Posted by R. John Howe on 08-27-2003 08:20 PM:

What’s an “Odshak bashi?”

Dear folks -

From time to time I have read/heard references (Loges makes one) to the possibility that the Turkmen sometimes had “hearth” rugs, but I had not really seen a discussion of them, nor, I think, have I ever before today, seen a photograph of one. And I have certainly never seen one “in the wool,” despite the fact that I haunt the TM Saturday “rug morning” to the point of being declared a loiterer.

But today in Hali, Volume 6, No. 3, pages 276-278, I encountered a revealing article by Seigfried Gassong, a German Turkmen collector, on this rare format. If you have this issue, stop here and read the article from it. If not, I’ll give you a few of its tidbits below. (You will need to excuse the darker images. They are scans of not especially good xeroxes of black and white photographs.)

Here is the first image Gassong provides of this U-shaped weaving.

Gassong says that some versions of Marco Polo’s travel tales talk about “Tatars of Mongolia” who had “portable felt yurts” and specifically mention “carpets” and “fire place surrounds.” And Fraser, traveling in Khorasan, wrote that the Turkmen used horse-shoe shaped carpets with an area cut out for the fireplace. Gassong thinks this format may have existed in 13th century and that it is not a “modern invention.”

Moskova talked about “u-shaped odshak bashi” and some other authors have indicated that some hearth rugs were almost square rather than u-shaped. Gassong says Peter Andrews does not mention this format in his very extensive treatment of the Turkmen tent. (I have just looked again at Andrews' two volume study of "Nomad Tent Types....", published in 1997 and this still seems to be true. Andrews talks about felts edging the fireplace and describes the "special guest" furnishing at the back of the Yomut tent as a "palas.")

Here are the other three examples of “odshak bashi” that Gassong presents.

Gassong says that these four instances exhibit features suggesting that they are members of two distinct groups.

The first two are like main carpets with the side cut out. Their designs do occur on main carpets. They have the look of adaptation.

The third and fourth instances, though, have designs that do not suggest adaptation of a main carpet. These latter pieces, seem to Gassong to be the best candidates for what this format looked like originally.

Gassong indicates that it seems that all the known examples are Yomut, despite that fact that the first and fourth pieces have asymmetrical knots and the second and third pieces have symmetric knots.

He provides detailed technical analyses of all four of these pieces.

So, now, you can no longer say that you have not heard of a “odshak bashi,” you have, in fact, seen images of four of them.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael Bischof on 08-28-2003 04:47 AM:

language ...

Hallo everybody, hallo R. John Howe,

thanks a lot for publishing what you have found here.

I have trouble to find out how to write Turkish letters so that they are shown in the wright way. I can do this on our own website
but how it is done here I do not know.
So how it is written in right form please study at following URL:

To read it written in wrong form creates kind of physical pain - the same in my school when teachers do not want to learn how to pronounce the names of the many Turkish kids that we have hear.

"Ocak" means oven and "basi" means "head", "center", but also the point from which other things fork off ( "Pinar" is the spring, "Pinarbasi" the place where the water starts to run from down the hill ... ).

So the word means about "foundation of the oven" , centered about the oven ...


Michael Bischof

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-28-2003 02:21 PM:

Dear folks -

First, my thanks to Michael Bishof for the linguistic clarification.

Second, I have heard now from Peter Andrews on some questions that I asked him overnight and he gives permission to post what he has said.

First is his original response to my questions last night.

Note that Peter says that he HAS discussed the "odshak baski" format in some of his writings.

Here's what Peter said originally:

"Dear John

I think I did speak to Gassong about this before he wrote the article:he pumped me for quite a lot of information before he died.

You will find something about the ocaq bashi in the Turcoman of Iran catalogue, though in felt, and probably in the article for the textile Museum catalogue Turkmen, and my subsequent article in Hali of the same year, which was my paper given at the Washington ICOC.

I have a lot of slides of ocaq bashi, but frankly have not analysed
them. Recently we took a whole lot more (20?) of felt ocaq bashi and one palas from a friend's collection in Stuttgart. These were mostly Yomut, from both sides of the border, though I think there may have been a few Teke ones too.

What is striking is that the organisation of the pattern is
similar in both pile-woven and felt specimens (I must look again at the palas one), though the felts are often two-sided. A diagonal pattern, where the main line runs from the inner corner to the outer, is common, often with rows of spiral wave-patterns on either side, or on one side, of the axis. The inner square cut-out fits around the square hearth-fender, of course, and the width of the whole rug is large enough to cover most of
the floor up to the half-way line (side-to-side), while the length is
limited by the diameter of the tent, i.e. about 11'O".

