Oriental Rugs: Rugs of Afghanistan

Although Afghanistan shares a border with Iran on its western side, its carpets and rugs have more in common with the tribal weavings of Central Asia in regards with color, design, and weave than with their relatively more sophisticated Persian counterparts. Just like many similar cultures, the Afghans are a nomadic, tribal population constantly moving around from one place to another. Their rugs, woven on small, portable, wooden looms, are mainly produced for use in their private homes, and almost always for decoration purposes. Therefore, it is not surprising that Afghan rugs are available in limited quantities and usually in smaller rug sizes. Many feature natural-dyed hand-spun Afghan wool of very good quality. Various qualities of hand-knotted rugs are available in Afghanistan, ranging from coarse to medium in weave, in addition to flat-woven Kilims.

A Typical Afghan Rug

A Typical Afghan Rug

During the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between real Afghan rugs and those produced in Iran and Pakistan by Afghan refugees who fled their country during its war with the Soviet Union followed by the Afghan civil war. Afghan rugs are characterized by easily identifiable geometric patterns, the reason being that they strictly observe the principles of Islam, in which the display of human and animal figures is usually to be avoided. In addition, Afghan weavers have not been subject to much pressure from Western markets to produce for Western tastes. There are several types of Afghan rugs. The most widely accepted design is the “Afghan Bokhara”, represented by the gul motif, a large, quartered octagon also called “elephant’s foot”, generally displayed in columns or rows and framed within a border. They come in only a handful of different colors, the most common of which would be a rich red. Also popular are the nomadic Balouch rugs, generally prayer rugs with geometric designs. Most Afghan rugs fall into the dark red hues (occasionally blue) with black or dark blue motifs and sometimes with minor touches of ivory or green.

Lately, Afghan weavers have produced an interesting selection of “war rugs” exhibiting stylized depictions of military equipment such as tanks, grenades, and guns which are a clear image of the violent environment influencing the region throughout the 1980s. Of all the carpet types available today Afghan rugs are probably the most truly authentic expression of a weaver’s culture. They hold a special appeal for buyers seeking truly original ethnic expression in Oriental rugs.

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