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Traveler's Reports Our readers are invited to report on their interesting rug-related voyages here. No Marco Polo tall tales, please.

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December 21st, 2018 05:15 AM
Chuck Wagner Hi Pierre,

I think it's a good read.

He was in-country in the mid 19th century. Started in Sind, moved up into central Afghanistan and then from Kabul to Bamiyan, staying with the Hazara for a bit, then into proximal Turkmenistan and Qunduz, up through Khirgiz territory to the upper reaches of the Wakhan district to the source of the Oxus.

There are several segments where he discusses family life and living quarters, etc.

Also earthquakes.

I had access to an original edition when still living in Saudi Arabia and mentioned it in a couple discussions we have had here; here's a link to one from 2002:


It's available in Google Books, and original and reprint copies are in the book market.

December 20th, 2018 09:28 PM
Pierre Galafassi Hi Andy,

So far, I have found on the net only two reports by upper class central Asians, not yet any memoir of any former prisoner of the Turkmen, nor of anybody having freely shared their life (contrary to O’Donovan and de Blocqueville who enjoyed stays of, respectively, 2 and 1 years with tribesmen).

These two Central Asian’s reports have been a disappointment for two main reasons:

They did not seem to be more interested by the Turkmen than the Russian military was, rather less.
Their mixture of legends, obvious embellishments and facts is a serious challenge for any occidental reader.

One can find in Gallica (1) a 1876 translation in French, by Charles Schefer (from the Ecole des langues Orientales Vivantes) of a report by a certain Mir Abdoul Karim written to a certain Arif Bey in 1800-1810, probably when the latter gentleman was in charge of high ranking visitors to the Ottoman Court in Constantinople.
According to Schefer, Mir Abdoul Karim was from a family of Seyids from Boukhara and employed by high profile local people. He was member of embassies to Russia and to Constantinople and was also part of the household of Mahmoud Khan.
He later moved to the Ottoman Empire and worked for the Court.
Schefer praises his knowledge of history and affairs of the Uzbek Khanates of Khokand, Boukhara and Khiva and of their relations with Persia and Afghanistan.

The role of the Yomud as auxiliary cavalry in Khivan armies, their allergy to Uzbek taxmen and a list of tribes living near the Amu Darya are about the only mentions of Turkmen.
Mir Abdoul Karim mixes facts and myths and apparently believes strongly in 'cherchez la femme' to explain every single political event. His information is better taken 'cum grano salis'. However, he probably remains so far the best oriental source available for the 18th and early 19th century.

In 1879, prof. Charles Schefer also translated in French the ‘report’ of another Central Asian, of very high social extraction named Riza Quli Khan. However the description of his embassy to Khiva is very short on facts but full of 'Sheherazade tales'.


Hi Chuck,
Did Capt. Wood’s book supply some interesting informations?

Best regards
December 20th, 2018 02:57 AM
Chuck Wagner Andy,

Another "traveler account" not mentioned above but a worthy read:

"A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus", by Capt. John Wood, Indian Navy (Reprint: Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1976)

December 18th, 2018 04:18 AM
AndyHale Wonder if anyone followed the link, scrolled down a few inches and read the "Into Russian Turkistan" piece? I thought it might be interesting to those who read the travel literature on Central Asia.

The obvious problem with most of the writers cited above is that they are "birds of passage" who only spent a short time in Central Asia with a limited knowledge or sympathy for the people they were seeing. Personally, after spending a couple of years in Afghanistan, I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the place-two years later, I realized how little I knew!

There are couple of sources that haven't been exploited as yet from people who interacted (for better or worse) with the Turkmen on a daily basis.

The first would be the letters and diaries from upper class Persians that were held for ransom by the Turkmen tribes during the 19th century. These "slave narratives" would, no doubt, contain a good deal information about day to day life among the Turkmen during the 19th century or possibly even earlier.

The other source, untapped as far as I know would be the letters and documents from the Central Asian Jewish traders who worked closely with the Turkmen during the 19th and early 20th century. Apparently, they forged close ties with Turkmen tribes as traders in both carpets and karakal furs, gaining respect as trusted partners. As neutral parties with neither tribal or government allegiances they also were said to have negotiated disputes between tribes when asked.
(Whether Mashhadi Jews actually fought alongside Turkmen against the Persians as claimed by Wolff is an intriguing question.)

Jewish traders (not just the Central Asian ones) are an important historical source as they both wrote a lot of letters and preserved them, often in Genizah. There are surviving letters from Jewish traders from 11th century Afghanistan and even earlier from Eastern Turkestan so surely there must be some from the 19th century!

