Their carpets are praised and recognized around the world, but who are the their makers?
The Qashqai are Turkic peoples said to have once abandoned Anatolia and later settled in southwestern Iran. Now, and for nearly a millennium, they roam between the pastures in the Zagros mountains near Shiraz and their winter camps in the Persian Gulf.
Each year, with the coming of winter, the tribe and their flocks leave the mountains and tread their ancestral routes to reach the warmer plateaus near the seaside. The trying journey takes over a month; it covers nearly 500 miles, but this is their very way of life.
Their Turkic origins are evidenced in their language; the Qashqai speak a Turkic dialect which is foreign to the Fars, the indigenous peoples of the region. Their heritage and the Anatolian roots may be also seen in their arts: songs, dances; but nowhere are their origins more manifest than in their world -renowned tribal rugs.
Not only in fact do the Qashqai artists draw on motifs, bold geometric designs, borrowed from ancient Anatolian traditions, but in their weaving, they continue to use the so-called Ghiordes knot, a symmetrical knot named after a city in central Anatolia and used primarily in today’s Turkey.
The Qashqai live off their stock: they sell goat meat and goat’s milk; sheep’s wool and above all, their beautiful carpets. The latter are often referred to as Shiraz carpets as they are sold, mostly, at Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz city’s centre.
The Qashqai know their trade; the wool from the sheep raised in the highlands is luscious; their weaving skills are unparalleled.
Their carpets in staple designs, often triple-lozenge pole medallions, broach the tribal simplicity with designer quality elegance. As such they have been popular locally in Iran and beyond.
More often than other nomadic tribes, the Qashqai use zoomorphic (animal) imagery in their designs. This tradition may be rooted in the primeval times and the tribe’s shamanic past.
Qashqai carpets have been long known on the markets in Europe and the USA; but more recently, a more primitive and rougher nomadic rug has been gaining popularity among the interior designers and consumers alike: a gabbeh.
These often simplistic long-piled rugs have rarely meant to be sold and sold abroad to boot; they are made as utilitarian objects for the nomads; simple tent furnishings.
It is however the gabbeh that provides the Qashqai artists with a platform for unrestrained artistic expression. As such the gabbehs have become the diaries of the Qashqai nomadic life challenging the intricate and canonical designs of the more commercial Shiraz carpets with its primeval symbolism and personal accents.
‘Life is colour’, says a tent school teacher in the acclaimed 1996 Iranian film Gabbeh; and while the Shiraz carpets may seem consistently limited to but a few earthy and mainly dark colours, the gabbehs display an unlimited array of splendid tones reflective of the countryside along their journeys.
The modern Qashqai, nearly 400 000 of them; some settled,semi-nomads; and others still faithfully pursuing their ancient traditions, face many challenges. The Iranian regime perceives them as unassimilated and backward.
Progress continues to have an impact of their lifestyle; the newly built highways, for instance, often cross their ancestral routes forcing them thus, each year, to walk longer and further. The several economic embargoes imposed on Iran, indirectly, cut them off the international markets.
The Qashqai are nomads: their history and identity are reflected in the art of carpet weaving; Qashqai carpets are unique, recognizable and recognized worldwide.