Buying rugs in Turkey – Rah Rah “Kilims”

Category: Editors choice,General

Perhaps you have been in Turkey as a tourist and visited rug shops to find a collectable rug to bring home as a souvenir. Most rug shops have a large inventory of both new Turkish pile rugs and flatweaves but a real collectable rug seems hard to find for the tourist.

Some will fall for a very nice rug called Rah Rah “Kilim” (actually a soumak).

“Rah Rah kilim”
“Rah Rah kilim”

I have asked Ludwina Akbulut, carpet dealer from Selcuk, about Rah Rah “Kilims”.

“Rah Rah soumaks are Afshar pieces from the Kerman area in Iran”, she says. “The name ‘Rah Rah’ is the name for the design, and could be translated ‘road road’ ( this name because of the design in horizontal stripes). It is a flatweave in plain soumak, wool on wool, and they can be found in Turkish carpet shops in different sizes. Since last year some are ‘Tea washed’ and some times sold as ‘old’ pieces. There are even other productions imitating this design made by Shasevan. These Shasevans are not as fine , in a different colour combination and on a cotton warp. The Afshars have also other designs in the same technique and the carpet dealers call them ‘Afshar’ or ‘wool soumak’.”

Ruth Lockwood, carpet dealer from Goreme, complement the information about Rah Rah soumaks:

“Dear Ivan – I have spoken to a few Kurdish friends of mine as well as to a couple of Kurdish carpet dealers from Eastern Turkey and managed to find a general consensus of information .

Rah Rah soumaks are produced in both the south eastern Iranian province of Kerman and Sirjan as well as in areas that are referred to as ‘Kurdistan’. These areas cover those typically defined as ‘Kurdish ‘ in Iran, as well as northern Iraq and Hakkari/Van province in the East of Turkey. These weavers are all predominantly Kurdish and use both a ‘kerman’ – the word we use for hand spun wool of high quality, as well as imported New Zealand wools for the production of these very fine soumak weavings .

The colours used are all chemical dyes and it is extremely common to ‘tea wash’ the pieces on completion, giving them an aged look that varies from a soft brownish ‘film’ to a very dark almost black appearance. I personally prefer those that have been lightly tea washed as they are more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but the only problem is that the ‘tea wash’ does wash out progressively when you clean the rug. Without the ‘tea wash’ effect these soumaks can be rather garish (especially with some of the bright blue, yellow and rather bright greens dye bases that can be used) These dyes combined with the use of whites and common red base colour, and the repeated lines of the actual design base can really play havoc on your eyes. I always tell customers about the tea wash, but I know a lot of dealers who don’t, so I think it is an issue well worth mentioning.

Rah Rah soumaks have been available commercially on the market here in Turkey since approximately 1997-1998. If anything they are a finer more balanced weaving now than when they first appeared on the market and I have bought and sold some extremely fine and beautiful examples. They are almost the best of the ‘new’ flatweaves on to-days market. The same design is also reproduced in ‘Kaba’ (thick style) soumak Afshar, which are deliberately woven as a thick and chunky reproduction of earlier nomadic Afshar weavings, (versus a piece that is meant to be fine but hasn’t achieved the level of skill required). Less fine examples of the ‘fine ‘Afshars are starting to appear within the last year and whilst no one can clarify this point I suspect that they are from Kurdish tribes in the Hakkari/ Van province of Eatern Turkey that are copying the formula of the much finer Afshars from Iran. These pieces are using a coarse grey wool rather than the very fine white wools of the high quality pieces.

Fine Rah Rah sumaks generally are produced in 4 sizes; Ceyrek 1.06 x .70m, Seccade 1.40 x 1.10m, Karyola 2.35 x 1.32m, Kelle 2.oo x 300m. These sizes are approximate and generally the first 3 sizes are available – only occasionally can you find the larger Kelle size.

Because there is very little variance in quality of the fine pieces, they are actually one of our lowest profit margin pieces. Customers can easily compare the pieces , the entry prices are high, and the designs relatively similar therefore there is often a ‘price war’ between dealers on these commonly found Rah Rahs – more so than on almost anything else we have in stock . All in all it makes very good buying for the customers”, says Ruth Lockwood.

Weaving Shirikipitsch in Sirjan
Weaving Shirikipitsch in Sirjan

Sirjan in the Kerman province

Lars Nygaard, Norwegian carpet dealer, who has travelled in the Kerman province around Sirjan tells that the local Afsharis call these soumak rugs for “Suzanis”. The correct local denomination is “Shirekipitsch”, he says.

Actually Suzani are weft-substitution and not soumak and the word Suzani means embroidery. If you are confused now it is understandable.

Rah Rah kilim, Rah Rah soumak, Shasevan, Afshar flatweave, Susani or Shirekipitsch. A beloved child has many names.

These Afshar weavings are nice and perhaps you will find them “collectable”. But naturally you should consider whether the chemical treatment – tea wash – is acceptable for you.

Ivan Soenderholm 22 March 2004 



Ruth Lockwood’s web site: Tribal Collections

Lars Nygaards’s web site: Lars N. Nygaard Oriental Rugs

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