Archive for the ‘Translation of texts in War Rugs’ Category

Gower Collection: cityscape

July 18, 2004


Graham Gower contributes another image from his collection, (the first, collected in 2001) which he describes as:

A Baluch war rug depicting a town scene. Again the weaver has presented the viewer with a schematic townscape, plus a crude interpretation of Russian writing seen on military vehicles. The centre part of the rug seems to depict a military compound. Not to be left out is the ‘Tree of Life’ design, symbolic in the time of war. Late 1990s, size 4ft 9inches x 2ft 11 inches.


Thank you Graham. The top-to-bottom symmetry of this rug is a very elegant convention to show the same image as you approach the rug from either direction. Can anyone contribute a similar image? Is the text translatable?

Which way is up?

June 14, 2004


Graham Gower says:

The secret of this rug is in the writing, yet to be translated. A visually active rug of good quality. What the design seems to be is an abstraction of weaponry, appearing to be based around an artillery gun which dominates the field of the rug. Along the border runs a series of tanks and armoured vehicles, well detailed in the weaving. Size 5ft. x 2ft. 9inches. (see Lebensbaum und Kalaschnikow, page 73, Rug 18).

Nigel comments: when I rotated this image I discovered the analogue to the “pointed peak” frame we see in the “Portrait” image…


Updated to add: more posts discussing the “pointed peak” are here.

Symbols of Victory

June 14, 2004


Graham Gower comments:

A large ‘Victory’ rug. The central panel shows the Victory Arch at Paghman, built following the British withdrawal in the early 1920s. This can be seen to the left of the large building, function uncertain. The text is purported to say ‘we beat the English, we beat the Russians’. The border design include the emblem later incorporated into the national flag. This rug shows wear and was probably woven and used for domestic use until finding its way to the export market. Dated to around 1990. Size 4ft. 7inches x 2ft. 8 inches.

See also Lebensbaum und Kalaschnikow, Rug 30 at page 91.

arug18a 1.jpg

arug18b 1.jpg

Nigel comments: congratulations Graham! Tracking the significance of the architectural details of this wonderfully detailed and elaborate rug is a great contribution to our knowledge. Anyone care to verify the translation of the inscription?

Leyli and Majnun – but does this also represent contemporary figures?

June 13, 2004


Mr Rezwani and Michael Fletcher of Babak’s Oriental Carpets in Canada have sent this image – one which raises many questions. Is it a portrait? Of whom? Does the text answer the question? How does the text translate? What political position does the rug take, especially given the posed opposition of the military and buddhist figures? Has anyone seen a peaked frame like this? And what is the red object at upper center? A challenge to all visitors…

Nasser Palangi, a local artist from Iran, translates the text on the left as: “Barekat” which may be the makers signature or a form of blessing, and “Asheghan-e-karevan” which is a reference to those who follow the nomadic life.

Whether or not it’s a portrait, It’s certainly can’t be pro-Taliban (given their ban on figurative representations, and their anti-buddhist acts) So what is it saying, visually? Is it a parable of good and evil, with contemporary allusions?

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This appears to be the same “peaked frame” motif or pointed mehrab? (this detail drawn from Graham’s latest contribution). Can anyone explain the origins of this form?


Updated to add – the mystery is solved with the help of Hossein Valamanesh.

The Devil is in the detail

June 9, 2004

Here are three versions of the figure stabbing the devil motif. The first is Plate 1 in The Rugs of War catalogue, the second is sent in by Kevin Sudeith, the third by Graham Gower. We know of a fourth version – Plate 38 “Der Krieg im Leben der Nomaden” in Frembgen and Mohm (see bibliography). It’s clearly a story with a contemporary relevance – but what is its history? Surely such a complex pictorial narrative has pre-war precedents?

Version 1


We’ve called this extraordinary image “The Story of Jahan Bahksh” which we’ve derived from the various translations of its text. (I’ll post the most complete transcription and comment on the problems of translation in due course.) My question remains: does anyone know the origins of the Jahan Bakhsh story?

