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Adventures in Turkey
A Conference Report by Mark Hopkins
     
     
  This article originally appeared in Oriental Rug Review Vol 15, No. 2 (Dec/Jan, 1995). Copies of this issue may still be available for purchase - please consult the Oriental Rug Review website.   
       
 
                                                                  
 

For those given to heeding harbingers, the lumpy final descent through roiling blue-black clouds onto Atatiirk Airport's rain-drenched runway was enough to warrant the immediate consideration of a return-home ticket. "We haven't seen rain like this in months," said every Turk we talked to. Everywhere people hunched under windswept umbrellas. Small rivers swept past the curbs and gurgled down storm drains. Under the persistent downpour, Istanbul's smudgy sokaks and caddesis were washed well, rinsed anyway almost grime free. It was downright torrential. But this was Turkey and our first time back in six years. We persisted.

So did the Turkish sun. It consumed the whole next day burning the soggy mess away. Just in time for the Conference, it succeeded. Fair weather along with nearly 200 conferees and a contingent of spouses descending upon Istanbul and the beginning festivities.

The 2nd International Congress on Turkish and Central Asian Carpets opened its doors with a blast of Turkish band music on Friday evening, October 14, at Istanbul's Harbiye Cultural Center (Harbiye Kultiir Merkezi) adjacent to the Military Museum. Commodious and well-appointed, the Center sits on high ground not far from Taksim Square, where its elegant facade overlooks a patch of the nearby Bosporus. Perhaps the only curiosity about it was that many cab drivers seemed to have never heard of the place, often requiring fumbling cross- lingual directions in the process of getting there. Most everyone was booked into comfortable adjacent hotels, requiring a mere five or 10 minute walk down the bustling Cumhuriyet Caddesi to reach the conference. All things considered, the Center was an ideal venue for such an event.

Hobnobbing, sampling dealers' wares and occasionally sneaking out to see the sights are really what these conferences are all about, but supplementing all that was an ambitious two-and-a-half day program of nearly 90 "scientific" papers.

The conference format was a complicated one; once in full swing, it had three large meeting rooms going at once. Two delivered presentations in either English, German or Turkish, depending on the speaker's preference, with simultaneous translations in the other two languages available via earphone. The third session was always conducted entirely in Turkish with no translation facilities offered. (This was an especially unfortunate turn for those Western attenders who, after laborious translation of the titles, discovered the subjects of some of the all-Turkish papers to be the most interesting sounding of all.) Each session lasted about 90 minutes, with anywhere from three to five speakers taking successive turns at the podium.

 

 
 

 

 
  Bethany Mendenhall and Mark Hopkins enjoy a moment of noted researcher Josephine Powell's salty humor. Charles Lave photo

   

 
 

Not unlike any other conference the world over, the presentations ranged from sparkling to abysmal. Walter Denny's lively opening talk, which began a sort of three-speaker plenary session, raised the familiar message of recurrent themes in rug design over the centuries. Rasim Efendiev followed with a tedious rehash of old rugdom cliches. Finally, Josephine Powell gave a wonderful pictorial summary of nomadic life as it endures in Anatolia today.

Thereafter, the individual sessions commenced, and attenders began sorting themselves out into Turkophiles, Turkmenophiles, Pick- and-Choosers and, of course, the ubiquitous Sneaker-Outers. Some presentations were interestingly cross- cultural, such as Ali Riza Tuna's "Old Turkmen Designs in Anatolian Car- pets." Others treated lively real-world subjects, such as James Williams' inspiring description of his highly successful UNESCO project teaching disabled Afghans the art of weaving. Many talks, as might be expected, re-explored the influence of traditional designs in rugs and textiles of various lineages.

 

 
 

 

 

 

Author/Collector Joyce Ware takes time off for a cruise down Istanbul's Golden Horn. Margie Hopkins photo.

