Home > The Kaitag Myth Destroyed >RK Debunks the kaitag Myth
email: jc@rugkazbah.com
Sun, Nov 6th, 2011 02:22:36 AM
Topic: RK Debunks the kaitag Myth

(Ed. Since the "kaitags are 18th, and even 17th century", myth spinning continues in many quarters of RugDumb RK thought it pointful to once again bring our "we doubt it highly" position to the forefront and call attention, once again, to what we wrote some years ago.)

Several times in the past few years RK has commented on the highly questionable dating and supposed history of kaitag embroideries.

However, we have not turned our gaze to michael, aka little lord, franses’s writings on the subject and since we have mentioned franses lately in relation to kaitags, as well as his role in the dodds bogus “bellini” story, now might be an opportune time to do just that.

What appears below is the “write up” of the recent icoc Istanbul kaitag extravaganza franses saw fit to include on his website. He included a number of examples from the icoc exhibition and we illustrate and comment on some of them as well.

We reproduce that “write up” here verbatim and add our comments in bold type:

“Situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, in the mountainous and in parts inaccessible north-eastern region of the Caucasus, once flanked by the Russian and Iranian empires, Daghestan is today the southernmost border republic of the Russian Federation. Over half of the population of 2.5 million lives in 700 lowland and mountain villages. There are 31 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language. In a mountainous region in the south-west, near Derbent, lives a small multi-ethnic, multi-faith group of people, the Kaitag, who have over the centuries created remarkable and vibrant works of art in the form of small rectangular panels embroidered with vividly coloured silks. While today the Kaitag are a small 'nationality', they were among the first inhabitants mentioned in Arabic sources in the 7th century, and were famous as stubborn warriors until the 1850s.”

Whew, that’s quite a mouthful but what else to expect from someone like franses, who did not even get a high school degree and formerly relied on others to do his writing for him.

Seems little lord franses now feels he is up to the task but we doubt anyone with an education would agree.

As for his “history” of the Kaitags? Well, maybe it is correct but please remember many Russian ethnographers, archaeologists and researchers are well known for making outrageous claims that have no support or documentation. It is on sources like these franses/chenciner based their research. Or is it just contemporary field work they relied on?

RK is not an expert on the history of this region and, therefore, we can’t definitively state if the ancient history of the Kaitag people franses relates is true, false or somewhere in between.

We do, however, know something about the history of weaving and textile production in the Caucasus and would ask franses: Why, if the Kaitag people are so well-established in this area, and he and others believe they were producing these flossy embroideries centuries ago, are there no kaitag embroideries pictured, or even referenced, in any book or publication that pre-dates the later part of the 1980’s? Or in any museum collection with a collection date prior to that time?

This question, one that franses and other kaitag sellers avoid like the plague, is a smoking gun negating their questionable claims of “great age” for any kaitag embroidery.

“The Kaitag”

“The first recorded settlement of the Kaitag area was by Albani tribes in around 500 BC. Since then the history of the region has been one of constant struggle against successive waves of invaders - Sasanians, Huns, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, the Mongol 'Golden Horde', followed by Timur, the Ottomans, the Iranians and, finally, the Russians. Under Tsarist and Soviet rule Kaitag lost its political identity. Until then the villages were run as free societies with a self-contained pattern of life that preserved an unbroken tradition of design and craft. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian and pagan symbolism were the remarkable legacy of this past.”

This might sound great but, in fact, is nothing but hot air, particularly if one is trying to document dating any kaitag embroidery prior to the 20th century. Read it again and you will agree.


“The art of Kaitag embroideries survives in less than 1,000 examples, dating from the 16th century (under Ottoman influence) through to the 19th century, mostly now in museum and private collections throughout the world. The Kaitag embroiderers were blessed with a special artistry and inspiration beyond that found elsewhere. This was linked in part to their greater awareness of the international silk and textile trade that passed through nearby Derbent on the silk route along the Caspian Sea, bringing a greater volume of different styles and approaches than could have been seen by artisans working in other materials. The vast repertoire of bold designs - from such a small region - that give the Kaitag textiles their beauty and fascination is a result of the history of the region, through which so many different conquerors had passed during the previous two thousand years.”

Whoa, little lord franses, let’s back up here. Your dropping an illusionary “from the 16th century…through the 19th century” statement might convince those who believe you are the expert but, for anyone else, such a claim smacks of outrageous over-dating.

And, sir, please explain why there are no kaitag embroideries in any museum collection with accession dates before the end of the 20th century?

