Turkmenistan: Carpets: Art and Symbolism

Ayna Bayramova. Contributor from Turkmenistan.

The house in the East begins where the carpet is laid, says Turkmen proverb. Rich heritage of carpet making of the Turkmen nation dates back to III and IV BC. [i]  The pottery discovered by archaeologists on the territory of Turkmenistan which dates back to III BC as well, preserved national ornaments identical to the patterns on the Turkmen carpets. Parthian carpets exported to Europe in III BC, along with Chinese silk were the main items of trade between East and West.[ii] Thirteenth century Italian traveler Marco Polo described Turkmen carpets as the thinnest and the most beautiful in the world. The images of Turkmen carpets are found in the paintings of Italian Renaissance masters such as Lippo Memmi “Madonna” (1350); Nicolo di Buanakorso “Betrothal of Mary” (1380); Lorenzo di Credi; fresco of Pistoyski Cathedral. After the rapprochement between Russia and Central Asia in the middle of the XIX century, Turkmen carpets filled in the palaces of the Russian aristocracy. They were especially loved by the Emperor Alexander II. Today, the best samples of carpets are exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg.[iii] A painting by Holbein “George Guise” depicts Teke “gel” which is now known in the art as “Holbein” pattern (1475). Turkmen gels (ornaments on carpets) are symbolic for the Turkmen nation. Each represents a unique pattern attributed to individual tribes and traditions of the depicting events and images in the ancient art of Turkmen. In 1914, art historian A. Felkerzam wrote that “ancient Turkmen carpets cannot be confused with any craftworks of other tribes or nations. Their unique ornaments and technique of carpet making are noticed from the first sight. One cannot precisely describe those ornaments or compare them by colors or with geometrical figures.”


The dominant color of Turkmen carpets is dark red; the carpets are made of wool, cotton and silk at home. The legend says that the ancestor of all Turkmen Oguz Han encrypted covenants to his sons in Turkmen gels.[v] Today, main ornament elements of Turkmen carpets are national symbols and decorate many architectural constructions of Ashgabat. Carpets from Beshyr, Teke, Chovdur, Yomud, Ersary and Salyr tribes will tell the history of the regions of Turkmenistan where they were made, about the nature and inhabitants, ancient totems and symbols related to religion and people. Each gel of Turkmen carpet is related to the local ethnic characteristics and is a complex image that embodies the myths and legends about the creation of the universe and a man and his relationship with the outside world.[vi]



There are three main groups of Turkmen carpets:

  1. Teke, Akhal-Teke, Pendi.
  2. Yomut, Choudour.
  3. Beshir, Kerki, Kizylayak.

The main differences between these groups are colors and patterns of the carpets.[viii] Teke carpets have large double octagons with the terraced frame. There are hexagonal shapes inside those octagons and special triangle on a small stick, which looks like a bird step. This is a symbol of a bird (gush). The hexagonal star is divided by the diagonal lines with a small diamond inside. This kind of “gaz ayak” (goose leg) can be found on ancient artifacts such as stones in north-west of Turkmenistan and Mangyshlak. Another symbol on Teke carpet is called “donuz burun” which means pig nose. Given Muslim traditions which are predominant in the region, it becomes clear this symbol in Turkmen carpets was created in the pre-Islamic era.[ix]


Akhal-Teke carpet with "Gushly-gel" design.[x]
Akhal-Teke carpet with “Gushly-gel” design. [x]


Choudour carpet with "Ortmen" design. [xi]
Choudour carpet with “Ortmen” design. [xi]

The salor gel is one of the most ancient and famous ones for its harmonious structure. It has the shape of octagonal star medallion surrounded by small triangular pyramids topped with extremely generalized image of a sheep head. The ornaments and design of salor gel are distinct due to its linear-circuit principle, different from the colorful plane compositions of Teke carpets and others.


