Posted by R. John Howe on 05-01-2006 11:22 PM:

Erik Risman: A Little More on "Ersari/Beshir"

Dear folks –

Erik Risman and I have been talking a little further about the ACOR 8 presentation he and Peter Poullada and Kurt Munkacsi made on “Unraveling the Mystery of “Ersari Beshiri” Weaving” and their broader work on which it was based. He has agreed to state here again some of the points they made and to elaborate in some areas.

By the time you read this Erik will have agreed that the text below is an accurate portrayal of the points he wants to make and you will be able to be confident that you are not exposed to the vicissitudes of my hearing.

First, Erik said that in their work they are trying to draw on a variety of resources, including the Central Asian Studies Program at Indiana University in Bloomington. The historians in this program are working with pre-Soviet sources and Erik and his colleagues are especially interested in tapping the ethnography, demography and, most importantly, the history reflected in their work.

Erik said that he and his colleagues want avoid making any “wild statements” in their work: statements that are not supported by evidence, and a close relationship with the work of IU and other historians is one strategy for ensuring that.

Erik began by saying, as he had in Boston, that there is a lot of evidence that the “Beshir” were not a tribe or an ethnic group. He acknowledged that there may well have been Ersaris and perhaps other Turkmen around Beshir, and that the term “Beshiri” simply means “from Beshir.”

He referred to William Wood’s article in George O’Bannon’s “Vanishing Jewels” volume on the Amstey collection in which Wood noted that perhaps 20 other Turkmen tribes could have been in the Middle Amu Darya region.

Next, Erik talked about the “Kizil Ayak” attribution; this is Peter’s expertise. For a time, he said, it has been frequent to characterize the “Kizil Ayaks” as a part of the Ersari group. Erik said that Peter’s research suggests that the Kizil Ayaks are, indeed, “their own group.” Similarly, he said, it appears that another defensible separate group is the “Ali Eli.” He indicated that part of what Peter Poullada was attempting to do in their ACOR 8 presentation was to give the indicators that suggest that these two groups are best seen as distinctive, and to show some examples both of them. The Kizil Ayak and Ali Eli are reflective of Peter’s primary research.

Erik said that part of their work is an effort to identify the other tribes that were in the Amu Darya area. He thinks that this is do-able, but that it also seems unlikely at present that they will be able to attribute particular weavings to them.

Erik then pointed to a group of weavings from the Amu Darya area that have classical “Salor-type” characteristics, most notably, perhaps, asymmetric knots open to the left. It is not clear yet who wove these pieces. They think they are a distinctive unnamed Turkmen group. They are different from the so-called “Ersari” weavings woven with asymmetric knots open right.

So, Erik reiterated, one of their objectives in Boston was to suggest that we stop calling weavings “Beshir.” While it might be defensible to continue this usage for convenience, they recommended instead the use of the term “other middle Amu Darya (OMAD). I asked Erik how this term was an advance over “Beshir,” that it seemed equivalent to saying “we don’t know.” Erik indicated that this was precisely its advantage. That “Beshir” seems to say we know something that not only we do not, but that is likely not the case, while the move to “other middle Amu Darya” indicates precisely that we are unable to say more as yet. Peter introduced the term “Labab” Turkmen as a viable alternative to “OMAD”; Labab simply means riverside, therefore “Labab Turkmen” would be those living along the river. This group, however, would include the Ersari, Salor and other tribes that we know inhabited the region along the banks of the Amu river. “OMAD”, although not as descriptive, is more “all inclusive” of those weaving Turkmen as yet unidentified.

Although not relevant to the ACOR session, Erik talked in this subsequent conversation about one other format about which he has suspicions that he is exploring. He referred to the Mackie-Thompson suggestion that there are a group of rugs long described as Beshir that are clearly “non-tribal.” Thompson argues that they are “too long to have used in a tent” and have distinctive designs. Thompson suggests that the term “Bukhara” be retained for then since this “avoids ascribing a tribal name to non-tribal” rugs.

