A common thread

In the world of Persian carpets history and geography play a very big role and carpet dealers have knowledge of unwritten history and geography simply based on the carpet designs that survives. It is this knowledge that can make a carpet highly collectible and valuable. The world of carpets is so vast and so old that many stories have gotten lost and many weavers have been forgotten, but the carpet designs survived and still serves as the unwritten record of what happened.

In Iran it is not uncommon to find two villages literally located 5km apart that speak two entirely different languages and weave carpets that are entirely different in design, method and colouring, despite these villages having co-existed for centuries. Yet there is a common thread in carpets woven in the vast “North West”. Even if a carpet dealer cannot pinpoint the exact city/village, the carpets woven in the North West can easily be detected. How can this be in this very distinct business where weavers religiously retain the designs and methods of their ancestors?

Centuries ago as far back as the Achaemenid period of Iran, a satrap existed in the North West that was a province of Media, later called Atropatkan. Its governor Atropates, was a successful noble man and trader. Atropatkan was home to a very diverse community that included Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Persians and Jews and the capital city Ganzak (meaning “treasury” in old Median language) was built by the Achaemenids. The region stretched as far up as Azerbaijan and Armenia today. When Alexander the Great started his campaign of invasion into Persia, King Darius III fled to Atropatkan and Atropates hosted him and gave him refuge until he fled further to Bactria where he was assassinated by his own cousin. Alexander initially appointed Oxydates as satrap of Atropatkan, but later reappointed Atropates when he lost faith in the loyalties of Oxydates. Atropates practiced a quiet neutrality which made the province even more successful and desirable as gateway between Eastern and Western trade.

After Alexander’s death the province of Media was divided into two parts and the smaller North West region was again given to Atropates to rule. At some point thereafter, Atropates refused to convey allegiance to the diadochi and made his part of Media an independent kingdom. The dynasty Atropates founded would rule the kingdom for several centuries, at first either as an independent kingdom or as vassals of the Seleucids, then as vassals of the Arsacids/Parthians, into whose house they are said to have married. The dynasty even survived the Arab invasion after which Atropatkan became a vassal of the Rashidun Caliphate.

The capital of Atropatkan, Ganzak, was first almost entirely destroyed by the Romans/Byzantines and eventually totally during the Medieval Era. The great city that is said to once have hosted 3,000 homes was no more and with it all its history disappeared. To this day it is not clear where exactly the city was, but it is believed to have existed somewhere in the Miandoab plane in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran, the same area that some archaeologists believe to have been the biblical garden of Eden. Even the name Azerbaijan is derived from Atropatkan. To this day the Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Jews and Persians still co-exist like they have for centuries and as such have greatly influenced each other's art that is produced in this area. Even after Azerbaijan and Armenia were no longer part of Iran, the same common thread still ran through the entire area and the carpets from the North West still quietly reflects its shared history in every village and every town.