AFGHAN CARPETS IN AUSTRALIA
I am proud to be a very small cog in the wheel of the production and distribution of Afghan carpets in Australia. Those who love beautiful rugs and kilims are familiar with the great names of Afghanistan - among them the several Afghan Turkoman types, and the Beluch and Beluchi-style rugs of North-western Afghanistan - whose best examples are so highly prized the world over.
A sadder fact the world is familiar with is the huge scale of fighting, destruction and social upheavals suffered by the Afghan people since 1979, when my country was invaded. However, in spite of the wars, the Taliban oppression and the internal power plays, production of Afghan carpets has - by a miracle - continued.
The tragic death or the migration of many traditional weavers has of course slowed production. Shortages of wool due to the depletion of stocks through drought, slaughter for food or enemy incursions, have likewise slowed the production of carpets.
But the Afghan people are strong, and cling to their traditions. Many traditional and newly trained weavers have maintained their craft and have adapted their designs and techniques. They continue to produce rugs both inside and outside the country.
It is the hope of all Afghans that since the fine traditions, beauty and quality of Afghan traditional rugs have not been lost, their production and reputation continues to grow.
I come from the area in the North of Afghanistan near the Russian border, called Balkh Province. My village is near Mazar-i-Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan.
Feeding the pigeons in the square,
Mazar-i-Sharif. (+) View larger image
At Mazar-i-Sharif you can find the most venerated shrine in the country, the mausoleum of Hazarit Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet. It was rebuilt in the 15th century, after its destruction by Genghis Khan in the 1300s. Shi'a Muslims worship at this shrine and the beautiful blue and green mosque nearby.
I was born into this faith, a member of the Hazara tribe. Most of the Hazara people live in the mountainous area of central Afghanistan, known as the Hazarajat. They are believed to be descended from Mongol Tartar regiments brought into the country from the north by Genghis Khan. My people are essentially farmers, owning small numbers of animals. I worked as a shepherd boy when I was very young. The sheep native to the Hazarajat are the Hazaragi breed, with very fine, soft wool suitable for making cloth and weaving domestic kilims. These are flat-woven pieces with no texture or pile, used as small carpets, wall decorations or storage bags. In some regions the kilim has a design; in others it has lateral bands of colour. It can be embroidered or plain, dyed or undyed. There are three main centres of commercial production of Hazaragi kilims: Sari-Pul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Behsud.
The earliest rugs (woven pieces with pile) in our region of Northern and Central Afghanistan were probably made by the Turkomans. These people have been in Afghanistan for centuries, although some thousands came as refugees from the Soviet Union around the 1920s, to escape the Bolshevik suppression of Soviet Turkistan. Hazara people adopted weaving styles from ancient Turkoman people, establishing a long Hazara tradition of kilim weaving, but having no tradition of rug weaving.
APPRENTICE TO A MASTER
However, in the late 1920s, a Hazara named Haji Mohammed Ali Rahmati studied rug-making at the Polytechnic in Kabul and later introduced the skills to our people, for the first time. My own teacher, Najaf Ali Afshari, himself learned from this great master. I was apprenticed to Afshari at 12 years of age. I was fortunate to train with him for 10 years, gaining expertise in weaving, repairing and dyeing, so I was the direct beneficiary of the knowledge of some highly renowned rug makers in my part of Afghanistan.
TRAGEDIES AND MIRACLES
Despite the invasions of Afghanistan and the chaos caused by war (my mother and I were both injured, and male members of my family were killed by rockets), and despite the restrictions imposed by the Taliban, kilim and rug production in Afghanistan has managed to stay alive. In my area, family and commercial production, little by little, is becoming stronger. This is a miracle. It is my dream to help my people - the Hazara - who have established themselves as creative, talented and very competent weavers, to develop their skills further. I dream of helping my people establish productive and famed rug-making centres. To be able to help them, I must first make a success of my own rug business, thousands of kilometres away in my new home in Melbourne, Australia.
BEAUTIFUL, USEFUL OBJECTS
I am so happy to try to do this, because I love the rug business. I am dealing in beautiful - and useful - objects, so it is a pleasure to present them to people. To me, these are miracles: that I have been able to learn my trade, even in troubled times, and am still learning it; that I have reached these shores, where I can practise it; and that I have been accepted as a permanent resident of this great country. May our Afghan rug industry continue to flourish, to bring pleasure to people throughout the world.
So - miracles do happen!
Najaf Ali Mazari