Travelling in Iran – Sirjan

Category: General

by Lars N Nygård, Oslo, Norway, President of the Norwegian Art and Antiquedealers Association – 14 January, 2004

Capitol of the Afsharis

After a 180 kilometres drive from Kerman, we arrived in Sirjan at nine in the morning. We drove about a little, taking a look at the street life. We were all on the strain and eager to see what we could find. Cruising down the main street, with Hadji’s shining star leading us forward on the front of this well polished, old engine, the dealers instantly caught us on their customer radar. It created literally a movement of small, brown men, leaving me with a disturbing feeling of a hunt, where I was the prey. Then it was like in Kerman, a local rally, trying to hang on to the car leading the way. All of the dealers here had their stocks in their own yards, none of them in the local bazaar.

Afshari woman weaving at home
Afshari woman weaving at home

In comparison with normal cities and villages in Iran, the streets of Sirjan are abundantly wide. The fact that this town, like Kerman, had no taller buildings, made it impossible to make an assessment of it’s actual size in this landscape flat as a sheet of paper.
The traders here travelled extensively themselves and bought locally in towns and villages. This brings dealers like myself very close to the very source. I could never myself travel like these guys and buy carpets directly. That would be impossible. The rural population will only sell to people they know and trust, and it takes a long time to build this trust.

The temperature now is around 25 degrees centigrade in the daytime, dropping to 12-15 in the night. The locals think this is very cold. They listened to me with disbelief when I told them about my country, where it was really cold, and still 50 cm of snow on the ground when I left.
It is strange that they can not imagine this, since all the peaks we see from the town are snow clad. In a newspaper there was a report telling about a Bactiar-family of four who froze to death in Chahar Mahal two days earlier.
Unfortunately we had no time to go sightseeing in Sirjan, our schedule left us only this very day on the spot. This is completely ridiculous knowing I had come about six thousand kilometres for this event only!
In stead we studied hand knotted sights. Some were kept in storage rooms above ground, some below. Some of the local “Ambars” were quite spacious. Some were in the garage, some built on to original house, and some houses and storage-rooms were acquired as they were, all fixed and ready. The latter was for those of the “Dallals” who had had some success in their business. In some houses, one or more of the rooms in the house was used for this purpose. Some had installed ventilation in the shape of a large propel in the ceiling, which had the power to distribute the dust in the room to a melange with perfect homogenity. Most of the time we preferred to see their stocks without the propels roaring like Spitfires and making it impossible to talk.

Afshar with Roukorsi
Afshar with Roukorsi

The inevitable problem, however, is that the carpets here, were collected directly from the “bush” and were , without exception, loaded with filth. Sometimes, by the touch, one could be inclined to believe that the carpets were made of wooden materials, so thick with dust that they were impossible even to bend, and the pattern easier to grasp from the reverse than the front. It’s true!
I feel no urge to entertain you with details from these rooms, the inhabitants lacking all sence of interior-details, like we are used to at home. One particular place however, was an exception; it was so awful that it is worth a description. The carpet-room was in the basement, small, narrow and unventilated. After moving carpets for ten minutes, Sadegh and I escaped into the street, gasping for air. Breathing inside was like eating sand. The natives were unaffected.
Much of the time was consumed in discussions of how we were going to pay, and whether the payment should be by the squarefoot or -meter. They are used to feet in Sirjan as they are in Kerman, and that is what they would prefer. The reason for this is that the majority of the carpet production was destined to USA already eighty and ninety years ago. Other areas in Persia also had production of carpets made for USA already in the 1880-ies. But it is only in the south that the metrical system has perished.
Our total catch on this day was 178 carpets, all of them good, with a large variety in age, condition and looks. In between some very few, fine old collectables. Even some of the new ones were of such high standard that they will become very fine old rugs.
A few carpets made in the local “Soumakh” technique were also acquired, some of them half old with nice colours, and some newer. Just to make it simple, these carpets were called “Susanis”, since the correct local denomination is “Shirekipitsch”! The finest piece was bought from the house of Babajan, where his extremely skilled wife was weaving on a large Susani, the horizontal loom completely filling one of the rooms in their house. We did beautiful video-recording of the woman weaving.

Old Sirjan with inscription
Old Sirjan with inscription

The Art of Bargaining
This is indeed a very entertaining play, and has local variations, which all, however, lead to the same goal: business !
The first move is normally mentioned by the selling part, followed by a counter offer. The initial distance can be really enormous; often twice the price finally agreed upon.
Some of the dealers became annoyed when we meticulously picked out all the better carpets from their collections, realizing” the trouble they would have selling the buns when we had picked all the raisins”, translated from an Iranian proverb.
It took great effort convincing the “Dallals” that I was also a customer, and would obviously not return if I was not satisfied with my first purchase. And I could not be satisfied if I was forced to buy carpets below my standard.
These boys were really spoiled, not being used to picky customers! They obviously wanted big whole-sale dealers buying the lot, clearing their storage-room and making room for a new collection. Well, who wouldn’t want that!

Afshar Kuhi
Afshar Kuhi

So the bargaining move back and forth until someone says “Na, berim!” – No, let’s go! And we turned around and left. By the time we got to the main door, someone came to senses and eager hands pulled us back inside. My role, as the real customer, is very passive. I enjoy studying the different parts of the actor in this well directed play, where the Hadji and his son, Sadegh as well as the local agents all act according to the manuscript. I find it of course useful to follow the progress of the discussion, and sometimes also appropriate, if the situation calls for it, to stand up and say “Na, pedar suchte! Berim!”, meaning No, bloody hell, let’s go!
This is quite a strong demonstration, revealing that I have understood more of the play than the parts have realized, making them lose face. But very useful especially if it turns out that their collection is crap and a waste of time for us.
In an effort to be more efficient, we proposed to one of the larger dealers to agree on a price for all the 40 carpets we have selected, in stead of discussing every carpet. We give them an offer which is the same square-meter price as we paid for another party. Our offer was turned down. “Berim”- out…..and in again.
To make a final offer, Sadegh and I agreed that the quality of the carpets were of a certain average standard, making it possible for us to give a final offer. And we finally reached an agreement! At least we thought so, when the guys started to measure all the carpets separately…….In square feet!

More photos from Sirjan

Lars N Nygård, Oslo, Norway – President of the Norwegian Art and Antique Dealers Association

Lars N Nygård Orientalske Tepper

Note: This article is a extract of Lars Nygård’s original article.

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