“Mike” Tschebull on Kazaks

On November 22, 2014, Raoul “Mike” Tschebull,


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at The Textile Museum, on Kazaks, which most readers will know are rugs and textiles from the southwest part of the Caucasus.  Mike provided a summary of the type from this weaving area as Turkic tradition, high pile, symmetrical knots, often red wefts and red selvedges. Sometimes they have blue wefts and blue selvedges. There are also a rare few with undyed wefts.

Mike is a collector, textile scholar, and a long-time figure in the rug and other textiles world.  Perhaps his best-known work is a catalog he wrote in 1971 entitled “Kazak.”


Mike has done some important translating work, for example, in 1981, he translated, from the German, the still-valuable and used “Turkoman Tribal Rugs” by Werner Loges.  More recently, his important work includes that on an on-line exhibition by the New England Rug Society entitled “To Have and To Hold,” about various kinds of tribal bags.  http://ne-rugsociety.org/gallery/bags/index.htm

He has written for Halı, from its inception, and referred to an article he had written for Vol 1, No. 3, 1978, pp 257-261, “The Development of Four Kazak Designs.”

In it he said that there are four Kazak design groups, indicated by the literature, using “inappropriate, but understandable, trade names.”  They are:

  • Karachov
  • Single medallion, or cruciform, or “keyhole” design
  • Triple medallion
  • Lori Pambak, or what Ralph Yohe called “bug rugs.”

To these he added, for this talk:

  • Double medallion, like plate 28 in Kazak.

Mike said that some academics seem to look down a bit on “collectors,” saying that they sometimes “have little knowledge.”  He says now, rather than being a “rug collector” that he is a “student of animal fiber ethnographic textiles from the Middle East.”  🙂

Mike began with a piece from the single medallion, cruciform or “keyhole,” design group.



Mike said this rug is similar to half a dozen old Turkish rugs at the TIEM in Istanbul.  Kazaks like this are sometimes attributed to an area near Lake Sewan in the western Caucasus, but there is no supporting evidence.  We do not really know where they were made, other than generally in the southwestern Caucasus.

Walter Denny suggests the design evolved from the “Bellini” design.  The design was stylized, altered and reversed in village weaving in Turkey.  It made its way into the southwest Caucasus by the 19th century.

Mike uses the term “old,” as this piece is, for “pre-boom” rugs, generally woven before about 1865, when synthetic dyes started to be used.

The rug is in unworn condition, which is unusual.  This type is characterized by blue selvedges, blue wefts, and 3 madder “reds”: (1) a dominant warm red field,


(2) salmon in border, (3) aubergine in some highlights. 



The border has a relatively un-corroded black-brown.  There is long pile.

There is a fairly large number of published pieces like this.

There is a very similar piece in the Keshishian catalog “Treasures of Caucasus”, and one in Hermann, SOT VII, that have the same drawing error in the border that this one has. Conventionally, the small white hooked devices have the center stem pointing in and the curving hooks on the outside (see the orientation of the white device in the side border above). The ivory brackets in the end borders are reversed from the norm in all three (see images above and below).



The next rug had the Lori Pambak design.  Alleged to have been woven in a village, Lori, in the north of the Armenian Khanate (this area was occupied by Kurds and Azaris before the latter part of the 19th century).  Unlikely to know for sure; no fieldwork.



The design seems to be based on early embroideries, altered to reflect an “animal style” of drawing.

Fine knotting, long pile, also 3 madder reds as in M1: (1) field red, with (2) a rose, and (3) an aubergine in the border.



It is complete except for very top and bottom end “barber pole” borders.





This design evolved by 1900 into a much starker, reduced, simplified version in fairly large quantities. Some with Armenian inscriptions occur, and some Lori Pambaks have been chemically washed. Mike said that he has been told that some old Kazaks were also sheared, so, many, especially early rugs, may have had quite long pile.

The next rug had a “prayer format,”



 John Howe: This piece has an aesthetic feature that an old Persian dealer pointed out to me. Notice that the white-ground, niched area does not touch the main borders, as those on Caucasian niche designs often do. This feature is aesthetically superior to those that touch, since it makes the white, niched area seem to “float” on the surrounding red field. It gives the illusion of a three-dimensional design.

Mike said that M3 is, likely, post-1865 but with no synthetics, and probably from the same general area as M2. The regional attribution of Lori Pambak is a name that has stuck, but not verifiable, and there is no Russian fieldwork to help. The northern part of the Armenian Khanate was mostly Kurds, but was this Kurd? Armenian? No one can really say.

Here are some detail images of M3.





