The region of Eastern Anatolia
borders the Caucasian republics that recently gained independence
from the now-defunct Soviet Union; it also abuts Iran, formerly
known as Persia. A constant bone of contention between Persia
on the one hand and Rome-Byzantium on the other, in more recent
times much of this territory was under Czarist Russian occupation
from 1877 until 1918 - with the unending consequent suffering
and displacement of populations through the ages. The region
has experienced, in addition to Turkish, Kurdish, Azeri, Armenian,
Russian and Iranian influence to a greater or lesser degree,
some of which is evident in the designs and coloring of weavings
Archaeological excavations have shown that
human habitation is this region has existed at least since the
Paleolithic Age, and that man practiced animal husbandry as
early as ca. 3000 B.C. There are still a very few vestiges left
from the fortification walls erected by the order of the Emperor
Theodosius II when the city was a Byzantine fortress known as
Theodosiopolis, but most extant historical buildings date to
the much later era of Turkish sovereignty.
The winter climate here is very severe, with many villages often
snowed in for months at a time, so weaving on home looms is
a common occupation for women. Erzurum is known for its prayer
rugs, generally woven in slitweave and using a somewhat somber
palette. Kurdish design elements such as wolf track and wolf
mouth symbols are encountered often due to the large Kurdish
population active in weaving. The nearby town of Bayburt also
produces very attractive kilims, some with Kurdish designs but
using a warmer, lighter palette.
Influence of the Caucasus is also quite evident in this region
in the form of Turkish Karabag weavings produced here mainly
over the past fifty or so years. These bear bold floral designs
on dark backgrounds which have been presumably brought here
from the region of the same name in Azerbaijan by Azeri Turks
forced to leave by locally more numerous and powerful Armenians.
Kars, a fortress on the marches of empire,
subject to sieges and conquest, a land of harsh, long winters,
a crossroads of cultures, and one of the earliest human settlement
sites of Anatolia known to have been inhabited by man since
the Paleolithic Age. The first historically recorded kingdom
in this region was that of the Urartu (9th century B.C.), while
early Greek writers refer to the inhabitants as ‘Armenoi’,
doubtless the forebears of Armenians.
The long history of this land contested by every race and nation
in the vicinity is full of anguish and it includes a chapter
deeply etched on the Turkish psyche of which the Western public
is for the most part totally unaware: In 1915 a whole Turkish
army corps froze to death in the mountains of Sarikamis, just
southwest of Kars, in an attempt to recover these territories
lost to the Russians in 1877. In more recent times, in 1945,
the Soviet Union once again laid a claim to the Turkish provinces
of Kars, Artvin and Ardahan in the never-ending Russian drive
to the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
Perhaps reflecting the suffering of the people in the past,
regional kilims have tended to show a dark palette which, however,
has lightened considerably since about 1950 when some measure
of peace returned. Caucasian influences can be detected in some
designs, but the kilims of Kars and nearby Kagizman are often
cut up and sewn into fashion articles, such as bags or pillow
covers, which are more easily marketable than the oddly sized
kilims themselves. Loose slitweave construction and the use
of natural brown wool warps are the characteristics by which
regional Kars kilims are often distinguished.
Who would associate the Turkish town of Malatya
in eastern Anatolia with the Roman legions? Contemplating a
Malatya kilim it might be interesting to know that the place
was once a Roman legion encampment guarding the eastern marches
of the Roman Empire from Persian incursions; given municipal
status by the Emperor Trajan it thus became a city named Miletene.
Being aware of this, it is fascinating to speculate whether
a Roman legionnaire or centurion had once bought s kilim from
some local tribe and sent it to wherever his family was living
in the far-flung Roman Empire.
The Malatya story certainly does not begin with the Romans;
excavations show human habitation since at least the Late Chalcolithic
Age, ca. 4000-3500 B.C. It is also known that Assyrians, Armenians,
Kurds, Macedonians, Medes, Persians, Byzantines and Arabs have
all, at one time or another inhabited this land before the Turkish
conquest ca. AD 1100.
Malatya kilims are usually woven in slitweave and plainweave,
sometimes with supplementary weft wrapping, using fine wool
and some cotton; the palette is dominated by dark hues of brown,
red, blue and green, with black and white also used for contrast.
Weavings are in many varied sizes but without much diversity
in designs, this often attributed to the reputed prevalent influence
of one Kurdish tribe, the Rashwan. Smaller kilims often have
one central medallion, while larger ones may feature three or
four linked medallions; “oversize” kilims are made
in two halves and stitched together.
Sinan, a small community near Malatya, is also a kilim production
center where good quality weavings are made with designs and
coloring characterized usually as Kurdish.
In the mountainous vastness of Eastern Anatolia,
very near a lake bearing the same name, the Van is a market
town for this area bordering on Iran, ancient Persia. Despite
the surrounding rugged terrain which makes travel and communications
difficult, artifacts unearthed by archaeologists indicate that
there was contact with Mesopotamian civilization ca. 5500-3500
B.C. Later Assyria, then Urartu ruled this land, followed by
the same procession of armies that fought over this and other
regions of eastern Anatolia, from Medes and Persians to Russians
In the meantime the mountaineers and villagers of the valleys,
Kurds, Armenians and Turkmen, attempted to live normal lives
when not fighting invaders or each other – and all the
while their womenfolk were weaving kilims and other textiles.
Van kilims are known for their design compositions consisting
of diamond-shaped medallions designated as “hooked”
or “crenellated”, repeated down the length of the
kilim with the repeated pattern separated by narrow bands. The
kilims are usually made in slitweave, in two halves, with narrow
slits and narrow borders. There are some design variations with
smaller diamonds and plain horizontal bands, but the palette
is almost invariably dark, with reds, browns and blues, with
contrasts in white.