Afghan war rugs – where are the red rugs?

Turkman Afghani Red War Rug

While on the topic of Afghanistan, here are some examples of Afghani war rugs. Production of these pictorial rugs began in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and persisted throughout the civil war and into the US invasion. Woven by men, the rugs depicted the dominant reality of the time—battle, maps, weaponry, helicopters, tanks. The rug above, for example, features grenades, helicopters, and semi-automatic weapons. The red rugs shown here were woven by Turkmen men in refugee camps in Pakistan, and tended to feature weapons arrayed against a red background. To read more about the history of Afghani war rugs see the Textile Museum of Canada site,  the Smithsonian, and this commercial blog which provides many beautiful images. The video at bottom is a good introduction.

Turkman Afghani Red War Rug

Turkman Afghani Red War Rug

Red War Rug, Turkman, Afghanistan

A fascinating post from the blog mentioned above is quoted below. It gives some idea of the upheaval that gave rise to these rugs, and it also provides an interesting glimpse into the way political and economic realities exert influence on what is often thought to be a purely aesthetic realm. It’s interesting that the red rugs were woven not by professional rug weavers but by men from other professions who somehow managed to produce these beautiful objects as a way of making some money while they bided their time in camps:

Where are all the red rugs?

Red Rugs were woven by refugees, primarily Turkmen, in Pakistan during the 1990s. Since the US forced the Taliban from power in 2001 Turkmen refugees have been returning en masse to their traditional homes in Afghanistan, largely because ISAF offers them sufficient protection from the Taliban ethnic cleansing which drove many families to Pakistan during the 1990s.

The effects of the Turkmen weavers returning to their homes in Afghanistan is, primarily, two fold. First, as refugees, if one was an engineer, one wove carpets. If one was a doctor, one wove carpets. Now the doctors and engineers are returning to their professions, so there are fewer weavers available to weave any type of rug. Secondly, many Turkmen weavers who wove Red Rugs in Pakistan are now weaving traditional designs or new variations of traditional designs (Khul Mohammadi mostly).

Much of the Pakistan production has moved to Afghanistan (Khul Mohammadi, Kazak, Vegetable Dye ‘Peshawar’) with the returning weavers, but not Red Rugs. I have not seen any Red Rugs produced in Afghanistan since 2001…

Lastly, this elimination of a design is not unique to Red Rugs, yet it continues to surprise me. Almost every war rug “pattern” has its moment of production, which then fades or stops. What is freely available one year, is totally unavailable the next year. Soviet Exodus rugs are one example and WTC rugs to a lesser degree.

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2 Responses to “Afghan war rugs – where are the red rugs?”

  1. Eva Says:

    It is a good sign if they disappear, isn’t it? Great documents, but painful to look at.

  2. Juli Says:

    UGH! I wish we didn’t miss the afghan war rug exhibit at the Textile Museum! Lazy lazy lazy. Regretful. Such an interesting political/historical take on the colourful intricate afghan run (we have a regular on in red and black and we love it). It’s such an art statement, beyond just function.

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