 
 

 

Discussions of peripheral textile groups such as Kaitag embroideries, Kecimuslar flatweaves, early Egyptian textiles, Macedonian kilims, and even a newly found weaving of a yet unidentified Turkoman tribal group helped broaden the spectrum of subject matter.   Other speakers reached out farther in their explorations of familiar themes: Gerard Paquin's "Silk and Wool Ottoman Textiles and Turkish Rug Design," Penny Oakley's "Ottoman Court Kilims and Their Relationship to Other Court Art," Brian Morehouse's "Yastiks: Proto- types, Variations and Altered Forms," and Elizabeth Ettinghausen's "Turkish Carpets and Textiles in the Context of Other Art," just to name four interesting ones. John Mills added another chapter to his valuable work documenting the appearance of Turkish carpets in European paintings.

A few papers seemed curiously out of place, especially Murray Eiland Ill's arcane slide show of ancient coins that had attenders secretly checking their programs to make  sure they hadn't ducked into the wrong conference by  mistake. Others opened entirely new doors, such as Olga Gordeeva's talk discussing Ottoman textiles in the State  Historical Museum of Moscow.

But as most abstrusely focused conferences the world  over eventually do, this one bogged. By the end of the  second day the inevitable question grew in many minds:  why does it take so much sitting and listening to gain such  a small amount of fresh new information? In that context,  somehow the prospect of facing a third day of it paled next  to the alternative of a breezy half-day boat cruise up the  Bosporus followed by a revisit to the city's majestic Aya Sofya and the other Sultanahmet attractions. Istanbul being one of our very favorite places, on Monday my wife and I played hooky.

Of a far lighter note at the conference were the many colorful dealer booths that flanked the hallways adjacent to the meeting rooms. There were old rugs, new rugs, and even a few newer rugs pretending to be old ones. The cream of the Istanbul dealer world was in full presence, with their wares enhanced by craft and weaving displays from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other new republics. Traffic through the booths was ongoing, and many good textiles changed hands.

By far the largest number of pieces destined to fan the fires of serious collectors hung in the booth of Maison du Tapis d'Orient, the Arasta Bazaar shop of Istanbul dealer Mehmet Cetinkaya. His offerings included several spectacular Kaitag embroideries along with ikat robes, felt mats, and other textiles. What attracted the most attention of all, however, was a striking 10-foot long "mystery piece," a pile rug whose pale camel field, multicolored botehs and depressed warps had the experts calling it everything from Bijar to Ersari. Uncertainty notwithstanding, it was quickly snapped up by a major American collector.  

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

The Mehmet Cetinkaya mystery rug: Ersari, Bijar, Uzbek, or what?

 

 
 

 

A few nighttime events further enriched the busy program. On Saturday evening buses transported a large group up the Bosporus shoreline to the Istanbul suburb of Sariyer, where the Sadberk Hanim Museum stands within a stone's throw of the water. There, in a spacious old Ottoman house, resides a tasteful and  interesting collection of Turkish antiquities. The rugs on display there  are not worth the trip, but the rest of  the collection very definitely is.   

On Sunday evening a rug auction  sponsored by KUSAV The Turkish Foundation for Fine Arts and Culture   was held in a hall adjacent to the conference area. A preview of the 68  lots the day before revealed a roomful of mostly medium-interest pieces that  were primarily Turkish and Caucasian  with a few Turkoman and Baluch lots  thrown in. With the exception of a  large old Ushak room-sized rug estimated at $10,000 and two Konya pieces estimated at $7,000, the rest fell mostly  in the $1,000 to $3,500 range. Their condition was generally rather pristine,  with a small number still in the rough but many having undergone extensive  restoration. In fact, the "cover" piece, a remarkably striking yellow-field Konya-  type rug with two square medallions and a narrow red/blue zigzag border,  was so totally restored that it was difficult to determine what if any  original wool remained. The sale, conducted in U.S. dollars, was well  attended and successful.