We saw the felts in use, but not pile rugs. The only pile rug I saw for sale was striped in blue, magenta and white, so far as I recall (1970!), and was alleged to be Teke.

If you need pictures, I could make you prints.

Best regards - Peter"

I told Peter not to trouble with more photos. Here is what he said additionally in the message in which he gave permission to post his indications.

"Dear John

Yes, you may quote me. You might add that in 1970 the function of the ocaq bashi was well understood, so there was no indication that it was in any way new-fangled.

Admittedly the striped pile-work one we saw was in
good condition, but as I implied, felt seemed to be the norm. To judge from my friend's collection, OBs are being produced in quantity these days, but I wonder if that is because the Turkmen have perceived a possible opening in the Western market - a new fad.

Given their proximity to the open fire, OBs were obviously exposed to the danger of damage by sparks and cooking fat, and this might account for non-survival of early specimens: felts in any case have a shorter life than pile carpets.

Note, they were used in the front half of the tent, whereas pile rugs were normally spread in the rear half, when required.

Best regards - Peter"

My thanks to Peter for sharing these additional knowledgeable indications.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 08-29-2003 07:38 AM:

Hi People

Someone directed my attention to this very nice essay on a westerner's take on the Turkish language:

It includes the following quotation which, if not totally appropriate to the present discussion, is at least not totally irrelevant either.
Now we all know that an ocakbasi is the place to go when we’re hungry for grilled meat and vegetables, but are you aware that the ocakbasi used to be the cook in the Sultan’s kitchen?

Incidentally, for the benefit of those not familiar with the Turkish alphabet, the letter "c" is pronounced like "dz" (or, in English, "j"); the same letter with a little hook beneath it is pronounced like "ch".


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-30-2003 03:17 PM:

Dear folks -

Peter Andrews mentions above in his email to me that there is some reference to such Turkmen hearth rugs in the catalog for an exhibition that he and his wife, Mugul, assembled and took about England in 1971-72.

I have the catalog for that exhibition and have looked through it to discover what might be there.

As far as I can tell there is only one such reference.

The description for one item is as follows, but without the accent marks that appear on some letters:

"T 29 Hearth Felt (OCAQ BASI KECESI) A specially made up felt of lambswool with a Sarciyen design in red and black."

Peter says in this catalog that the tent was already out of fashion among the Turkmen at the time of his writing. It had become mostly a "poor man's" dwelling, so it is not surprising that some tent furnishing items, such as this hearth felt, apparently had to be made up specially for this exhibition.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-31-2003 02:43 PM:

Dear folks -

Color is a wonderful thing.

I said above that I didn't think I had ever seen an image of an odshak bashi, but I was mistaken.

Today, looking for something else, I encountered these two color images that I had definitely seen before but had just not taken in.

They are Plates 126 and 127 in Uwe Jourdan's "Turkoman." They are both indicated as Yomut and Plate 126 seems perhaps to be the piece in one of the black and white images above. Jourdan says only two odshak bashi with this design are known.


R. John Howe

Posted by Kenneth Thompson on 09-02-2003 02:12 PM:

More on Ocakbasi

Dear All,

I had sent John separately the bit of linguistic pedantry below for his own information, but he thought it might be of more general interest in this thread. So at his suggestion, here it is.

When I was learning Turkish thirty years ago, "ocakbaºi" was simply the fireside. Among a whole host of other meanings, "ocak" (no cedilla) is "hearth" or “fireplace”, "baºi" (with a cedilla) is head or front. Our teacher would often say "Ocakbaºinda--in front of the hearth--sohbet edelim" ( ie let's chat informally, or as if we were all at ease at home.) A Fireside Chat. “Ocak”, as the hearth, is the closest equivalent that I can think of in Turkish for "home" in the intimate sense (as opposed to "house"). I believe was also used as a census term by some governments for counting family units among nomadic tribes. In a wider sense, “ocak” can also mean one’s whole family line. To extinguish one’s ocak (“ocagini sõndûrmek”) is to extirpate one’s posterity. Definitely a charged word.

I don’t know whether this type of weaving was tribe-specific, but it seems tailored to a particular shape of brazier. In any case, the pile ocakbaºi's look like ceremonial weavings for special occasions among wealthy nomads when the rougher felt wouldn't do--sort of a red carpet for important guests. I have looked through old pictures of yurt or õy interiors but haven't seen any in use. All I have seen were felts covered by other more commonly recognizable weavings, but there may well be a photo of in some archive.

Best regards,

Ken Thompson