For generations women of Afghanistan have been known to be the most proficient rug weavers in the world. One would imagine these rugs and carpets to have floral, cultural, artefacts or animals etc. etched on to them, which would give a perspective into the woman’s mind through her work. And one sure does get a piece of the woman’s thought process through her designs as Afghan women increasingly started to weave AK-47 assault rifles and artillery tanks on to rugs showcasing the dire state of the country marred by violence and bombings for close to five decades now. Acting as a pawn between Russia and the US and grappling with the home-bred Taliban rule, the state’s reality is being used by its women to bring food to the table.

Afghan Women Rugs War
War Rug made by Afghan women (Pic by Artsy.Net)

All about the War Rugs

These rugs are beautifully crafted and demonstrate all kinds of artillery used in war or war in Afghanistan. What it also tells is that these women know how the weaponry looks so well that they can copy the same design on to these rugs with such ease. Apart from depicting the artillery, the rugs that were first designed in 1979, also maps detailing the Soviet defeat and depictions of the World Trade Center attacks.

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These rugs take about a whole year to weave and constitute only one percent of all the rugs made by Afghan women. When they first made these rugs, it was reportedly to show their contempt for the Soviet invasion. This was women’s way to protest against it. Hanifa Tokhi, an Afghan immigrant who fled Kabul after the Soviet invasion and now lives in northern California, said that the first “hidden” war rug was a form of rebellion. However, the Afghan people commercialised it when they found that people loved it.

Afghan Women Rugs War
War Rug made by Afghan women (Pic by Artsy.Net)

The irony of troops being potential buyers

Reportedly these rugs were exclusively sold to visiting troops of the Russian and US Army. “The rugs are geared for a tourist market,” says Margaret Mills, a folklorist at Ohio State University who has conducted research in Afghanistan since 1974 told Smithsonian Mag in a 2008 article. “And they verbally address this market.” Sediq Omar, a rug merchant from Herat who dealt in war rugs during and after the Soviet occupation, agrees. “Afghanis don’t want to buy these,” he says. “They’re expensive for them. It’s the Westerners who are interested.”

“We have invited a lot (of buyers),” said Diljam Manan Qassimy, a manager at the factory, Afghanistan Rugs and Carpet Center. “But they say, ‘No, it is impossible to come, because of the blood and security problems.’ This is the sad tragedy.”

Sometimes, they are exhibited in Museums – one of which happened in Florida in 2014 at Boca Museum of Art and the exhibition, which showcased 40 such rugs, was titled “Afghan War Rugs: The Contemporary Art of Central Asia”. These exhibitions over the years have gained recognition around the world and now these war rugs have become collector’s item.

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Carpet market slumps as war refuses to die down

Over the years, the warfare in the region refuses to die down forcing the country into an economic slump. The dominant carpet market of Afghanistan has also been deeply impacted. A 2018 Reuters report claims that sales of Afghanistan’s ancient carpet-weaving industry have dropped by half in the past year as war with Taliban militants heats up and neighbouring Pakistan clamps down on border traffic. The share of carpet market in its economy has dipped from 27% to six percent and unfortunately it dominates the exports of the country. “We have invited a lot (of buyers),” said Diljam Manan Qassimy, a manager at the factory, Afghanistan Rugs and Carpet Center. “But they say, ‘No, it is impossible to come, because of the blood and security problems.’ This is the sad tragedy.”

Picture credit: The Firearm Blog

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