Erik’s suspicion is similar. He sees most traditional Turkmen main carpets as having a more square-ish shape while the seemingly more urban “Bukharan” rugs (which he refers to as Bukharan “long rugs” for want of a better interim descriptor) are longer and narrow. [I raised the example of the great TM Yomut main carpet, which is 125 x 69 ½ inches (and most older Yomut main carpets seem to have a 2:1 length to width ratio) but Erik says he is not saying there are not exceptions.] The seemingly more urban pieces that have been called Ersari or Beshiri are long (Plate 92 in Mackie-Thompson is 157 ½ X 74 1/8 inches).

Returning more strictly to their ACOR 8 presentation, Erik said that Peter is working with data about which Turkmen tribes were where, along the middle Amu Darya, in the late 19th century using a publication from the 1950s of a Russian ethnographer, Vinnikov.

During their presentation Jurg Rageth objected from the floor to their ability to determine this on the basis of such a publication. He argued that things changed a lot in this area and that a book published in the 1950s was unlikely to be able to indicate much about who was where in the 19th century.

Erik said to me in our subsequent conversation that he and Peter agree that there was a lot of change in this area over time, but that the work of Vinnikov importantly included interviews with elders, folks in their 70s and 80s, who had memories of which Turkmen tribes were where during their early lifetime.

Erik and Peter feel that this source CAN indicate useful things about the location of specific Turkmen tribes and groupings along the middle Amu Darya in the late 19th century.

Erik said further that they don’t disagree with Ragath’s point that the middle Amu Darya was populated by “Indo-Persian” peoples prior to the arrival of the Turkmen and that it is likely that these prior inhabitants wove and that their usages could well have influenced aspects of the later weaving in this area. Erik said that after the 17th century, there is little written history of the Amu Darya area that can be drawn on. He said that much of the early research for this area and the Turkmen was by Soviet era scholars, some of which must be carefully vetted. The IU historians are helpful in this effort.

Here in our conversation, Erik paused to say something he said in his presentation at ACOR 8. He said that there are basically three “buckets” of data with which to work in such a study.

The first is the largest and is basically speculative in character.

A second “bucket” of data might be characterized as “circumstantial.” He gave as an example of this the likelihood that since Turkmen social structures seem rather firm, if it can be established that one tribe “did something in a particular way,” it might be inferred that other Turkmen tribes did as well. He said this is one way in which that attempt to take speculative data and through interpretation move it to the “circumstantial bucket.”

A third bucket, of course, is the “evidentiary” one. In this bucket clear evidence can be brought to bear to license particular conclusions.

I asked Erik for a concrete example of “circumstantial” evidence of the sort they might seek and find. He referred to the work of William Irons. Irons is an anthropologist who lived for eighteen months with Yomuts, beginning in 1966. (Irons has also written one of the essays in George O’Bannon’s “Vanishing Jewels,” referenced above.)

Erik said that Irons has characterized the Turkmen as “endogamous,” that is they had a set of mores concerning permissible marriage partners that were mostly a species of inbreeding but with some exceptions.

Among the Yomut Turkmen Irons studied, Muslim men, depending on their wealth could have as many as four wives. The roles of the various wives were delimited. The first wife was most important with regard to progeny and bloodlines, the second and third wives less so.

Further, there seem to have been five social levels in this Yomut Turkmen society. A man at the top level of Turkmen society could take a wife from any level without regard to her ethnic group, including slaves. A woman at the bottom of Turkmen society could be selected by a man in any social group again without regard to their ethnicity. But women in the top social level could only marry laterally and men at the lowest social leverlwere likewise restricted. (Erik didn’t say this, but this set of mores would seem to work to restrict to some extent the frequency with which women from sharply different weaving traditions came into this Yomut Turkmen society.)

Erik ended our conversation by saying that theirs is definitely a work in progress. That they were able to share in Boston, only a top line of their work to date. They expect to be able to share more in the next ICOC in Istanbul.

He said they anticipate ultimately putting out what he called a “catalog provocateur” presenting their ideas, their evidence and inviting conversation about them.

My thanks to Erik for being willing to restate and to elaborate on aspects of their work and their ACOR 8 presentation.


R. John Howe

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 05-05-2006 09:51 AM:

Hi John

Thank you so much for the effort you have put into your coverage of ACOR 8. I'm sure that I speak for all of us when I say we appreciate the time and effort you have expended in bringing this event to those, such as myself, who were unable to attend. It's too bad I wasn't able to attend, especially with all of the present interest in the Ersari and Middle Amu Darya weaving. I would have enjoyed witnessing that first hand. Maybe next year.

