I think this is a festal sight.
It’s my favorite in my small collection of rugs.
The Ersari tribe is one of the divisions of the Türkmen people of central Asia. Some of them moved south from Türkmenistan into Afghanistan during the 1917 Russian revolution. Then in 1979, when Russia intervened in the Afghan civil war, many became double refugees, fleeing on into Pakistan.
The rug is hand-woven, and the pile is wool with vegetable dyes. You may be able to discern some changes of color where a dye ran out and a new batch had to be made. This abrash is valued as a sign that a rug is genuinely handmade. Unfortunately, moths, too, like natural wool and vegetable dye; they got at my beloved rug before we noticed, and so it has started coming apart along one of the lines of weft (at the far corner in the photo).
The design, with eighteen panels of stylized flowers, is called Second Chîjek. It is directional (like a prayer rug) in that the flowers appear upright as seen from one end; yet at what would be in this sense a far corner is a signature, readable from the opposite direction.
The Arabic letters are easier to read (though reversed) in the tight underside than in the pile on the upper side.
They say: Turkman muhâjer Najîb, Harîpûr Kamp, 1370 – “Turkoman refugee Najib, Haripur Camp, 1370.”
This date, if in the usual Muslim lunar calendar, would be 1949/1950 AD. After some studying I realized that it is more probably in the Shamsi (solar) variant ordained by Reza Shah of Iran in the 1970s: in this it would be the year starting 1991 March 21, the year before I got it.
In the Haripur refugee camp in northern Pakistan, the weaving was being done, I imagine, not by Najib himself but by the small children of his family.
I can’t pretend either to be a rug expert or to have made my acquisitions in Asia, except a very few – the first, a small red Turkish bought when I lived in Arab Jerusalem, and a couple that Tilly and I collected during the journey to the August 1999 eclipse in Turkey (one, Kurdish, is a curious complex, parts pile and parts flat-weave, because it was designed to be stitched up into saddlebags; the other, a kilim, was still being woven by two women and had to be shipped to us).
Most of the rest were the consequence of my noticing, in Cultural Survival magazine, that Yayla Tribal Rugs, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was helping Afghan refugees by offering their rugs, at a flat rate of $22 per square foot, with proceeds to the refugees. You could say, if you like, that this flat rate robbed rug-buying of its storied culture of haggling.
Chris Walter or his colleagues, one of whom was Kurdish, used to send me Polaroid snapshots, taken from stepladders, of the rugs they had brought from Pakistan, from which I chose. The Ersari was the very first that lighted up my eyes. It transformed my living-room, which my Italian friend Leo as he next entered it declared to be “Simpático!”
Yayla also imported these rugs commercially, calling them “Ariana” – which was the name of the Afghan airline, and of a huge ancient region including Afghanistan and more.
I used to order maybe a dozen rugs, they would arrive in a ponderous bundle, I showed them at the Christmas parties of our Amnesty International group, the few that people did not buy I kept for myself; Yayla now charged me only $15 per square foot so that the difference could go to Amnesty. And Yayla began adding rugs made by the Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, so I have a few of these, some in styles copied from Uighurland.
My descriptive “catalogue” of rugs lists 38, of which the Ersari is 13. But all but a dozen or so were either given or sold to other people, or were flimsy and wore out. The Ersari is the heaviest, as I know when lifting rugs to clean floors. But the costliest is one that is only a quarter as large in area: from Kayseri in Turkey, silk-on-silk. That is, not only the knots of the pile are silk but so is the warp onto which they are woven. And whereas the grandly unsophisticated Ersari has 12 or 13 knots to the linear inch, the sheeny silk-on-silk has 20. It lives on a door; we never put it on the floor.