of them from "going crazy," as Bank Celal puts it. Celal of Barakette was a bank executive in Istanbul who caught rug fever and decided to give up banking for a life of hunting old rugs and kilims. He became impatient waiting for the perfect rug to appear and decided that he would create it himself. He proceeded to do early Turkish village carpets as a format and spent months researching patterns and designs. Then he established working looms in both a small village near Isparta and with a group of Anatolian women now living on the outskirts of Istanbul. He secured his wool and dyes from western Turkey and set to work. I actually saw a few of his first "samples," and they were beautiful and easy to sell. However, problems in production caused him more time and trouble than he was able to resolve effectively. Quality control became a virtual nightmare. He either had to spend full time on his production, almost living with rugs on the loom, or reestablish himself as a full-time rug seller; he couldn't have it both ways. He decided, reluctantly, on the latter. He long ago closed down that part of his business and has some great, if weepy, tales to tell.

I have concentrated my rug buying activity in Konya. It is there that I have seen the creation of small scale production most closely. Perhaps a little background would be helpful in telling the players apart

The rug business in Konya has traditionally been separated into the wholesaling of rugs in Istanbul, collected from the Konya area; the sale of rugs to foreigners, the export and tourist business; and the manufacturing of carpets for both a local and foreign market, Konya Ladiks. When three of my friends Kasim, Asim and Çemal began Young Partners in 1977, their dream was to centralize as much of these business operations as possible under one roof.

After successfully making their mark in the collecting of local weavings and in the old kilim and carpet market (another crazy business), they decided a few years ago to start a business manufacturing kilims and carpets. They studied dyes, wool, weaving, and designs. They were on excellent terms with Josephine Powell and Harald Böhmer, and were heartened by the obvious success of the DOBAG project. They determined that excellent new pieces, inspired by fine antique specimens, were a perfect entry point. They chose to start with Kazak and Shirvan designs in rugs and Satchakara nomadic design in kilims.

Just as the dream began to be reality, the partnership split up into four businesses: Kasim and Çemal as Young Partners, Asim as Karavan, Ahmet and Najati as Dervish Brothers, and Mehmet as Sun Shine. Although Çemal had been the guiding force in the old rug design department, the ideas for creative new carpets were carried forward by all the businesses.

In recent months, there have been two more spin-offs from the mainstream of rug production through the Young Partners matrix. Mostly, these have been young repair people who have watched the dream become manifest and have decided that they too could do as well in buying, selling, and making carpets on their own.

The owners of these production lines have great hopes for their rugs. Asim, with 20 designs, hopes to have over 50 designs in a year; Ç, with 45 designs currently, hopes for over 100. Given the nature of the business, It is unrealistic that any of these lines will be available a year from now, but as they say in Turkey, Inshallah!

Please note that this survey does not cover the well established lines of carpets that have been around for years in Turkey: Konya Ladik, Kars Kazak, Taspinar, Milas, Doshemealti, Hereke silk and wool, Keyseri silk and mercerized cotton, Isparta, Ushak, and so forth, or the cheaper copies of Kars Kazak and Hereke made in Tokat. For pictures of these, see any book on modern Turkish carpets.

With the ever declining availability of older village rugs and kilims, the future generally bodes well for such enterprises. Success depends upon organization, stamina, money, and luck.

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