Afghan refugee rugmakers in 1985 National Geographic magazine



At a local charity bookfair this weekend I found a copy of the June 1985 National Geographic magazine featuring the famous cover of the Afghan girl Sharbat Gula.

Debra Denker’s article, “Along Afghanistan’s War-torn Frontier”, is available online, but without the photographs by Steve McCurry, taken in 1984.

We’ve reproduced the images and captions below:


Carpet merchants, Turkoman refugees from Afghanistan’s north parade their wares along the stalls of Peshawar’s Qisssa Khawani Bazaar, the famed “storytellers’ bazaar”. Lacking stalls of their own, the Turkomans keep moving to find their customers. Many of the Turkomans have returned to join their fellows in the mujahideen, becoming some of the more fierce warriors and battle-smart commanders. Others prefer to remain in Pakistan, pursuing their skills as carpetmakers, the trade of their ancestors.”


“At Swabi refugee camp near Mardan wool is dyed and dried. Thereafter a carpet begins to take shape on a loom.”


“Carpetmaking is a family affair, with everybody participating around the horizontal loom. It can take three months to make a wool rug, a little longer for one of silk. The majority of the carpets are for prayer, but some larger ones are made for use in homes. Thousands of Turkoman refugees equal thousands of carpets – in addition to those locally produced. The Pakistani weavers feel they are being hurt by Turkomans, who pay no taxes and no shop rents, selling their wares in the markets.”

Given women’s traditional involvement in weaving, it’s interesting that the “everybody” around the loom includes only men. This may be a function of the difficulty of photographing Afghan women that McCurry describes in “Arms Against Fury: Magnum Photographers in Afghanistan” at page 131:

“You could never meet your best friend’s wife, or even his sister. He could be your best friend, and you would never meet his wife. There was always a separate room in the house for guests, ad I was never in contact on any level with the women. If you saw a woman in the village, she would be working or caring for the children. You were allowed a single glance … There was no chance to take photographs. You could photograph a young girl running around playing with her friends in the village, but there was never any contact at all with adolescent and adult women. Just none.”

Arms Against Fury is available online, but there is no direct link – from here, click on “books”.

Steve McCurry also has a web page which includes an Afghanistan gallery.

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