Maybe more rewarding than the thoughts of some clueless Russian military colonial?
November 26th, 2018 04:53 PM
Pierre Galafassi Hi Andy,

Thanks a lot for your link, I’ll give a look to Tucker’s paper asap and try to find a copy of Gorshenina’s book.

Did you ever hear of any book by General Komarov, treating of his stay in Transcaspia? Given his supposed passion for rugs and his contacts with Yomud-, Tekke, Saryk- and Salor leaders, one could hope some comments of interest for ruggies.
Given his social level it could have been written either in French or in Russian. Komarov is mentioned on the net as having authored quite a few memoirs, but none discussing his Turkmen period is known to me yet.

I agree with your comments about traveler’s credibility (or lack of-): some were superficial tourists, others, British and Russians especially, clearly had an agenda of their own at the time, other Europeans got most of their informations from Russian military sources, at least a famous one (Vambery) enjoyed in his time a completely underserved trust in UK etc.…
And like you, I do hope that local historians or Russian ones, now free from the Soviet straightjacket, will bring interesting new informations. Although, given the present political situation one will still have to take Turkmen historians a bit cum grano salis too.

Again, Andy thanks for contributing to this thread, please do go on!

November 26th, 2018 12:27 PM
Pierre Galafassi Hi Filiberto,
Yes, the money paid by the ABC members looks quite high, but from the point of view of the Turkmen people it must have been in fact enormous. Several visitors mention that the price of a good rug would have bought several wives and perhaps even a top horse or a new yurt. (Turkmen were just a trifle 'macho' I guess :.)

Best regards
November 26th, 2018 01:15 AM
Andy Hale 19th century writing on Central Asia, especially the traveller’s accounts, are fun to read. Since they are often written in the first person, they give a feeling of being a direct and honest account of what was actually going on at the time. This has led some modern writers on textiles to quote uncritically from the literature, especially when it reinforced some of their own ideas. (I have been guilty of this myself in the past!)

Although many of the 19th century authors write with great authority, quite often they are only cribbing from other books or repeating things they heard but never actually saw. We are often on very shaky ground when using them as a historical source.
A useful corrective for those first encountering these authors would be an article by Noah Tucker:
It is not the only study of the subject but it is fairly short, to the point and available free online with minimal effort.

For a more useful source on Turkmen and their struggle to survive I highly recommend “The Turkmens in the Age of Imperialism” by Dr. Mehmet Saray. This is serious work that draws on English, Russian, Turkish and, yes, Turkmen written sources that provides a much clearer picture of what was going on than reading travel accounts. Not much mention of rugs though. You can buy it online from the usual bookwallahs.

A good source on collecting and collectors in 19th century Central Asia is Svetlana Gorshenina’s “The Private Collections of Russian Turkestan” from 2004.
There is still a lot of material in archives yet to be discovered. I expect important work will be done in the future by Central Asians themselves now that they are free to explore their own pasts. What they will make of the western contributions (some of which are truly bizarre!) will be very interesting to see!
November 20th, 2018 01:20 PM
Filiberto Boncompagni Hi Pierre,
A good door carpet was worth…say 2 to 10 £
I was curios about how much ten 1884 BP are worth today.
Luckily, the Bank of England has an "Inflation Calculator" (up to 2017 though).

So, 10 £ in 1884 were worth £1,181.32 in 2017...


November 20th, 2018 11:59 AM
Pierre Galafassi Hi all,

Neil Moran’s recent book (1) about a barely sixteen year old Rudyard Kipling, starting his career as an assistant redactor in British india and covering the great international crisis of 1884-1885 opposing UK and Russia at the northern Afghanistan frontier, is very interesting indeed, well worth buying and reading not only by Kipling’s fans, dilettante historians and ethnologists, but also by ruggies.

Mr Moran cannot hide that he is very interested in rugs too and obviously enjoys reporting informations taken from letters of «*carpet knaves» members of the British ABC (Border Commission in charge of agreeing and implementing the new frontier with its Russian counterpart).
There are several good illustrations in Moran’s book, mostly drawings by William Simpson, the official artist of the Commission. Two drawings feature yurts with Ensi.

Here my pick of interesting quotes:

Page 32: ABC officer E. Durand, December 1884, at Pendj deh:
«…we halted on the third (aoul) and visited the kibitkas of Pendj deh, buying the carpets that closed the doors. They are hand-made (sic) and their colors are quiet and agreeable. The old and young ladies came out to see us and the men bargained……A good door carpet was worth…say 2 to 10 £….»