As you may know, I have developed a keen interest in these Middle Amu Darya rug in general, and of the Ersari in particular, and hence have assembled a collection of links to internet resources on the subject.

Peter Poullada's introduction to Erik Risman's presentation from the San Francisco Bay Area Rug society's newsletter,as well as a note on Ersari weaving weaving from same said SFBAR news letter;

Elens Tsareva's notes on the Ersari, from the review of the Dudin Collection on Oriental Rug Review;

a review of Erik Risman's presentation, complete with photos, from the New England Rug Society's newsletter;

Natalia Nekrassova , curator of the rug and decorative arts collections of the State Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow for 24 years and extensively traveled in the Ersari territory, discusses Ersari weaving on the NERS Newsletter;

and not to forget, Stephen Louw's Middle Amu Darya Weaving ,
and our recent Ersari thread here on Turkotek.

Just a couple questions in closing.

Is this chuval an example of Amu Darya weaving? Could it be Kizil Ayak, and if so why?

Also,you had stated above that

"Erik then pointed to a group of weavings from the Amu Darya area that have classical “Salor-type” characteristics, most notably, perhaps, asymmetric knots open to the left. It is not clear yet who wove these pieces. They think they are a distinctive unnamed Turkmen group. They are different from the so-called “Ersari” weavings woven with asymmetric knots open right"

and this reminds of a discussion we had some time back, on the Central Asian Attribution Puzzle thread here on Turkotek.

Is this a representative example of these asymmetric open left pieces?


Posted by R._John_Howe on 05-05-2006 05:26 PM:

Dave et al -

David Hunt demonstrates that there is quite a bit of information available from various rug presentations around the country via rug club newsletters. I would only caution that most of these are reports and unless vetted by the speakers are a different sort of thing than Erik Risman has provided here.

And there are different perspectives involved, different poisitions in time, and then those that emerge from the frequent hurly burly of our own discussions here on Turkotek. Dave's links are a convenient collection, but we should mistake them for parallel items of information.

Now to David's questions. I cannot answer his questions about whether his chuval is "other middle Amu Darya" or "Kizil Ayak" generally, and could only in principle do so in terms of the indications in this presenation. Unfortunately, I can't do that either, because I don't have a listing of Peter Poullada's "Kizil Ayak" indicators. I think we can say that if Poullada determined that it was "Kizil Ayak" by his standard he would agree that it is not "other Middle Amu Darya" since the entire point of the latter indication is to make clear that no closer attribution can be made at present.

I can say one thing about at least part of David's second question. It is emphatically not drawn from the ACOR 8 presentation that is referenced in the beginning post in this thread. Richard Isaacson has said to me that he has examined a number of "Middle Amu Darya" bags with a mina khani design and that all of them have had an asymmetric knot open left.

This adds another dimension to the "group-ish" notion by suggesting that pieces from this area and with this knot ,often have a particular design, but takes us no closer to the identity of the folks who wove them.

David, they are giving you an extra year to save up so you can come to ACOR 9 in St. Louis.


R. John Howe

Posted by Stephen Louw on 05-08-2006 04:48 PM:

Hi John - thanks for a very useful post, on a subject close to my heart. One question: In the term, other Amu Dary weavings, is the word "other" meant to imply anything specific? Other than what or whom?


Posted by R._John_Howe on 05-09-2006 02:20 AM:

Hi Stephen -

My understanding of "other" in the expression "other Amu Darya" is that it refers to rugs seen to have been woven in that area for which more specific attributions cannot yet be made.

Peter Poullada's reseach seems to convince him that he can identify at least two groups of weavings from this area by tribal name. "Kizil Ayak" is one such, seen by him as a separate group not part of the "Ersaris." His second tribal attribution is "Ali Eli." Peter has both design and structural indicators for these two groups, but I didn't successfully capture them from his presentation. (If Erik is following this discussion at all and is able to give them to me on the side, I will cite them.)

