THROUGH ARMENIA, KURDISTAN, AND PERSIA
Volume VII Number 5
was a strong American missionary interest in the Nestorian Christians
living in Kurdish territory to the west of Lake Urumiah. Several
ministers and their families lived there during the 19th century.
Others visited; one of these was Horatio Southgate, on tour for
several months during 1838 and 1839. His trip account provides textile
manufacture, trade, and use information at a time well in advance
of the late 19th century carpet export boom. Southgate is a good
observer, for he spoke not only Persian, but also Turkish and its
There is a minor observation made at journey's outset in Constantinople,
one which bears upon prayer practice: "... it belonged to the
soldiers to carry back the mats which had served them in their devotions."
(1) Southgate also described mosque interiors: "The rest of
the floor is clear...and is covered with carpets or mats."
(I, p. 129) These comments show a continuing religious use in Turkey
of mats, including, apparently, that of individual prayer space.
Shortly after crossing the Arax River and entering Persia he describes
a Kurdish tent: "The covering was of a cloth of fine black
wool, impervious to the rain. This was supported at the corners
by poles five feet high, and, in the center, by one nearly double
that height, giving to the roof a slope in every direction. The
interval between the lower edge of the cloth and the ground was
filled up, on three sides, by a lattice of light reeds painted in
figures." (I, p. 189) Thus, another reed screen employed by
Kurds, and perhaps decorated in a non-thread technique, although
Southgate easily could have been reporting an appearance rather
than a reality.
In Armenia, the small city of Bitlis was a place of some commercial
consequence: "The bazaars are extensive, covered, and well
filled ... and the different parts of' the interior show some management
in the separate disposition of the various kinds of merchandize
and trades." (I, p. 221) The principal economic activity consisted
of dye establishments and the manufacture of cotton cloth. The situation
at Van was less robust: "The bazaars also are very small and
mean. There are but two khans [caravanserai] in the place, one of
which was occupied exclusively by Persian merchants, who reside
here as at Bitlis." (I, p. 269) The locale's leading product
was cotton cloth.
Southgate spent seven months in Tabriz, and described one of the
city's specific products: "In another part of the enclosure,
a company of workmen were engaged in the manufacture of shawls.
They were from Kerman and had been brought hither by Abbas Mirza
for this same purpose. The process was so difficult that they accomplished
only half an inch daily and six months, they said, were necessary
to complete a shawl of one and a half yards in length. They said
they had been brought from their native country against their will..."
(II, p. 6) Southgate here reveals a shawl source in Persia additional
to Kerman but linked to it.
The imports of Tabriz were "chintz, cotton, and woollens";
its exports were "the silks of Ghilian, the great silk country
of Persia", nut-galls of Kurdistan, Shiraz tobacco, yellow
berries for dyeing, and gums of various kinds. Textiles were among
the lesser exports: "Persian shawls are sent to Constantinople,
and a few carpets to Europe, where they are sold under the name
of Turkey carpets, because they are brought into Europe from that
country." (II, p. 12) Southgate is by no means the only European
traveller of the period to make this comment about carpet origins
versus carpet trade nomenclature.
He passed through the Persian town of Mianeh, famous for its rice
and its allegedly deadly bedbugs. He marked Kasvin as a place of
consequence ("best-looking town I had seen in Persia")
with a bazaar possibly larger than that of Tabriz. (II, p. 46) The
same commercial presence was also evident in Teheran: "Its
bazars are extensive and are roofed with tile, so as to present
a succession of small domes. They are filthy, however, and less
attractive, in every respect than those of Tabriz." (11, p.
70) Southgate's account of Teheran is very brief, a likely result
of his being sick with fever while there.
The Hamadan description, however, is more robust: "But its
bazars, its numerous caravanserais and the bustling throng which
fill them, gave it in our eyes importance and interest. The bazars
are extensive and well-furnished, and present unusual order in the
arrangement of the different crafts. Shoe makers, saddlers, blacksmiths,
silversmiths, and workers in cotton, occupy separate parts, as is
the custom in the bazars of Turkey." He noted both an extensive
trade and extensive manufacturing:
"The principal manufacture of the place itself is leather....There
is also a considerable manufacture of coarse carpets, besides woollens
and cotton stuffs." (II, p. 103/4) This comment puts carpet
manufacture in Hamadan city in 1839, for Southgate's diction involves
the terms mats, nummuds (felts), and carpets.
The dangers of evidence used to underwrite negative conclusions
in re carpet-making are underscored by this observation,
for Morier in Hamadan in 1811 noted only "nummuds"
as a city product. To infer from this -- as Research Report
once did -- an absence of carpets looks very untenable in light
of the Southgate comment. Also, Southgate has company. T. C. Armstrong
was in Hamadan ten years earlier, in 1829, and said about it: ".
. .this place being celebrated for the excellent manner in which
they dress and dye skins, [i.e., leather] and also for the manufacture
of various articles of iron, beautifully painted nummuds
of felt, carpets, etc." (2) The Armstrong account represents
the firm footing of independent corroboration. A much later Hamadan
resident, A. Cecil Edwards, evidently did not know the Southgate
and Armstrong observations: (3)
weaving in the town of Hamadan is a comparatively recent development.
There is no evidence that it ever existed before 1912; nor is
there any tradition (in a country where traditions persist) which
might lend support to a speculation that it might have existed
there in the past. Certainly when I first came to Hamadan in 1912
there was not a single loom in the town."
One moral here
is that conclusions about the absence of carpet weaving based on
anything other than a knowledgeable observer's negative comment
are unsound. Be it Edwards' inference in re the silence
of tradition, or Morier' s silence about carpets while mentioning
felts -- things unwitnessed are too soft to stake a position on.
Edwards on c. 1912 status is, of course, impeccable. Another lesson
in all this is that of the fact of discontinuity. Rug manufacture
is probably as much an on again, off again phenomenon as it is a
continuous one. Assumptions of gradual and unidirectional design
change, when seen in this light, are suspect.
Southgate also places carpet manufacture in Kermanshah: "The
city has some celebrity for the manufacture of carpets.. ."
(II, p. 137) Ferrier put village and nomadic carpet making here
at exactly the same time. There have been occasional doubts about
the existence of carpet-making in Kermanshah; for the first half
of the 19th century, at any rate, these seem unfounded.
Southgate follows the same bazaar, trade, manufacture rubric in
describing Baghdad. "....its bazars are small and inferior
in appearance... In point of trade it is chiefly a thoroughfare
for the traffic between Bagdad, Syria, and Constantinople. It has,
however, a considerable commercial intercourse with the interior
of Kurdistan....The principal manufactures of the city are napkins
and other cotton stuffs, such as chintz, shawls for turbans, and
calicos." (lI, p. 241)
The Southgate trip represents a significant tour through that area
where Persia, Turkey, and Transcaucasia converge. He visits most
of the urban places, and through his descriptions one acquires a
sense of their commerce. He places carpet manufacture in the towns
of Kermanshah and Hamadan, and shawls in Tabriz. All in all, he
presents a picture of what things were like before the great export
boom of shipments to the West in the century's last two decades.
Horatio, Narrative of a Tour Through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia
arid Mesopotamia, London, 1840, Vol. I, p. 118. Subsequent
Southgate page references are identified parenthetically.
T. C., Journal of Travels in the Seat of War, London, 1831,
A. Cecil, The Persian Carpet, 1953, p. 96.