Part of pendi carpet with salor gel in the middle. [xii]
Part of pendi carpet with salor gel in the middle. [xii]
Another popular gel is on Yomut carpets, so called “kepsa gel” and diamond gel called “dyrnak” (claws). Some of the Yomut gels include images of animals, such as camels, dogs and birds. Mostly, the images feature birds that exist in nature, such as sultan chicken and duck-headed duck on the carpets of Gasan-kuli. Another image already mentioned above is the head of a wild boar. Wild boars were depicted in heraldry of Sassanian kings and decorated their crown (II-III CE). But there is a Transcaspian and much more ancient image of a wild boar, which can be mentioned without the direct connection with the fanged boar, the symbol in carpet ornaments.[xiii] Yomud gel is a horizontally-elongated rhombic octagon with jagged edges. It is bright, colored in red and white. Sometimes the gel is composed of vertical elongated rectangles. In addition, there are horn-shaped protrusions on the contour or X-shaped medallions inside.[xiv]


 Yomut carpet with "Gunchaly pendi" design.  [xv]
Yomut carpet with “Gunchaly pendi” design.


Yomut carpet with "Gabsa-gul" design on a fawn background. [xvi]
Yomut carpet with “Gabsa-gul” design on a fawn background. [xvi]


Yomut carpet with "Dyrnak-gul" design. [xvii]
Yomut carpet with “Dyrnak-gul” design. [xvii]

Today Turkmen carpets are an essential part of the national heritage and their export is only allowed by special license. A Turkmen carpet is not only a beautiful piece of art; it is also a way to communicate historical development of the Turkmen nation through the patterns of Turkmen gels. To revive and preserve old traditions of Turkmen carpet weaving and to increase the glory of handmade Turkmen carpets, the Museum of Turkmen carpet was founded in Ashgabat by the Decree of the President of Turkmenistan dated on 20th of March 1993.[xviii] Turkmen carpets made according to the old traditions harmoniously fit in the houses of art lovers, as well as of the regular people who are willing to add a unique feature of the east into the decoration of their houses.




[i] Alfarabi Kazakhstan, Turkmen Carpets – National Symbol of Turkmenistan, http://alfarabinur.kz/interesnoe-v-arabskom/turkmenskie-kovry.html

[ii] Ethnography and Linguistics, The road of carpets, http://etnolingvistika.ru/doroga-kovrov.html

[iii] Turkmenistan Info, 2005 No.2, Carpet – the soul of Turkmen nation , http://www.turkmenistaninfo.ru/?page_id=6&type=article&elem_id=page_6/magazine_5/10&lang_id=ru

[iv] Turkmen.ru, Carpet making, http://turkmen.ru/node/18

[v] Ethno Ornaments, Antiques and Ornaments, Turkmen ornament, http://ethno-ornament.ru/туркменский-орнамент/

[vi] Info Abad, Carpets of Turkmenistan – soul and symbol, http://infoabad.com/vs-o-turkmenistane/kovry-turkmenistana-ego-dusha-i-simvol.html

[vii] Artyx.ru, Art of Central Asia, http://artyx.ru/books/item/f00/s00/z0000004/st010.shtml

[viii] Turkmens, Carpets, http://www.turkmens.com/Carpet.html

[ix] Ethnography and Linguistics, The road of carpets, http://etnolingvistika.ru/doroga-kovrov.html

[x] Turkmens, Carpets, http://www.turkmens.com/Carpet.html

[xi] Turkmens, Carpets, http://www.turkmens.com/Carpet.html

[xii] http://splesti.ru/books/item/f00/s00/z0000001/st017.shtml

[xiii] Ethnography and Linguistics, The road of carpets, http://etnolingvistika.ru/doroga-kovrov.html

[xiv] Nashe Isskustvo, Turkmen Carpets, http://www.nashe-iskusstvo.ru/page/turkmenskie-kovry

[xv] Turkmens, Carpets, http://www.turkmens.com/Carpet.html

[xvi] Turkmens, Carpets, http://www.turkmens.com/Carpet.html

[xvii] Turkmens, Carpets, http://www.turkmens.com/Carpet.html

[xviii] Turkmen Haly, http://www.turkmenhali.gov.tm/progress/museum/