Your flippant “…most now in museum and private collections throughout the world” might, once again find support among the rug ignorant naïve and gullible clients of yours but surely it fails miserably to convince anyone else.

Plus your vision of how the amorphous and poorly defined designs found on almost every kaitag embroidery were developed is equally as amateurish and, frankly, it’s nonsensical.

RK will comment on this aspect, the kaitag design oeuvre, when we look at a few examples from the presentation on franses’s website later.

“These embroideries were not only once put to practical use as pillow covers but were important for the domestic ritual occasions connected with birth, marriage and death. Babies were protected from the evil eye by placing talismanic embroideries at the head of the cradle with the embroidered side facing inwards. On the first day of a wedding ceremony, the bride would come to the groom's home carrying her jewellery and nuptual presents wrapped in a cloth, again with the embroidered side facing inwards. On death, the custom forbade looking upon the face of the departed so it was covered with a cloth, embroidered side down. The cloth would not be buried but passed from father to son.”

RK presumes, since there are no other publications about kaitag from authors not connected to franses and his co-partner-in-kaitag-crime robert chenciner, this ethnographic information comes from chenciner’s contemporary “research” in Daghestan.

While many might believe it is possible to transpose what contemporary artisans, weavers or embroiders say about their work (how it is used and/or the meanings of the designs) into the mouths of much earlier artisans, weavers or embroiders, RK is almost 100 percent against such dubious “field work” and unsupportable inferences.

We have studied carefully many contemporary ethnographers reports and do not in any way countenance those who follow such practices, especially when dealing with weavers and weavings. These articles, unlike others, originally possessed both secular and non-secular meaning/import and such attributes quite naturally were prone to change over time, especially many centuries.

It is absurd to believe the makers of a 19th/20th century kaitag could possibly have the same connections to their work as someone several centuries before had.

Cultural anthropological research support this idea, not the reverse.

The cultural, economic, and personal dynamics of any weaving group are totally unknown prior to those studied from the middle of the 19th century onwards.

This is a highly important point and one that helps to negate franses and chenciner’s claims, especially since the Kaitag people were so isolated.

What they say might be true but until more, and RK means much more, REAL evidence to support such claims surfaces, what franses and chenciner are doing is nothing more than creating historical fiction – it is far from proven fact and should not be presented as if it is.

“The designs”
“As with felt making today, the Kaitag panels were embroidered by local specialists and sold to other villagers. They were not made on a frame, as one might expect - often the maker would work crouched over the embroidery, which was laid out on the ground. Many of these textiles were created freehand, and sixteen different stitches have been identified, which show the great versatility and skill of the embroiderers who worked the silk, which was once widely produced in Daghestan. A large variety of natural dyes was also available in the area: at least eleven different yellows came from locally grown plants, and Derbent was famous for exporting the roots of the madder plant, which yielded a range of reds.”

Another question raised here is the fact there are 16 recognized “stitches” present on kaitags. RK sees this as another indication this “tradition” is not a cohesive one and this differentiates it from almost all other types of pre-commercial period (pre-1850) textile production.

Are kaitag embroideries a unique genre, so unique that they do not follow the cultural patterns other, far more well documented weavings, do?

Plus the fact there are many dye-stuffs present in this region doesn’t equate, or prove, anything in regards to the history of kaitag embroidery production.

“Materials and techniques”

“Kaitag art speaks to people of diverse cultural traditions. French art-lovers respond to a proto-Matisse style; in Sweden they see ancient Scandinavian art; Australians are reminded of Aboriginal art and in the US they see Abstract Expressionist paintings. Indeed, all these echoes are references to the common experience of the primal appeal of Kaitag embroideries, which is based on shared animist archetypes. This has been reflected by the emergence of collectors from many parts of the world: Turkey, throughout the rest of Europe, the Middle East, Australia, the United States and, of course, Daghestan.”

Here again franses is only demonstrating his lack of formal education.

If “French art-lovers” want to respond to Matisse, RK might suggest they look at Matisse, not an amorphous, poorly articulated textile from Daghestan, which has about as much relationship to Matisse’s work as a child’s finger-painting, hung over a proud daddy’s desk, might.

To state kaitags have a “primal appeal”, or their hardly well-defined designs show a shared “animist archetype”, stretches the pizza dough way too thin.

Why can’t these embroidered designs rather be explained as comic-book-like renderings of commonly seen animals or other scenes present in the daily lives of kaitag makers?

