The Afshars’ history is as long as the last one third of the Iranian history. Their back-to-back immigration to the Iran Plateau began roughly one thousand years ago. Several branches of Afshars scattered in Iran and Anatolia under the Seljuk’s rule. Mongol invasion accelerated the still continuing immigration thus by the fall of Timurid Empire they were considered a potent tribal power, being settled in almost every Iranian land.
Actually Afshars played their vital role in the rise of the next empire, the Safavids, as one of the seven tribes of Qizilbash: the crimson-capped guardians of the empire. Shah Tahmasp of the Safavid dynasty moved a big number of Afshars from Azerbaijan to the plains of Fars and Kerman in southern part of the country, who are of interest to us in this article.
The chaos followed by the fall of the Safavid dynasty was ended by an individual Afshar: Nader Shah the great who was crowned in 1736 as Shah of Persia, founding the Afsharian dynasty, probably a climax in the Afshar history.
Clutching firmly to their nomadic lifestyle, Afshars were successful to maintain lots of their cultural aspects among which weaving ground-coverings are predominant, keeping the folks’ iconography alive.
Afshar is a frequently used term in Persian rug discourse. You would hear the word describing an influencing style in Azerbaijan rug or as high grade pieces amongst Bidjars. Nevertheless, the most common use of the terms ‘Afshar’, ‘Afshari’ or ‘Avshar’ is relevant to the tribal goods woven in Kerman and Fars, being gathered in local bazars of Sirjan, Rafsanjan and Shahr-e Babak.
Technical aspects and the structure of Afshari Rugs
Offset warp and pink (or orange) weft are the key clues to Afshar piled pieces. In the past most of Afsharis were completely woolen but during the 20th century cotton became also
common for warp and weft. Knots are symmetrical (Turkish) and double-wefted. Asymmetrical (Persian) knotted pieces also could be found amongst new woven goods, especially in Shahr-e Babak, where weavers are more under the influence of Kerman’s town-workshops. Area rugs are favored than carpet sizes or runners between Afshars.
Sirjan pieces are typically coarser in weave than goods woven in Shahr-e Babak. Sirjan weavers tend to rather squarish shapes while other areas follow more standard sizes.
Dyeing and painting of Afshari rugs
Afshars of Kerman share the wealthy palette of Kermans obtained from good quality natural dyestuffs.
Glowing red and midnight blue are predominant colors in Sirjan pieces, though Sirjani weavers don’t limit themselves in using other colors as subsidiaries. Shahr-e Babak pieces enjoy a very unique rosy-brown hue you can’t fail to recognize.
Shahr-e Babak colors
Indigo, cochineal, walnut, weld, pomegranate, vine and cherry leaves, straw, henna, saffron, turmeric, poppy and madder could be mentioned as the main natural dyestuffs.
Designs and patterns of the Afshari rugs
The range of Afshar designs are too wide to be mentioned in a single article. They inherit several traditions including their Turkic origins, what they share with Caucasian people and what they gained from town weaving styles of Kerman during the 20th century with the boom in Kerman rug industry. Of course these traditions work in fusion and the effect of them vary in different areas of the province.
Patterns are mostly rectilinear due to the nature of tribal weave, but curvilinear patterns could also be found mainly in semi-nomadic rural areas which are influenced by town-workshops and old shawl weavings of Kerman (variety of Bottes are the most important ones which mainly serve as repeating patterns).
Afshar rug, frequential design
Different types of Botte could be enumerated in both rectilinear and curvilinear shapes: Paisley Bush, Mother and Infant and others (tiny and large) with no specific name.
Afshar rug, frequential design, mother-and-infant Botte Jeqqe (paisley bush)
Afshar rug (Shahr-e Babak), three-medallion design
Afshar rug (Shahr-e Babak), two-medallion design
Rectilinear lozenges are very common which form different shapes. There is a so called Three-Medallion design formed of three small diamond-shaped medallions in a bigger medallion which is a certain clue to Sirjan rugs. Central geometric medallion with jagged cornering is another typical design of Sirjan. (Sirjan is also known in western markets as Sirjand. Different Romanized versions of Persian names are not unusual but in this case we have no idea from where this “d” has come).
Afshar rug (Sirjan), medallion and tree of life
Afshar rug, medallion and tree of life
Tree of life is another basic design that Afshars share it with other nomadic weavers, sometimes being intermingled with vase designs. Afshari weavers tend to fill empty spaces between branches with decorative patterns such as animal, bird and human motifs or simply with stars and rosettes. This affection for embellishing patterns could also be seen in other basic Afshar designs.