Page 34: ABC officer Th. Holdich:
«…We went to Pendj deh and made friends amongst the weather-beaten Turkmans of the Sarik fraternity who gave us good welcome and were not above taking our rubles in exchange for their inimitable carpets and saddle bags and silver mounted harness. I have seen many carpets since, but I still think that those of the Saryks of Pendj deh are unmatched. They have backs like boards; stitches infinite in number and minuteness; they are soft, but firm in pile, and harmonious (though a trifle monotonous ) in color. Some of the best of these Saryks rugs were found hanging across the doors of the kibitkas….. Between wood-smoke and the tanning effects of wind and weather, many of the door-rugs acquire a tone, which is not to be matched by any other artificial process; and we took them eagerly whenever we could persuade the fierce, wrinkled old Turkmen women to part with them…»

Page 35: Unnamed ABC officer, at Pendj deh:
«…Everyone here has been busy, and I regret to have to report that the officers without an exception, have by their conduct during the last day or so, rendered themselves liable to be called «*carpet knaves*» . The turkoman young ladies have a deft way of working a peculiarly fine kind of carpet and some of the finest of these serve as doors for the kibitkas; they are hung up like a curtain. Our winter quarters are to be kibitkas and everyone wants a carpet or two, and «a door» as well. Judging by some purchases, it looks as if some of our party are going to have very large kibitkas, a kibitka say, with half a dozen doors….»
«...At first new carpets were brought for sales, but someone brought an old one beautifully toned down from the time it had hung on a door. This was bought at high figures; and as soon as the value of old doors was discovered there was a rush on the kibitkas, and every ragged old article was brought to the market…»

Page 40: Unnamed ABC officer at Bala Murgab, down river from Pendj deh, January 1885:
«…The colours (of local rugs) are also very good, that is in the older ones, for aniline dyes have found their ways even into Central Asia, and many of the colours now in the carpets are from that source…»

FIG 1 William Simpson. Pendj deh . «The khan’s kibitka»

Page 42: Dr Owen’s description of carpet weaving teaching:
«…The mother of the family, or the grandmother , as the case may be, acts as the schoolmistress, and teaches the young girls what colors to place on the loom before them; each working member having a pile of colored wools ready at hand. It is the mistress who reads the number of stitches, and by old practice knows exactly how and where the wools should be placed. The workers themselves cut the pile the proper length; and the fact that one rarely if ever comes across an uneven pile, shows how wonderfully accurate they become….»

Eight months after the humiliating Pendj deh defeat (30.03.1885) of the Afghan army against the Russian army and its brand new allies, the Yolatan Saryks and the Merv Tekkes, and the hasty retreat of the British Border Commission, the Russian and British delegations resumed talks and started drawing the new frontier between Afghanistan and the Russian Turkestan.
During this long and tedious process, the British ABC, moving eastward, came into contact with other Turkmen tribes, in particular with Ersari- and Tekke tribesmen and the «carpet knaves» resumed their frenetical activities too.

Moran quotes Arthur Yates opinion about the merits of these tribes rugs and complains about the bad consequences of ABC members’ rug purchases on the newborn carpet market.

Page 89: Arthur C. Yates:
«…. Like the Tekkes and Sariks, the Ersaris are great manufacturer of carpeting; but to my mind the articles they turn out are decidedly inferior to those produced by the two former. Both for taste in color and soft velvetiness of texture, the Sariks, I think, easily bear away the palm. The Tekke coloring is too vivid; but it must be admitted that the texture of their best productions is wonderfully close and beautifully soft. They seem however, to produce a large quantity of inferior article; and this may be attributed to the fact that the Russian annexation of Merv has opened the markets of Europe to the Tekke industries.
Almost every carpet from a Saryk loom that I have seen has been good to its kind.
In the meantime the Commission is making very creditable progress towards spoiling the markets. I believe I am not exaggerating if I state that for the purchase of horses, carpets and jewelry not less the Rs 10 000 have flowed from the pockets of the Commission into the coffers of the Sariks of Pendj deh….»

Neil K. Moran. Kipling and Afghanistan. A study of the young author as journalist writing.