There was a question from the floor about the type-names for Caucasian rugs used by Ulrich Schurmann. Mike said that these were Armenian dealer names, hearsay, from the region. Maybe they knew. Some, said to be among Schurmann’s sources, say that he got what they told him wrong.

The next Kazak piece was this salt Bag.



Whether this is from the Kazak area is not known. It may be Armenian, based on other similar bags with Armenian inscriptions.  Supposedly such products are from an area called “Mountain Qarabagh.” Mike said that this piece is the best of this type he has seen. These are generally without an original back, but this this piece has one. The center bordered line on the pile side makes one wonder whether this piece is constructed, but it is not.


M3Salt bag --back1

Part of its neck is rewoven. Such pieces were not in the western market until after the collapse of the Soviet Union c. 1990. Mike said that it is puzzling why someone would make a pile salt bag – not the better economical choice vs. flat-woven ones.

Here are some details of M4.




The next two pieces had the look of “mafrash” cargo bag sides. 





But Mike observed that these people (those who wove pieces we call “Kazak,”) probably did not use square mafrash bedding bags.  They were settled villagers who did not need cargo bags in a tent setting.  They would have simply piled bedding around the sides of rooms. (There is some evidence that settled weavers sometimes retained some seemingly unneeded practices from their nomadic days.)

Another indicator that these pieces may not have been mafrash side panels is that one does not find end panels that are pile woven.  Most full bedding bags have no borders around all sides of a given panel, but rather exhibit horizontal design rows that continue entirely around the bag on both side and end panels. 

It is true that some flat-woven side panels show borders all around.

But in complete mafrashes, with this feature, it appears that it is usual for both end panels and the back side panel to be plain woven without design.

Going back to M5 and M6,





Mike said that such panels seem not to have been widely made in pile for commercial sale. They are very uncommon. We simply have no answer about whether these pieces are mafrash bag side panels or what.

Let’s look at these two pieces more closely, one at a time.



M5 features three eight-pointed stars on a red ground. The white-ground, reciprocal border probably went all the way around. Its color contrast and simple graphics are powerful — maybe an old piece.

Here are some detail images of M5.






Mike’s panel, below, has three, hooked, ‘flower” medallions, on a field of varying green, and a white ground border with stars in, at least, four colors.



It is in such good shape that Mike made sure it was not a reproduction. The small white panel with what seems to be a date is illegible squiggles forward, backward, up or down. Mike said, regarding buying old pieces in good condition, “I try to say to myself, who is trying to fool me and how are they trying to do it?”

Details of M6.








Mike said that the next piece is properly called a “stepped medallion”



(not the typical misnomer of double-ended prayer rug).

Mike wrote about this piece in a recent issue of Halı (181), saying that he thinks its crudely drawn date is 1223 (1808)


is more plausible than many we see because of the use, here, of ten colors, three red dyes including aubergine and two yellows.  He argues that the use of more colors, and particular ones, suggest more time and care, and that tends to justify a sense that the interwoven date is correct. 

The Russians had come in by this time, had begun to stimulate production, and pieces went into Russia. This one evidently came back out again.

The style is from the western Transcaucasus, said to be from the region of a village called Fachralo near Genji.  Mike said that this piece could be from as far west as Kars,

Here are some details of M7.








The next rug is a Kazak from the Southwest Caucasus.



It came from a repairman’s table.  The outside guard borders on the sides had already been cut off.  Parviz Tanovoli had them rewoven in Iran.

It has a unusual borders and an unusual field design, a stack of three stepped rhomboid medallions that are probably derived from slit tapestry designs, surrounded by a running outline of curving hooks or horns like something from felt design – or perhaps even Turkish kilims, which, in turn, may have taken motifs from felts. Dating is probably 19th century.

Here are some details of M8.






The designs in the next piece are possibly related to those in M8.  This is a Dagestan mosaic felt, with typical curves and white, rolling stitch outlining.



It is an example of curved designs that may have influenced some rug designs like the curving hook outlines in #8.

It is new — about 10 years.

The next piece was a long rug.  Mike said that we don’t know where it was woven.


H10 yellow field & botehs

Its colors, rarity and overall impression suggest that it is old.  His contact in the Caucasus says that it’s Kazak.

It has red selvedges, red wefts, and no end finish at the bottom.

(H10 top end)


(H10 bottom end)



There are some rugs like this with a red field, but, Mike said, those with a yellow ground are rare.  He knows of only one other.  It sold in a European auction in the 1970s.


 Here are some additional details of M10.







The next piece was a Kazak kilim.



Age unknowable. Consistent good color saturation; clearly not used; hidden away. Karakonlü. There are also bags with this design.

Details of M11.







