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In Azerbaijan, Carpet Artisans Quietly Preserving Age-Old Traditions

In the ancient world, carpet commerce along the famed Silk Road was valued by weight like precious metals.

So it is no wonder that a nation at the physical and metaphorical threshold of East and West is taking carpets to the next level. Since traditional Azerbaijani carpet weaving was registered as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010, the practice has been enjoying renewed attention both from international consumers and the next generation of local artisans. Azerbaijan and its capital Baku are at the epicenter of the 21st century carpet renaissance.

From the shores of the Caspian Sea to the valleys and gorges of Shirvan and the borderlands of the Talysh Mountains, each of Azerbaijan’s ten regions has its indigenous weaving techniques and design elements. In fact, you can explore the country easily following the route of Azerkhalcha workshops where local artisans manage over 500 designs in production.

Centuries old techniques are still traditionally used by Azerbaijani carpet artisans.

Carpets symbolically outlive the epochs that produce them.

“Azerbaijani carpets are remarkable because they have absorbed the spiritual experience of the people which aestheticizes the idea of the Absolute. The ornament is a kind of visual language; all its elements are significant,” says Dr. Shirin Melikova, Director of the Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum.

Peacock, a symbol of fire, is widely featured across Azerbaijan’s traditional carpets. Courtesy of Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum.

Fast forward five hundred years to meet another contemporary (and more affordable) champion of Azerbaijan’s carpet weaving heritage. The CHELEBI home décor collective was born out of the 360-carpet room installation that impressed the Venice Biennale in 2013. Artist Farid Rasulov teamed up with Aida Mahmudova and Orkhan Huseynov to launch a brand of limited-edition handmade goods based on traditional Azeri techniques, including Chelebi weaving.

Art is seldom without controversy, so among the classic motifs for their products you may find aspects of Caucasus folklore such as bride kidnapping. Baku’s exclusive carpet shops and many souvenir markets offer a great variety of aesthetic choices from the minimalist to the lavish. Notably, the front row of Azerbaijan Fashion Week shows is always covered with beautiful carpets. Luxury is hand-woven into the cultural fabric of this land.

Recently the hashtag #TakeAnotherLook has been designated as a social media tool to encourage appreciation of this multifaceted mountainous culture. It looks like the world might be ready to re-discover the proud beauty of Azerbaijan, one carpet ride at a time.

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