Stories of Armenian carpets from Shushi
More than a hundred exhibits of the Shushi Carpet Museum have been exhibited in Yerevan for several months. Each carpet tells a story with the help of symbolic patterns.
The city of Shushi [Shusha in Azerbaijaini] came under the control of Azerbaijan following the second Karabakh war. It has always been considered the cultural center of Nagorno-Karabakh. Here, in five museums and exhibition halls, thousands of works of art have been exhibited in recent decades.
But the carpet museum is the only one that managed to have at least a portion of its exhibits evacuated during the war.
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The founder of the Shushi Carpet Museum Vardan Astsatryan tells about all the exhibits to each visitor of the exhibition in Yerevan.
“The carpets, of course, are very beautiful, but it is important for me that every visitor not only sees their beauty, but also gets to know the meaning and content that are summarized in them. These are man-made chronicles of the history of Artsakh, our history. We have lost our homeland, and I want to preserve these stories so that we do not lose our culture and memory as well,” he says.
The museum contains carpets from all regions of Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, the founder of the museum found some of them somewhere abroad, where their owners, immigrants from NK, left.
“For me, a prerequisite for buying a carpet is meeting with the family to which it belonged. This is necessary in order to learn not only the history of the carpet, but also the history of the family. I believe that it is important to know the exact place of creation of each work,” says Vardan Astsatryan.
The idea to create a carpet museum was born after the first Karabakh war – in the 90s, but it came true only in 2011:
“In Soviet times, it often happened that Azerbaijanis went to villages and bought carpets from Armenians. Everyone knew about it. Sometimes this was done through Armenian traders. Artsakh left priceless treasures, erasing the most important episodes of history.
In order to save the cultural heritage of his homeland, from a young age he went to the villages and collected these carpets. Almost 20 years after the start of the search, they managed to exhibit them under one roof – in the Carpet Museum.
“There were almost 300 exhibits in the museum. During the war, on October 31, with great difficulty, it was possible to evacuate part of the carpets – about half. Then we did not know that Shushi would fall, but I already had a presentiment of a catastrophe and decided to save what I could. There were two soldiers at the entrance to the museum, they helped me to take out the carpets. The carpets left Shushi, but the soldiers did not, ”recalls Astsatryan.
Some of the works exhibited in Yerevan are woven based on biblical motives.
They depict the first man created by God, the first woman, the tree of life, the fruit of which became the reason for their expulsion from paradise.
There is also a carpet, which depicts the steps to hell and scorpions protecting the gates to hell.
And the exhibit “Day and Night” tells about the Silk Road, which also passed through the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“There are a lot of symbolism and mythical episodes in Armenian and, in particular, Artsakh carpets. For example, there are a lot of works with patterns depicting bees. And the bee is a symbol of the Mother of God, a symbol of respect for the mother in Armenian families, a special attitude towards them, ”says Vardan Astsatryan.
The masters put a symbolic load into their works, but created them for practical use. It was customary to collect dowry for girls in carpets; salt was kept in special bags called “aghaksak”. And during travels, all the necessary things were packed in tote bags – khurjins.
Among the exhibits you can also find carpets consisting of two parts. At one time, they were divided into pieces, which were reunited in the museum. Astsatryan explains that sometimes poor families would divide the carpets into a dowry for several daughters.
“There was such a case with one of the split carpets. When I found one part, I asked the family where the other was. They said that my great-grandmother’s sister was in a neighboring village. I followed her. It turned out that they had arrived from Yerevan just the day before and bought a carpet.
I’ve been looking for the second part for over a year. It turned out she was sold to a collector from Sweden. I convinced the owners to tell me the price and paid more just to get the second part. So, a year later, the halves of the carpet found each other, ”says the founder of the museum.
He claims that there are crosses on all carpets woven by Armenian craftsmen, even if you don’t notice them at first glance.
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In Yerevan, the carpets will be exhibited until the interest of visitors fades away, but Vardan Astsatryan has no doubts that someday they will return home:
“I do not hope to return to Shushi, I intend to return to Shushi.”
He concludes the show with a work adorned with stars:
“The colors of this carpet tell us that dawn comes after the darkest night.”