Some of the world's greatest oriental  rugs hang on the walls of Istanbul's museums, but for those who took the  brief taxi ride over the Golden Horn to Sultanahmet, a bit of disappointment was in store. There was a traveling exhibition of French paintings hanging at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, and many of the wonderful Selcuk and later Anatolian carpets that are permanently on display there were obscured by temporary walls. And across the Hippodrome, those of us who had only Sunday afternoon and Monday free to explore were devastated to discover that the Vakiflar Museum with its store of other wonder- ful pieces was closed on both days. (One wonders why special arrangements couldn't have been made to give conference attenders special access to the collection. But then again, consider- ing the well-publicized poor condition of the Vakiflar pieces, one understands why it perhaps didn't happen.) How- ever in Istanbul there is no shortage of other fascinations one can turn to.  Even without the rugs, an afternoon  wandering around the Sultanahmet,  Cagaloglu and Bayazit sections is always  a memorable treat.

There were a few nagging administrative details that will surely be remedied  in future conferences. Name tags with  only a last name and first initial, while  far more sedate than those horrendous  American "Hello My Name Is..." labels,  are hardly conducive to casual mixing.  Presentation titles were only listed in  the Conference program in their  language of delivery, which required a  lot of hurried, haphazard translation for  those trying to decide which session to  attend next. And for some misguided  reason, audience questions and comments were restricted to a brief block of  time occurring at the far end of each 90  minute session after all the speakers  were done. This meant that a question  directed to the first speaker had to wait  until the entire panel had made its  presentations, an arrangement that with  a few rule-breaking exceptions completely extinguished any meaningful  interchange or audience participation.     

The biggest oversight was a really sad  one. Running a conference of this  scope is a task of managing staggering  detail, but even that is no excuse for the fact that several speakers were absent from the podium because they were never notified that their papers had been accepted. New York collector/ research Bob Pittenger, for one, having submitted his paper on Anatolian animal carpets well before the dead-line, received his notification so close to the beginning of the conference that previously laid plans prevented him from participating. Prospective speaker Sharon Fenlon who proposed to document a collection of Turkish prayer rugs found in West Virginia never heard from the conference  management at all. After several  queries regarding the status of her  application elicited no response, she  arrived from America assuming her paper had been rejected only to find  her name on the speaker list. The problem was, her slides had been left at home. Her resultant five minute talk set the conference record for brevity.   

 

 
 

 

 

 

Joan Disse accepts a bouquet of aromatic basil from a pretty member of the Yahyali welcoming committee.

 
 

 

Following the conference, there were four options. Go directly home. Or participate in one of the three pre-arranged "ruggie" tours: a five-day Central Anatolian visit to Kapadokya and Konya, a similar tour of Western Anatolia, or a brief three-day visit limited to the Konya region. Because Kapadokya is always worth another visit, and because we'd never been to Konya, we opted for the Central tour. We weren't disappointed.

On Tuesday morning, Turkish Airlines whisked us from Istanbul to Kayseri, where we piled aboard the inevitable chartered tour bus. There were 28 of us, a disparate but affable lot of established rug collectors, dedicated aspirants, scholars, and patient-if- sometimes-caught-snoozing spouses. Besides a gaggle of American aficionados, there were couples from Germany,  Italy and Norway, a dentist from  London, an engineer from Singapore, a journalist and a textile restorer from  South Africa, and a couple from  Kazakhstan. English was, in most cases,  the lingua franca.

Early on, we conveyed a very stem  message to our tour guide: our interest  lay in the weaving culture of Turkey,  not in buying its current production of  rugs. There were to be none of the  usual requisite visits to the road houses  of Bazaar 54, those canny marketeers  whose sumptuous settings, endless nips  of apple tea, and histrionic presentations of horrendous new rugs have had  phenomenal success in separating  earnest tourists from their currencies.  This was, of course, disappointing news  to our guide team considering the  kickback commissions these visits  traditionally net. But they were good  people, and we made it up to them at  the end.

