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Questions About Caucasian Rugs and Persian Rugs

What are Caucasian Rugs?

Caucasian rugs are rugs that come from the countries that comprise the small region of the world called the Caucasus. This region is the birthplace of Caucasian rugs, the vast majority of which are made in the country of Azerbaijan.

The Caucasus is a mountainous region in southwestern Asia that was once part of the Persian Empire. In addition to Azerbaijan, the region also includes Georgia and Armenia. Bordered by Russia to the north, Iran and Turkey to the South, the Caspian Sea to the east, and the Black sea to the west, the Caucasus is generally regarded as the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia.

Historically, rugs from the country of Azerbaijan have been classified as Caucasian rugs because Azerbaijan is part of the Caucasus. This is inherently problematic though since greater than 95% of all Caucasian rugs are Azerbaijani in origin, not Georgian or Armenian. Similarly, this would be no different than referring to all French wine as European wine.

Square foot for square foot, the most valuable wool antique Oriental rugs are Azerbaijani Caucasian rugs and the auction records support this. (Click here for an example (click item/lot #3) of an Azerbaijani Star Kazak that sold at Christie's for a world record $284,560 USD.) Again, generally these rugs have been classified as Caucasian rugs, which they are, but I further classify them as Azerbaijani Caucasian rugs to note their Azerbaijani origins.

Antique Azerbaijani rugs are in The White House, The State Department, and every important museum in the world including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louvre, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Vatican, and The Hermitage. In fact, during the funeral of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, the Pope's coffin was laid in state directly on top of an Azerbaijani rug.

Moreover, the most sought after and valuable Persian rugs are in fact not even Persian in origin, they are Azerbaijani. Serapi, Tabriz, Heriz, and Bakhshaish, generally regarded as among the most important "Persian rugs," are regions/cities in Southern Azerbaijan (also called Iranian Azerbaijan), which is not the Persia/Iran most of us think of today; though still today these rugs are incorrectly classified by the rug community as "Northwest Persian."

Nowhere on any map is this region referred to as Northwest Persia; it is now and always has been, except within the rug community, called Southern Azerbaijan or Iranian Azerbaijan. The women who originally wove these carpets were Azeris, not Persians. And the women who weave our carpets today are also Azeri.

Today, Richard Rothstein & Co. is proud to be the first and only source in North America for new, authentic Oriental rugs from Azerbaijan.

Compared to the antiques, our rugs are woven in the same manner, with the same materials, the same methods, the same traditions, and in the same locations as the originals. Thus, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the great-great grandmother of one our weavers was the woman who wove the record-setting Star Kazak sold at Christie's.

What do the names of the rugs mean?

The different names of the rugs, Kazak, Shirvan, or Kuba, for example, correspond to the different areas within Azerbaijan.

Within each region there are often further classifications by city or style. For instance, Perepedil rugs come from the city of Perepedil, in the Kuba region of Azerbaijan, and thus are also classified as Kuba rugs.

Rugs from each region or city have their own characteristic designs, and in many cases structure. Similarly, this is no different than French wine; Champagne comes from Champagne, Burgundy from Burgundy, Bordeaux from Bordeaux, and so on, each having its own particular characteristics.

Do you have rugs from places other than the Caucasus, like India or Pakistan, for example?

Nearly all of our rugs come from Azerbaijan. A few of our rugs come from Turkey. However, none of our rugs come from Afghanistan, China, Egypt, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, or Tibet, which is where 99% of all new Oriental rugs are made yet is everywhere but where the originals were made.

Map of Azerbaijan. Map of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus region.

Are Caucasian rugs Oriental rugs?

Yes, Caucasian (Azerbaijan made) rugs have always been one of the three major groups of Oriental rugs. The other major groups are Anatolian rugs and Persian rugs.

Your rugs come from Azerbaijan, but you have Persian rugs on your Website? Please explain?

As mentioned above, the most valuable and sought-after Persian rugs are not Persian in origin. They are from an area rug scholars call Northwest Persia, but this region is officially known as Southern Azerbaijan or Iranian Azerbaijan. (The people who originally wove/created these rugs were Azeris not Persians; and the people living in the region today are predominantly Azeri, not Persian.)

Because the rug community in general still calls these rugs "Persian," we list them as such to facilitate people being able to find our rugs when searching online.

This is the first time I have ever heard of or seen Caucasian rugs. Why is that?

Because the majority of Oriental rugs sold today are of modern Persian design. The reason for this is not entirely simple, but generally speaking it is due in part to the following:

Persia has always been more affluent than the Caucasus (Azerbaijan), so they have always had larger homes. Larger homes mean larger rooms, and larger rooms mean larger rugs. (Rug size is determined by room size for a not-so-obvious reason; historically weaving was done in the home, many of our rugs are still made in our weaver's homes, and a large loom can only fit in a large room.)

Many people buy just one large rug per room, so there has always been a demand for both new and antique Persian rugs.

Back in the Caucasus and Azerbaijan, however, the relatively smaller homes and smaller rooms resulted in smaller-sized rugs. Again, large looms cannot fit in small rooms so for the most part there were never any large Azerbaijani Caucasian rugs, and certainly none as large as large Persian rugs. (Incidentally, today we are proud to be the first to offer new, authentic, room-size (Persian-sized!) Azerbaijani Caucasian rugs.)

Thus, the lack of room-size Azerbaijani Caucasian rugs, both new and antique, translated into less demand for Azerbaijani Caucasian rugs than for their Persian counterparts. And this was exacerbated by the fact that once the demand for Persian rugs was established in the west, large trading companies increased the production of Persian rugs with the sole intent of marketing them to the western masses, and in particular department stores. And these rugs were never marketed as Azerbaijani Persian rugs for several reasons. First, it was easier to identify them simply as "Persian Rugs." Second, in many cases they were not from Iranian/Persian Azerbaijan but from Persian proper. Third, the designs were no longer authentic Azerbaijani Persian designs; they were adapted designs created to satisfy so-called modern tastes.

By and large there is little to no similarity between the designs of Oriental rugs one sees in museums, auction houses, or books on Oriental rugs, and the rugs for sale today in stores selling new Oriental rugs. Yet this was precisely one of the reasons I started this business. At auctions, collectors fight over Eagle Kazaks and Serapis, for example, but if you enter any new rug store in America there are no new Eagle Kazaks or Serapis for sale. And if by chance they do sell them they are likely from Pakistan or India or some far off place that never made these rugs to begin with, and it shows.

How do I decorate with Caucasian rugs? Formal or informal?

Any way you wish. Caucasian rugs and Persian rugs fit in well in all surroundings. In many cases, the same rug that works in a formal living room, will also work in a family room, bedroom, den, kitchen, or even a children's room.

In his book "Caucasian Rugs," to many the authoritative text on Caucasian rugs (remember, 90% of all Caucasian rugs come from Azerbaijan) author and rug scholar Ulrich Schurmann states:

"Caucasian carpets enjoy universal popularity. And justifiably so. Their harmony of colour, their fineness, and robust geometrical designs appeal to our western taste. The austere, well-balanced arrangement of the pattern not only blends admirably with modern furnishings, but also accentuates the character of antique furniture. Above all, however, it is the richness and clarity of the colours which delight the eye, and the infinite variations of design which repeatedly lead us to new discoveries in them."

Richard and weavers in Azerbaijan sitting of very large Serapi rug.
Richard and weavers in Azerbaijan sitting on a custom 20 x 22 ft Serapi.

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