Version 2


Kevin comments:

I interpret the image on this rug, which is slightly different from the image on your rug, symbolically. The mujihadeen is riding one devil while killing another. It is sort of a parable for the Afghan/Soviet war. The jihadi is using the perceived US devil to kill the Soviet devil. How these guys can make such a deal with a perceived devil is beyond me. Such moral relativism seems contradictory to the absolutist interpretation of Islamic ethics practiced by these jihadis. These rugs are definitely from the Soviet era. It shows, in very clear terms, the perceived mission of the mujahideen, of killing the devil.

Version 3

From the Gower Collection

Graham comments:

A rug with a message. Showing are Afghan government soldiers with their camels and helicopter transport. Significantly the central feature of the rug show a Russian soldier (note the boots) portrayed as the devil and being slain. Around the edge forming an impressive border is a line of tanks. In this rug the only concession to traditional patterning are the saddlebags. This is a well woven rug using quality wool. Shows signs of use and most likely has seen domestic use before being sold to the market. Size 5ft. 2 inches x 3ft. 3 inches.


Updated to add: other posts relevant to this discussion can be found in the search results for “Rostam” and in the Modern Narratives category; click on the post titles to open the images.

Feedback on my translation of the date in a rug

June 5, 2004

A most welcome comment on this post has just come in from the folks at, which causes me to reassess my interpretation of the rug shown below as a possible precursor…

Kevin and Rebecca read the date as 1349, not 1369, which would date this rug to 1991. My original comment and the illustration is here.

I’d welcome translations of any texts seen in these rugs, or challenges, if anyone thinks we’re wrong.

Digital Kalashnikov

May 28, 2004

In response to my Life and Death post, people have been asking me how do I know the figure in the deer’s stomach is (still) a Kalashnikov? Putting to one side the fact that Mr Kalashnikov’s invention may have resulted in more deaths than any other twentieth century artefact, and that its presence in war rugs acts as a grim reminder of its multiple meanings for different audiences, it remains one of those symbols, figures, or ciphers by which rug makers allow their images to morph from set of meanings to another. You might ask: how few pixels does it take to represent death? – here are some examples.





Translate inscription?

May 11, 2004

Here’s a detail of this evocative Baluch war rug featuring a mosque in a cityscape: is this inscription translatable?

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Source of a Narrative?

May 4, 2004

We’ve called this extraordinary image “The Story of Jahan Bahksh” which we’ve derived from the various translations of its text. (I’ll post the most complete transcription and comment on the problems of translation in due course.)

However I’ve only seen the upper register of this image once before (Plate 38 in Frembgen and Mohm – details are in the bibliography).

Subsequently, references to the ancient story of Rostam and Akvan have emerged, categorised in “modern Narratives” in the sidebar. Alternatively, search under Rostam for a list of relevant posts.


The Rugs of War Exhibition, Plate 1: “The Story of Jahan Bahksh”, c.1990s Baluch style, knotted woollen carpet, woollen warp, 2070 x 2820 mm. Collection Peter Bellas, Brisbane.

Further posts discussing this image can be found here, and also in Jasleen Dhamija’s catalogue essay.

I have written further about this rug in Artlink #49 v23 #1 (unfortunately the full text is no longer online).

Source of the flags and dove of peace motif

April 26, 2004 is one of the best dealer’s sites, with rugs for sale, archives of rugs sold, and images of rugs in their collection. They have posted a great piece of detective work here which traces the source of the motif of the US Flag and the Afghanistan flag linked by the dove of peace which appears in a number of post S11 rugs and the so-called “War against Terror” rugs.

They show how the motif itself is in fact a reproduction of “Coalition of the Willing” propaganda leaflets distributed to the Afghans during that phase of the conflict. My question is: who can translate the texts on the original pamphlets for us? Please post a comment if you can.