Our first stop threw us headlong into  the weaving culture of Turkey. In the relatively isolated village of Yahyali, a  60-mile drive south of Kayseri, a most affable rug dealer named Ruth  Lockwood had arranged for the group  to visit the homes of local weavers and  learn something about their current rug production. Ruth is an Australian  expatriate who resides in nearby  Goreme, where her well-appointed Indigo Gallery is a principal outlet for  the creations of Yahyali weavers.    

There is no hospitality that exceeds  that of a humble Turkish home, and Yahyali was no exception. In the village houses we saw the local rugs being woven, readily recognizable with  their goldish main borders and deep blue fields dominated by a central ivory medallion locked in a large red diamond. Much of the wool is spun locally, using homemade spinning wheels made primarily from bicycle parts.   

At noon, a stand-up lunch was served in the rustic backyard of one of the village's leading citizens. Seated on the ground, several colorfully garbed local ladies rolled out dough and baked it on a blackened iron dome placed over a smoky open-hearth fire. Rolled up with          a mixture of goat cheese and herbs  inside, the thin, crepe-like Turkish  bread was a hearty companion to the bowls of "ravioli" soup that followed.    

One recollection of amusing contrast:  at the height of the bustle surrounding  the noonday distribution of food, a  ringing telephone superimposed itself on the crackling of the fire. One of the white-scarved ladies dropped her rolling pin, stepped over the open fire, then darted her henna-stained hand under a monstrous pile of fresh-cooked Turkish bread, extracted a cordless telephone and commenced an ani- mated business conversation.

 After that, there were more visits to homes where individual upright looms all held unfinished rugs of the same local variety. All dyeing is done locally; even indigo, which is processed in a   nearby special facility with dyestuff   purchased from Europe. Herein lies an  admission. I had always thought my eye  to be a fair judge of whether a rug  contained primarily natural or synthetic dyes. This visit stopped me dead. The  new Yahyali pieces are a symphony of  harsh, garish hues midnight blue,   burgundy, lime green, orange, even a  white that's a little too white that   bawl "synthetic" from 20 feet away. But according to every reliable local source,   their dye sources are entirely natural. Part of it has to do with the quality of  the wool, which is dull, matte, and scratchy to the touch. Perhaps in a  hundred years these pieces will develop the soft colors and gentle patina that  collectors prize. Personally, I'm not  waiting.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Jim Henderson tries his hand at knotting a Turkish rug.

 
     
 

With the warm, outgoing hospitality  of Yahyali behind us, we headed  through a torrential downpour to  Nevsehir, the major city of the  Kapadokya region. Kapadokya, to anyone who has been  there, is one of the world's true fairy-  lands. Its giant conical "fairy chimneys"  are vestiges of natural erosion which, over the past several million years, has  sculpted the soft tufa stone that once spewed from two now-extinct volcanoes |  into bizarre and wonderful forms.   Many have been hollowed out into  homes and churches complete with  doors, windows and chimneys, some  dating back a thousand years or more.   

Despite Kapadokya's having become  one of Turkey's major tourist destina-  tions, local and government interests  have done a commendable job of striving to preserve the unique character of the region. Multi-star hotels have sprung up smack in the middle of the principal villages of Goreme and Urglip, including (gasp) a Club Med. But the builders have been tightly controlled, the architects have paid careful heed to blending in, and the result is, all things considered, a very acceptable compromise of old and new.

Except for the five-star Dedeman Hotel in Nevsehir, our home for the next two nights. Its dozen stories looming skyward out of a gently sloping vineyard, it embodied all the crass elements of modern tourism, the swimming pool complete with elaborate water slide, the high white fence surrounding an acre of hyper-fertilized emerald lawn, the sea of parked tour busses out front, the chrome and neon basement shopping mall with signs in English, German and Japanese. It's a comfortable, well run place, to be sure. If only it could reflect a bit more of the Turkey its visitors have come to see.   