A third grouping is those that have knots open to the left (Richard Isaacson has indicated that a number of these also seem to have a mina khani design). Although described as having "classical Salor" characteristics (they do not seem to have deeply depressed alternate warps), no tribal attribution of this group has yet been made. I would assume that such a group would still be placed in the OMAD category until such attribution becomes possible.

As Erik has said above, "other Middle Amu Darya" is also broader than is Peter's term “Labab” Turkmen, "those living along the river."

Hope that helps.


R. John Howe

Posted by James Blanchard on 05-09-2006 07:07 AM:

Thanks for this interesting discussion thread, John.

You mention that:

A third grouping is those that have knots open to the left (Richard Isaacson has indicated that a number of these also seem to have a mina khani design). Although described as having "classical Salor" characteristics (they do not seem to have deeply depressed alternate warps), no tribal attribution of this group has yet been made. I would assume that such a group would still be placed in the OMAD category until such attribution becomes possible.

My question is whether the open-left knotting structure is specific to this group, or whether it is also found elsewhere in the more general "Ersari" grouping. Also, can you comment on the knotting density? Do rugs from this group tend to be more finely knotted than other Ersari/Beshir groups?


Posted by R._John_Howe on 05-09-2006 08:40 AM:

James -

I was taking sketchy notes while trying to take useful photos from a considerable distance (this session was a large one and I didn't get a "front seat.")

So I have to be careful about elaboration on what Erik has said above. That is the most reliable account of their presentation, and he took some trouble and care in providing it to us.

He refers to a group that they can distinguish from others in the OMAD complex on the basis of some "classical Salor" features. (In their discussion of which tribes were where in the late 19th century, they indicated two specific places on the Amu Darya where Salors are known to have lived.) One of the "classical Salor indicators" is an asymmetric knot open to the left. I did not capture what other technical features this group may have.

I do not know whether the asymmetric knot open left usage is seen as exclusive to this "classical Salor features" group of weavings in the Amu Darya area, but I thought that is what might be indicated.

I do not know what the relative knot count ranges might be for these various groups, but they may have stated some.

Again, if Erik gives me more in response to these questions, I'll report it.


R. John Howe

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 05-21-2006 05:50 PM:

Other Middle Amu Darya Weaving?

Hi John

This Middle Amu Darya riddle raises a lot questions. I would include "Can we distinguish Middle Amu Darya weavings of the Ersari, made in the traditional gul formats, from those of the Ersari made in other areas, such as Northtern Afghanistan, and if so how? Color, or use of color? Perhaps we should expand the scope of this enquiry, and see if we can find any carpets of weaving groups other than the Turkmen that have characteristics of the Middle Amu Darya region?

I believe this Kirghiz chuval bagface could be an example of, or an excellent candidate for inclusion within, this class of Other Middle Amu Darya weaving. Colors, format, and design elements such as the gulli gul, kochak,"dice" and "triangle" borders are all found with some frequency in Middle Amu Darya weaving.

And even if this bagface is determined to not be of the Middle Amu Darya region, what is the nature/origin of the similarities in design and structure with Middle Amu Darya Turkmen weaving?

30" x 41"

7h. Kpsi x 6v.Kpsi

Asymmetric open left

The weave structure, while similar to Turkmen work, presents some interesting charastics, and possibly attribuitable to it's inclusion within a group of rustic Kirghiz weavings seldom seen in the west? There seems to be considerable warp depression, and the knot count is low, due in the verticle count to the use of large diameter double shots of wool weft running between each row of knots, and presenting this odd appearence in which knots seem arranged in horizontil instead of verticle rows.

Here we have a detail of this folded over kilim finish at the top of the bag, much in the manner of Turkmen Ersari, followed by a photo of these coarse wool/hair? warps.


Hi John

Just a few last comments and photo's of this Kirghiz bag face.

Here you can see the warps and side treatment, at least what is left of it.

The amulet shown in the first photo above, is situated at the base of the field in the middle of the carpet, and is flanked on both the left and right by the amulet shown in the second image.


Posted by Andy Hale on 05-31-2006 02:22 PM:

This looks like a Central Asian Arab weaving to me,

Posted by Steve Price on 05-31-2006 09:26 PM:

Hi Andy

Central Asian, for sure. What are the indicators of Arab origin?


Steve Price