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Armenian Carpet - A Tapestry of Culture and Tradition

Armenian carpets, celebrated for their intricate designs and cultural significance, are timeless masterpieces that encapsulate centuries of craftsmanship and artistic expression. With distinctive features woven using the Armenian double knot and vibrant red filaments derived from Armenian cochineal (Vordan Karmir), these carpets serve as cultural symbols and storytellers.

In Armenian, carpets are referred to as "karpet" (Armenian: կարպետ) or "gorg" (Armenian: գորգ). While both terms are synonymous, "karpet" is commonly used for non-pile rugs, and "gorg" denotes a pile carpet. The Armenian word "gorg" is first mentioned in written sources in the 13th century.

An Armenian woman is weaving a carpet! You can meet them during a working process when visiting Sardarapet Memorial Complex

The art of Armenian carpet and rug weaving traces its roots to ancient times. Unfortunately, due to the fragile nature of carpets, very few examples have survived. Marco Polo, in his accounts of Armenia, praised the rich traditions of Armenian carpet weaving, stating, "The best and handsomest carpets in the world are wrought here, and also silks of crimson and other rich colours." These rugs were woven using the Armenian double knot, and the red color resulted from Armenian cochineal (Vordan Karmir), a dye made from beetles native to Armenia. However, the technology for obtaining an everlasting red color from Vordan Karmir has been lost over the centuries.


Armenian carpets for sale in Yerevan Vernissage Market

Armenian rugs boast a bold color palette derived from nature—rich reds, blues, greens, ochres, and nuanced variations. Historically, carpet weaving was a major traditional profession for Armenian women, and in Karabakh, prominent carpet weavers included men. The oldest extant Armenian carpet, dating to the early 13th century, hails from the village of Banants near Gandzak.

The first time that the Armenian word for carpet, gorg, was used in historical sources was in a 1242-1243 Armenian inscription on the wall of the Kaptavan Church in Artsakh. 

The Pazyryk Carpet

Excavations in Armenia have revealed rug fragments dating back to the 7th century BC or earlier. However, complete rugs from this period are scarce. The oldest surviving knotted carpet is the Pazyryk carpet, discovered in a frozen tomb in Siberia, dating from the 5th to the 3rd century BC. It is currently housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Despite being claimed by various cultures, many experts consider this square tufted carpet, nearly perfectly intact, to be of Armenian origin.


By the Middle Ages, Armenia emerged as a significant carpet exporter, reaching distant places like China. In many medieval Chinese artworks, Armenian carpet designs were prominently featured, often depicting clear Christian crosses.

During the Genocide, numerous expert carpet weavers perished, precious carpets were stolen and thousands of Armenian children were orphaned. Some of these orphans ended up in northern Beirut, where Dr. Jacob Kuenzler, a Swiss missionary, established a rug factory. This facility aimed to teach young orphans, mainly girls, the art of rug weaving, providing them with skills for a sustainable future. Consequently, "orphan-rugs" were created for a brief period in this factory. The most famous among them, known as the Armenian Orphan rug, was presented to the White House in 1925 as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill toward the American people. Depicting a Biblical Garden of Eden with various animals and symbols, this rug measures 12 feet by 18 feet and boasts an impressive 4 million knots. It is said to have been crafted by 400 orphans over 18 months from 1924-1925.

 The 30th president of the United States Calvin Coolidge inspecting the Armenian Orphan Rug

President Coolidge graciously accepted the offering, expressing in a letter of appreciation that the rug would hold a place of honor in the White House as a daily symbol of goodwill on earth. The gift garnered nationwide media coverage at the time.


After Armenia came under Soviet rule, carpet making in the Caucasus and Central Asia underwent a transformation. The Soviet Union took a commercial approach, sponsoring production and shifting carpet making from a primarily home craft to a commercial enterprise. While rural areas maintained some family traditions, commercial carpet makers faced restrictions on religious themes. Armenian rug designs evolved during this period, with some portraying Communist leaders in "Soviet carpets."


Following the Soviet Union's collapse, carpet making persisted in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Private companies and home workshops saw a revival. Some weavers embraced the traditional approach, incorporating rug motifs from Armenian churches, manuscript art, and cross-stones. After the first Nagorno-Karabakh War, workshops were established to aid displaced Armenians in finding employment. Today, weavers in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh uphold the ancient methods, techniques, and designs, showcasing the resilience of Armenian carpet-making traditions despite the nation's tumultuous history.

 In conclusion, Armenian rugs stand as a unique and beautiful expression of culture and tradition. Rug weaving is integral to Armenian households, adorning walls, beds, tables, and floors. They highlight the skill and creativity of Armenian artisans, reflecting the country's rich cultural heritage. For those seeking a beautiful and sustainable addition to their homes, an Armenian rug is an excellent choice.


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