Posted by Sophia Gates on 09-22-2002 10:03 PM:

Back To Basics

Hi all,

I'd like to suggest a visit to WAMRI, where Jack Cassin has posted some articles and pictures of Turkmen weavings including engsis.

Jack doesn't write here but I've been in touch with him and agree that Turkotek readers ought to avail themselves of the information on his site. Even if you've already done so it can only help ones understanding of the subject to study the articles and pictures there once again, especially in light of the subject matter that's arisen in this Salon.

As this discussion winds down, I think it's important for us to "return to earth", as it were, and acknowledge both the excellent historical work that has been done on the subject and the near impossibility, given the decay of Turkmen society and the degree to which it's been exposed to outside influences, to know absolutely what they were trying to express in their beautiful weavings.

Sue's question of age in the "inside-outside" thread was interesting in and of itself, for it points up the fact that most of the weavings we have available to study & collect are very late in the day as Turkmen weavings go. How much they actually resemble pieces created during the prime of their culture is a very large question.

The fact that some pieces already known to us have been carbon dated to the 17th century has been mentioned, and those pieces do not seem radically different from the 19th century versions. It must of course be mentioned that C-14 dating for these relatively young artifacts has a large error range - but for the sake of argument let's assume that at least some of these pieces remain extant.

So, it is possible that our 19th century examples aren't so far from the "source" pieces that we can't make certain inferences concerning their iconography. However, I am highly skeptical that the type of scholarship that would be required to "prove" Sue's astronomical assertions, or other theories raised in this salon, could take place in modern Turkmenistan. Why? Because as I've mentioned already, we are light years removed from the people who made those rugs and given the degree to which modernization, commercialization, Russians, Persians, Communists, and warfare have altered the Turkmen world, it is a but a slim hope that anybody left alive even dimly remembers a time when the old ways still meant something, and the symbolism of the carpets still spoke. And going to prime sources, the people themselves, is the only way to learn about a culture from the inside out.

Nevertheless, I don't believe that discussions like this lack value, for they point up the desire for people to understand what other people are saying or have said. And it is possible that enough of the past remains, enough people have passed along knowledge of the old ways, that we may yet learn the language of the Turkmen rugs, their symbolism and iconography. Asking questions about seasonal shifts in the heavens, the advent of bird migrations, and the relationship between the sky world and the earth world would certainly be a place to start. One article in Hali, written by some horsemen interested in the Akhal Tekke horses, provided an interesting insight. Asked about the "meaning" of the guls, the Turkmen weaver responded, "They stand for the hoofbeats of horses."

Amusingly, I think the "smilie" discussion pointed up what some of us have been trying to say for ages: symbols have real potency! They actually do communicate, "mean" something.

But it's going to take field work IN Central Asia, among the Turkmen people, by people who have learned to speak their languages, to teach us what we want to know about the iconography of their rugs.

Posted by Steve Price on 09-22-2002 10:35 PM:

Hi People,

WAMRI does have an essay on the ensi. It has not been mentioned here until now, and none of the contents of WAMRI can be discussed on Turkotek. Jack Cassin is the owner and author of the five essays that comprise the site. It isn't exactly accurate to say "he doesn't write here". He is not permitted to post on Turkotek for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who was looking in last spring, when we did permit him to do so. As nearly as I can tell from the e-mails I get from him (there were four last night), he follows our discussions closely.

Since he is forbidden from posting here, he cannot respond to any comments made about his essay, and it is unreasonable to allow comment on the work of someone who is not permitted to respond.


Steve Price

Posted by Sue Zimerman on 09-23-2002 01:28 PM:

Dear Sophia,

I have to disagree with you on this one. Return to earth? We haven't even taken off yet! We are still on the tarmac. Concrete everywhere. Sue