After dinner at the spiffy Dedeman, we headed to nearby Goreme where Ruth Lockwood opened her comfortably furnished Indigo Gallery for a reception and a general discussion of the region's weaving output. While her business is done primarily in the sale of new local weavings, her inventory did  include a selection of older pieces that made digging through the piles a worthwhile exercise for several of the  group.   

A highlight of the evening was the  presence in the shop of two accommodating young ladies weaving a new Yahyali rug who were delighted to  make room on the bench for anyone brave enough to try their hand at  knotting. Judging from the number of takers who bellied up to the loom for an all-thumbs lesson over the course of two hours of wine and cheese, there is a strong chance that some unsuspecting future buyer in a distant land will suddenly cry "Moths" when a fair-sized patch of blue knots commences to fall out of his new rug. Hopefully, the nice ladies were able to spend the next day repairing the mess we made of their handiwork.

The following day was spent seeing the sights of Kapadokya; the many scenic vistas, the outdoor museum in the local national park, the ancient rock fortress at Uchisar, and the Kapadokyan towns themselves. Shop- ping for noteworthy old rugs in the area holds small promise. The center of activity was once the well-known shop of Mustafa Halici in Urgiip. But the old gentleman is now well advanced in years and his son, now in charge, stocks little of interest to serious collectors.

During the afternoon, again thanks the kindness of Ruth Lockwood, we visited a nearby rug washing operation in which the local rugs, mostly new ones, get their final preparation for the marketplace. Here, on a concrete floor, rugs are hosed down, soaped, scrubbed with heavy brushes, squeegied with hoe- like tools, rinsed, squeegied again, and flipped onto an adjoining dirt lot to dry. Judging from the amount of sand we saw blowing onto the damp wool, each rug departs for the market with at least an ounce of Kapadokyan real estate tucked into its fibers. Even more noteworthy, though, was the rinsing process. One blast of water with the hose was all each rug received. As might be guessed, a surreptitious sniff of the dried rugs imparted more odor of soap than of wool.

The next day we preceded the long trek to Konya with a morning visit to one of the region's curious under- ground cities at Derinkuyu. These remarkable structures were hacked into the soft stone below ground level more than a thousand years ago, some of them descending more than 15 levels beneath the ground. Built as defensive facilities into which local citizens could disappear when marauding armies passed through, they include such sophisticated features as fresh air shafts, waste water outlets, and rolling stone gates to control the incursion of unwanted guests.     Next stop on the agenda was the town of Sultanhani. The site of a famous Selcuk caravansary, it rises out of the flat, brown Konya plain a good 30 miles from anywhere on the road from Aksaray to Konya. Now almost completed restored, the 12th/13th century caravansary is a remarkably imposing  structure well worth traveling the  distance to see. In addition, one of  Sultanhani's principal revenue sources  is rug restoration, and we were welcomed for a visit to the "factory" where it all takes place.

Housed in a rambling, multi-story  concrete building were room after room  of boys and young men hunched over  rugs, kilims and soumaks, plying their  trade with remarkable speed and skill.  Some were repiling, others were  reweaving holes, tears, and missing  ends. "Are there no women who work  here?" we asked. "No, men only," we  were told. "Our women work in their  homes." "Men" is a bit of a euphemism, though. The average age of the  restorers we visited was perhaps sixteen,  and several of the most skillful appeared to be boys of no more than ten  or twelve.

 As is so common in Asian work  settings, one had to wonder how subtle  wool colors could be matched and fine  structural rebuilding accomplished with  such dim lighting and dank, spartan  surroundings. But the restoration being  done was thoroughly competent, and  while we observed that in many cases  comers were being cut in what might be  called a less-than-museum-quality style  of work, most of the pieces undergoing  surgery were only of middle-road  quality themselves. All things considered, it was a very professional and obviously thriving enterprise.