Best regards
November 15th, 2018 09:03 PM
Pierre Galafassi Hi all,

In a biography of R. Kipling (1) one finds an information of some interest for us ruggies:
The author, Neil Moran mentions young Kipling’s friend, Dr Owen, an M.D. in the British army in Afghanistan, in charge in 1885 of a field hospital in the Pendj Deh oasis, (at that time still Afghan territory), populated by the bulk of the Saryk tribe and by some Salor clans.
Later in 1885, the oasis will be the scene of a victory of the Russian army and its fresh Saryk- and Tekke allies, over an Afghan army, and of the annexation of the oasis.

Dr Owen was a ruggie, interested in Turkmen weavings of which he was a collector. In a letter to his wife, Owen complained about the astronomical cost of «purdahs» (2), the name he gives to pile carpets used as Yurt doors, thus, of Ensi rugs.

This information brings some more water to the mills of those who think that Ensi were indeed traditional Turkmen weavings used as door curtain and neither any opportunistic, late creation by the tribes, targeting gullible occidental tourists, nor any kind of prayer rug: This, mind you, was 1885, the Russian victory over the Akhal Tekke was not yet 3 years old and the bloodless surrender of the Merv Tekke less than 2 years.
Imho, a bit short for implementing any marketing plan, with all due respect for the Turkmen’s commercial talent.

(1) Neil K. Moran. Kipling and Afghanistan. A study of the young author as journalist writing. Page 54.
(2) Purdah in Persian (and therefore also in the Persian dialect of the politically dominant Pashtun ethnic group in Afghanistan) means «curtain, veil».

Best regards
November 10th, 2018 08:46 AM
Filiberto Boncompagni Note – files # 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 17 and 18 suffered from formatting misalignment during the conversion from docx to pdf.
Now it's fixed.


November 9th, 2018 03:18 PM
Pierre Galafassi
You have mail from Turkmenistan

Hi all,

As some of you may have noticed, I have a keen interest in Turkmen affairs, which made me read or browse through about 40 reports (available on-line) written by 19th century visitors.

I have been looking mainly for informations about these tribe’s carpets, history and sociology.

While often deeply frustrated by the limited interest shown for rugs by European visitors, even by those who spent several years with Turkmen, like O’Donovan, Burnes, de Blocqueville or Alikhanoff, it was often possible to identify in their reports radical contradictions with some fairy tales still popular in Rugdom literature. As well as cases of abusive quotations by known bloggers.

As this site is famous for being a den of irreducible Turkomaniacs, I figured that some may be interested by the notes I made while reading all these reports, even though they are probably a trifle too much focused on my own centers of interest.

Below, you will find notes concerning a choice of 20 visitor’s reports, from Mouraviev’s 1819-1820 journey, to Sykes’ in 1922. They are complemented with a map of Turkmenistan around 1885.
The reader may also give a look to Salon 132: Locations of Major Turkmen Tribes (16th to 19th Centuries). http://www.turkotek.com/salon_00132/salon.html.

It is quite likely that nineteenth century Russian visitors have left interesting reports too. The first Governor of Trans-Caspian province, General Aleksandr Vissarionovich Komarov, for example was said to be a true connoisseur of rugs and keen collector of Turkmen- and Caucasian artifacts. It would be great if a Turkoteker fluent in Russian would find and browse through such a report and share his notes with us in this thread.

best regards

Location of Turkmen tribes around 1885

1. Mouraviev 1819-1820.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm... 1819-1820.pdf

2. Fraser 1821-1822.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm... 1821-1822.pdf

3. Burnes 1831-1832.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm... 1831-1832.pdf

4. Abbot 1843.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...Abbot 1843.pdf

5. Ferrier 1844.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...rrier 1844.pdf

6. de Blocqueville 1860-1861.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm... 1860-1861.pdf

7. Vambery 1865.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...mbery 1865.pdf

8. Mac Gahan 1876.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...Gahan 1876.pdf

9. Schuyler 1877.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...uyler 1877.pdf

10. O'Donovan 1879-1881.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkmen/10. O'Donovan 1879-1881.pdf

11. Marvin 1881-1885.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm... 1881-1885.pdf

12. Capus et Bonvalot.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...t Bonvalot.pdf

13. Steward 1882.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...eward 1882.pdf

14. Moser 1883-1884.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm... 1883-1884.pdf

15. Boulangier 1888.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...ngier 1888.pdf

16. de Cholet 1889.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...holet 1889.pdf

17. 0lufsen 1896-1899.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm... 1896-1899.pdf

18. Dudin 1901 quoted by Tzareva.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...by Tzareva.pdf

19. Meakin 1903.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...eakin 1903.pdf

20. Sykes 1922.pdf http://www.turkotek.com/Pierre_Turkm...Sykes 1922.pdf

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