Reflections on the Origins of the Turkmen Carpet


   The Turkmen nation is best known in the rest of the world for bestowing on itself and the whole of mankind an incomparable work of art with practical applications - the original carpet.  Carpet-making is a craft.  There are many other carpet-making nations.  But it can be said without any exaggeration that the Turkmens are virtually the only nation to have raised this craft to the status of art - and not just art, but Art with a capital "A", in the literal sense of the word.

   Hundreds of works, ranging from small newspaper articles to long monographs, have been written about the beauty of the Turkmen carpet, its unique ornamentation and extraordinary range of colours.  But, clearly, the richness of colours used in this man-made miracle is matched by the meagreness of the attempts to analyse it in the broader context (i.e. not applied or specialised) - above all, the sociophilosophical context.  In other words, there is a hiatus between interpretation of the phenomenon and the actual fact of its real existence.

   The treatise which follows is intended to reduce this hiatus, to show that, besides the already well-known approaches, there is another possibility.

   This approach is based on the proposition that, if existence determines consciousness (from the point of view of materialistic philosophy - O.M.), then the latter, in its turn, assimilates the former (existence). (Here we are referring to Husserl's well-known theory about active awareness, the interpretative character of our consciousness, its orientation towards surrounding reality - see Husserl E: Die Krisis der eupopaeischen Wissenschaft and die transzendentale Phaenomenologie.  Hamburg, 1982).

   In other words, consciousness restructures existence to its own liking, in its own image and likeness, in accordance with that complex of ideas and understandings which characterise it (awareness) at any given time.

   If one tries to visualise the historical past, i.e. to imagine those far-off times preceding the genesis of carpet-making among the Turkmens (more precisely, no doubt, among their direct ancestors), one cannot, we feel, exclude the following line of argument (adj usted, of course, to take account of greater means of linguistic expression).  We are referring to the desert environment, the Karakums - that virtual infinity, that impassable continent, that road into the unknown, capable of leading "nowhere". That was - or may have been - the thinking or rough thinking, at that time, of Turkmens influenced, as they were, by the overwhelming presence of the desert.

   In short, the environment, the natural context and, in general, existence itself persuasively prompted the following conclusion: we (the Turkinens), have to reckon with reality which, alas, is not under our control.  It is above us, and we are conditioned by it, dependent on it.  But if such is stern reality, the Turkmens may have thought, can't we turn things around, turn the idea that we arc conditioned by the environment into the exact opposite - the environment (the desert) is conditioned by us (by the way we think, by our consciousness).  Then it becomes ours, comes under our control.

   Here we are dealing not simply with illusion or unrealisable fantasy (pure subjectivity), but with the mental (idealistic, spiritual) transformation of the desert into a microcosm of the human soul, taking on the form of a carpet, a small "desert" (i.e. a screen), from its large counterpart.  There is a direct relationship, one feels, between the image of the desert and its imaginary metamorphosis.

   Although the desert itself is unconquerable, one can easily shut it out by resorting to this likeness of it, by erecting this partition, hanging this imaginary screen - rather, this screen which has been inspired by it.  M that has to be done is to realise the conception i.e. weave the carpet.

   That, possibly, was the logic behind the thinking of Turkmens at the very dawn of carpet-making.

   Where did the artistic, the expressive side of the Turkmen carpet - in particular, its ornamentation and range of colour, based, as we know, on a diversity of reds - originate?  One can't help being drawn towards the following picture: the black sands whipped up by a storm and viewed by screwed-up eyes through the rays of the yellow sun. doesn't this conjure up a reddish-purple background, pierced by slashes of light?  The raging streams of sand are, of course, chaotic.  But man is fond of certainty. Certainty presupposes some kind of order, ordering of the material at man's disposal.  Is this not where the geometric patterns of carpet ornamentation originate?

   A priori there is no reason to exclude such a hypothesis.

   That, in broadest outline, is yet another possible explanation for the appearance of the phenomenon known as the Turkmen carpet.
 

Ovezdurdy Mukhammetberdiyev
 Doctor ofsociology
  Head of Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology
 Turkmen State Universtiy named after Makhtumkuli (Ashgabat, Turkmenistan)