Mike said that the next piece was a try at a Star Kazak.  It was attributed to the Bordjalu Valley area in Georgia.  Probably “old.”  Pre-1865.  No aubergine, but lots of yellow and green.  Long pile, unworn.



These long pile pieces are like Turkish yatak bedding rugs. Probably how most early Kazak pieces were also used.

Details of M12.









 Members of the audience had brought some pieces in and we dealt with them next.

The first piece, below, is attributed to Nagorno-Karabakh.




It is typical of that area, possibly of Armenian weave, with a stack of seven multilayer hooked diamonds.

(Color difference due to lighting and different cameras)

M11aNagorno Karabakh JM

Here are some details of M13.






The rug below is attributed to Bordjalu Valley area in Georgia.  Full pile … Kazak … heavy red wefts, high quality wool, no wear. 

Its design is rough, wonky, and includes an attempt at a Lesghi star with hints of Karachopf.

Owner says this was purchased from prominent Jewish dealer in Cairo about 55 years ago; he called it Karabagh.


M12comprehensiveKarabakh  Lesghi star

Mike said that this is a try at a star Kazak, probably “old:” pre-1865. 

One reads, sometimes, that the Lesghi star, as seen here,

M12comprehensiveKarabakh  Lesghi starstaronly

is a design device that, some suggest, has emerged fairly recently, and is the product of simple rotation and reflection of a single smaller component.  Despite its claimed recency, and possible mechanical mode of creation, Mike’s indication (and there are others) suggests that the “Lesghi Star” may be older than some think, and has its origin in “zili” weaves.




The next rug featured 3 1/2 stacked, Turkic medallions: also attributed to Nagorno-Karabakh.



The very white outlines in the medallions may well have been bleached to enhance white natural wool.


There are brown wefts in many of this type.

Here are some additional detail images of M15.






The next piece was a pile mafrash side panel from “somewhere in Iran.”



Mike said that it was probably not Caucasian, “a good piece to stump people.”


Wendel Swan said from the audience that this piece is definitely Persian, but that the 6-lobed blossoms are unusual. 


The use of 8-lobed blossoms, stars and other motifs is more common in Turkic weaving.

The next piece was a pile bag face with little crosses in diagonal rows on a dark blue field, ivory border and running back-to-back C-hook elements.



The suggestion in the room was that it is southwest Iran, perhaps Fars.



The next piece was the khojin face below.  It was attributed to east Azerbaijan.


M13Azerbaijan bag face

Someone from the audience asked for comment about possible a Shahsavan attribution, since this cruciform design device is often used in flat-woven pieces attributed to them. 

Mike said that pile bags, would be too heavy and too uneconomical to be actually woven for use. Mike said that nomads wove little pile work.  It was too expensive in time and materials. and pieces for their own use are made while they must keep moving. Pile was probably woven by the settled relatives for sale. So the differentiation is between nomadic flat woven pieces and settled pile pieces.

He added that the Shahsavan term is broadly used and unspecific.





The next piece was a long rug, attributed to the eastern Caucasus and said to be typical of the Shirvan area.


M14Shirvan w botehs left

It has brown and ivory wefts and original white cotton selvedges (some dyed blue in a few areas).  Unusually long pile: has not been on the floor much.  Good vegetable dyes.

M14Shirvan w botehs right

Botehs arrived in the Caucasus from Kashmir textiles.


The woven-in date 1329? about AD 1912, seems about right.

M14Shirvan w botehs detail2

More details on M19.




The next piece was the Kazak rug, below.  It has a field design based on the Georgian (Christian) cross.


M15Georgian crosses

Trefoil border that looks archaic.  Good vegetable dyes.

The woven date is 1319, so AD 1900 seems about right.


Bob Chenciner says this field motif is, originally, of Celtic origin.


Mike said that it also harkens to felt border designs and mosaics. 

The rug, above, has a milder palette than a more colorful, larger rug, with this field, in Schurmann. 

Barbara Kaslow, who was in the audience, at this RTAM, had an image on her smart phone of a rug of hers with very similar designs and a coloration closer to Schurmann’s example.

(Barbara Kaslow’s rug)

Barbara Kaslow Bordjalou Kazak

Mike said that Rosalie Rudnik has a horse cover with the same main border.

The last piece of the day was this, end of the 19th century, Kazak.



Red weft, replaced selvedges.  Mike said it was later (longer format as knotting got denser, pile shorter). 

Erroneously called either a “leaf & calyx” or a “wineglass” border (actually half of a entirely geometric pattern).


Some purple and a green.  Very light, possibly bleached, wool in border.


Probably for the western export market.

Mike answered questions and brought his session to a close.


The migration and conversations began.




















I hope you have enjoyed this authoritative look at Kazaks.


R. John Howe

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