 

 
 

Lunch at a Konya caravansary:  (l. to r.Mitch and Rosalie Rudnick,  Peter Hoffmeister,  Mark Hopkins,  Samy Rabinovic, and Igo Licht

 
 

 

 
 

After that it was 60 more miles by bus across the featureless Konya plain to Konya itself, where we arrived at the new four-star Diindar Hotel at sundown. Perhaps it was the complimentary "kokteyl" served us in the lobby, (orange KoolAid in sherry glasses), or perhaps it was the overly- splendid glass, brass, and marble lobby itself that made us wonder. But a glance at the room confirmed it: this was one of those touristic 4-star lobby/ 2-star room facilities. No matter: in Konya there's little reason to spend time in one's room, and the beds, at least, were comfortable.

Konya, as Turkey's fourth largest city, offers a stark contrast to the other major metropolises of Central and  Western Anatolia. Reachable only by  car, bus or train there is no commercial air link it retains far more of Old  Turkey' s essence. Religious conservatism is apparent everywhere, and  tourists are cautioned to use cameras  only with careful consideration for  Islam's disapproval of picture-taking. It is also an extremely interesting city,  with a history that extends well back  beyond its pinnacle days as the seat of  the Selcuk empire in the 12th and 13th centuries. There is much to see in  Konya.

For hurried travelers, which we had to be with only one day to spend there,  the museums are the thing. At the top of the list is the Mevlana Museum,  housed in the mosque where dervishes once whirled and where the founder of  their Sufic order, the great 13th century philosopher Mevlana, lies buried. Among other interesting things, the museum displays some extremely interesting old Anatolian rugs that alone make the visit worthwhile.

We packed in three other museums as well, coming disastrously close to overload. There was the Karatay Medresi with its exceptional displays of Selcuk tilework, the Ethnographic Museum where an eclectic array of stuffed birds, daily life implements and uninteresting textiles makes it of far more interest to schoolchildren than to rug collectors, and the Archeological Museum. This last was worth the visit for both its two important Selcuk rug fragments and its diverse collections of ancient Anatolian cultural remains.  Konya is home to many well-known rug dealers, and we spent several interesting hours getting to know them. There were numerous shops to choose from, but the strongest magnetism seemed to emanate from the premises of Karavan, Halihan, and Cemal  Palamutcu's well-respected Young  Partners. Their inventories offered  plenty to choose from, and at least a  few interesting pieces managed to  change hands. Meanwhile, several of  the group's more enterprising ladies  discovered a tiny nearby shop specializing in old garments and tribal costumes.  The merchandise was mostly grubby,  but the quality was good and the prices  were right, resulting in three of the  more daring members showing up for  our final-night kokteyls (real ones)  resplendent in authentic Uzbek and  Turkoman silk finery. Spiking those  final refreshments, by the way, were two  litres of Alma Ata's finest brandy contributed by Clara Niyazbaeva, one of our group members from Kazakhstan.

 

 
 

Inspecting a local rug washing facility:  (I. to r.) Ralph and Linda Kaffel, Connie Henderson, Mark Hopkins, Elizabeth Ettinghausen, and Igo Licht.

 
 

 

One point of praise received universal agreement as the group began its all-day return trek to Istanbul: our tour operator VIP Tourism Pirinccioglu Inc. proved downright valiant in its willingness to change plans and switch itineraries in harmony with the group's constantly evolving wishes. Working in close rapport with our irrepressible, Turkish-speaking colleague Samy Rabinovic, (who was the U.S. coordinator for the Conference as well), they remained flexible to the end and somehow managed to fulfill a host of special requests over the five-day trip. Our guide never quite understood why any group of red-blooded tourists would rather peer into a dye vat than ogle a belly dancer. But Turkish hospitality prevailed and our inscrutable predilections were consistently met. It was a memorable trip.

MH

 

 

 
     
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