Karabakh carpet is one of four major regional groups of carpets made in Armenia named after the Karabakh region, which comprises present Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent lowland territories ('lowland Karabakh').
Carpet-weaving was historically a traditional profession for the female population of Karabakh, including many Armenian families, though there were prominent Karabakh carpet weavers among men too. The oldest extant Armenian carpet from the region, referred to as Artsakh during the medieval period, is from the village of Banants (near Gandzak) and dates to the early thirteenth century. The first time that the Armenian word for pile carpet, gorg, was mentioned was in a 1242–43 Armenian inscription on the wall of the Kaptavan Church in Artsakh, whereas the Armenian word for "carpet" was first used in the fifth-century Armenian translation of the Bible.
Carpet-weaving in Karabakh especially developed in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the population of many areas in Karabakh was engaged in carpet-weaving, mainly for commercial sale purposes. At this time Shusha (Shushi) became the center of the Karabakh carpet-weaving.
Besides usual carpets, carpet bags and coverlets of different types were widely spread. These included pileless məfrəş (translit. mafrash, a trunk); xurcun (translit. khurdjun, a doubled travel bag); heybə (translit. heiba, travelling bag); çuval (transli. chuval, sacks for holding loose products); çul (chul, all kinds of coverlets); yəhər üstü (translit. yahar ustu, saddle cover) and other objects.
Art historian Hravard Hakobyan notes that "Artsakh carpets occupy a special place in the history of Armenian carpet-making." Common themes and patterns found on Armenian carpets were the depiction of dragons and eagles. They were diverse in style, rich in color and ornamental motifs, and were even separated in categories depending on what sort of animals were depicted on them, such as artsvagorgs (eagle-carpets), vishapagorgs (dragon-carpets) and otsagorgs (serpent-carpets). The rug mentioned in the Kaptavan inscription is composed of three arches, "covered with vegatative ornaments", and bears an artistic resemblance to the illuminated manuscripts produced in Artsakh.
That the art of carpet weaving was intimately tied to the making of curtains is indicated in a passage by Kirakos Gandzaketsi, a thirteenth-century Armenian historian from Artsakh, who praised Arzu-Khatun, the wife of regional prince Vakhtang Khachenatsi, and her daughters for their expertise and skill in weaving.
Armenian carpets were also widely praised by foreigners who traveled to Artsakh. The Arab geographer and historian Al-Masudi, for example, noted that, among other works of art, he had never seen such splendid carpets elsewhere in his life.
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Due to the specifics of the local sheep breeds the Karabakh carpets were known for their dense and fluffy pile. They distinguished from other Azerbaijan carpet schools by their artistic and technological ways of production and their size. These carpets are known for their vivid and flamboyant colors, symbolizing the nature of Karabakh. The ornaments widely utilize flower and vegetative motives made in geometrically symmetric manner.
The Karabakh carpets are also usually big in size, and have an oblong shape, because people in Karabakh have traditionally lived in big, oblong rooms and these carpets were placed in floors and walls not only for aesthetic but also to protect from winter freeze.
Another distinctive characteristic for the Karabakh carpet school is having three-five big carpet sets, so called "dasts". These sets (dasts) consist of a large central carpet, two side rugs and one head piece, all united in a single composition. In old times these carpet sets used to be the main articles of bride's dowry in both Azeri and Armenian families.
Some of the famous Karabakh carpets are presently kept in various museums of the world. A Karabakh silk carpet (zili) of the 16th or 17th century made in Barda is currently kept in Berlin in the Museum of Arts. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts holds a Shusha carpet of the 18th century. US Museum of Textiles possesses a Shusha carpet of the 18th century, called "Afshan", and the Metropolitan museum in New York has in its collection a Karabakh carpet of "Verni" group. The Ethnographic Museum in Munich also has in its possession an example of one of the renowned Armenian vishapagorgs.
- Hakobyan, Hravard H (1990). The Medieval Art of Artsakh. Yerevan: Parberakan. p. 84. ISBN 5-8079-0195-9.
- Hakobyan. Medieval Art of Artsakh, p. 84.
- (Armenian) Kirakos Gandzaketsi. Պատմություն Հայոց [History of Armenia]. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1961, p. 216, as cited in Hakobyan. Medieval Art of Artsakh, p. 84, note 18.
- Ulubabyan, Bagrat A. (1975). Խաչենի իշխանությունը, X-XVI դարերում [The Principality of Khachen, From the Tenth to Sixteenth Centuries] (in Armenian). Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences. p. 267.
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