Magazine article The Middle East

Carpets with Kudos

Magazine article The Middle East

Carpets with Kudos

Article excerpt

Persian carpets have been popular in international markets for centuries. Following a drastic decline in sales after the fall of the late Shah the carpet is now once again a major Iranian export. By Murray Lee Eiland III.

Despite the rise in popularity of hand made carpets and rugs from India, Pakistan and China, Persian carpets have continued to hold the admiration of the international community for their unique aesthetic qualities. Market forces have pushed prices up and down over the years. During his reign, the late Shah established hundreds of weaving shops throughout the country to keep pace with growing Western demand. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, almost all supply lines to Western markets dried up and as a result, carpets became increasingly sought after, changing hands for anything up to half a million dollars each. Since the early days of the Islamic Republic attitudes have altered and the Iranian government is currently involved in making the most of its multi-million dollar carpet industry.

Hand made carpets are Iran's second largest export. Some eight million Iranians, out of a total population of around 60 million, earn their livelihood totally or partially in the carpet industry or related services. It is no surprise then that the government takes particular care with the organisation of such an important industry which - unlike oil- is a renewable resource,

An annual conference on Persian carpets, sponsored by the Export Centre of Iran, is rapidly becoming a fixture. Far from limiting itself to academic interchanges on art-historical topics, however, the conference this year was characterized by a hard pragmatism.

It is clear a number of ministers realise that although Persian carpets are held in high regard, several international competitors are gaining strength in the field. As one observer at the conference put it: "If you let the competition run wild he will eat your breakfast, lunch, and dinner." It is also clear that unlike the early government of the newly established Islamic Republic, which found carpets "bourgeois" and as a result scaled down production, a new understanding has developed and one which stresses capital gains from centralized production.

However, it would be wrong to assume the government is concerned only with profit margins. Over the last several decades, Iran has seen definite shifts from agricultural to urban production. Additionally, the country has a large population and this situation seems likely to continue.

Cities such as Tehran have absorbed huge numbers of immigrants from rural areas. And while the government has focused considerable resources on urban development schemes, it is clear it is fighting a losing battle. Instead, ministers have been forced to outline policies of "containment." In order to prevent mass migrations to already overcrowded cities, rural development is the new phrase and carpet production is expected to play a major role. …

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