There is little doubt franses and chenciner could never defend their positions when faced with a educated and experienced non-believer. In this vein RK would like to challenge them to debate with us, here on RugKazbah.com, the points we raise in this critique.


“Robert Chenciner is a Senior Member of St. Antony's College, Oxford, and an Honorary Member of the Daghestan branch of the Academy of Sciences of Russia. In 1986, he was granted permission to travel in Daghestan. His curiosity had been roused by an illustration in a book on the decorative arts of Daghestan by Dimitri Chirkov, published in Moscow. He then discovered a small collection of embroideries in a local museum and after further research in Russian museums, he and Dr. Magomedkhan Magomedkhankov of the Daghestan Scientific Centre of the Academy of Sciences of Russia embarked on a series of journeys through the villages of Daghestan.

The publication in 1993 of this remarkable collection of 47 embroideries in Chenciner's Kaitag Textile Art of Daghestan brought Kaitag textiles to the attention of the world. Since its publication this collection, which represents most of the known patterns, has been presented at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (1994), Christinehof Slott, Sweden (1994), and the Deutsches Textilmuseum, Krefeld, Germany (1995). Other Kaitag exhibitions have been shown in Boston (1994), Sydney and Melbourne (1995). The Sabanci Museum now presents Kaitag Embroideries, Textile Art of Daghestan for the first time in Turkey.”

Well, franses/chenciner, where are all the other references?

Go find even one of substance that pre-dates your own, if you can.

RK challenges you to document not only that but also all the questionable points your write-up alleges. Go produce references from other sources, RK will even accept Russian ones that are often as speculative and dubious as your own.

Here are several kaitag photos we culled from those on franses’s website. They are illustrated with their complete descriptions for further commentary.

The first, which is dated by franses “18th century or earlier”, is as prosaically called by him the “Celtic Shield” as it is dated:

“ Kaitag region, south-west Daghestan
18th century or earlier
65 x 121 cm
silk embroidery on cotton”

Here is the full description with RK comments following:

“This design is reminiscent of 1st century BC Celtic shields in the British Museum, London. The Celtic-style motifs seen here, such as the simplified knotting in the lattice and the pinwheels, came from Georgia. They are widespread in south Daghestan in carvings of complicated intertwined vines on wooden mosque doors and giant triangular column capitals, which date from the 13th to 19th century. The shield-shaped design consists of two columns of five circles, joined by a band to form a lattice. The circles are filled with five- and six-pointed stars and four-pointed pinwheels. The four colours of silk include a brick red with exciting abrashes. The colours are shown off by the regularity of the laid and couched stitch outlined in stem stitch on a turquoise cotton ground.”

Besides for the fact these “shields” look more like giant lollipops than shields, we’d like to know why this embroidery, which according to franses shares a design with the area’s Mosque architecture that dates from the “13th to the 19th century”, is dated 18th or before?

If franses/chenciner based their guesstimate on the similarities to those Mosque doors and columns, how do they know the maker of this piece did not see them in the early 20th century?

Honestly, we believe it would be impossible to show ANY Near Eastern object, weaving or not, with a positive date of prior to the 19th century with even vague similarity to this kaitag’s interpretation.

Again, RK sees this description as nothing but hot air and historical fiction and we challenge ANYONE to prove it right and RK wrong.

The next kaitag from the exhibition is called “Hieroglyph” and it too is dated “18th century or earlier”:

“Kaitag region, south-west Daghestan
18th century or earlier
62 x 116 cm
silk embroidery on cotton”

“At a first glance, this freehand design recalls an enlarged version of Fatimid or Abbasid tiraz woven bands. This is a possible source, as there have been 'Pharo'on', or Egyptian Copts, living in Megwa, next to Gapshima, since the 8th century. The design elements seem to be in a coded language. The eroded rock-shaped zoomorphs may well be a development of an arabesque. These are quite separate from the blazons formed of blocks of nine hieroglyphic squares, perhaps based on Kufic letters, which, in the central band, are separated by hockey-stick shapes similar to those seen in heraldic blazons on 15th century Mamluk Egyptian metalwork, enamelled glass and carpets. There are a few surviving examples of zilus, the name for Egyptian cotton flatweaves woven with a special technique. This same technique is also found in the woollen weavings of a mountain village further south in Daghestan. Their greatly simplified Mamluk designs are evidence of other such contacts. These talismanic embroideries may also have drawn inspiration from, or shared a similar tradition with, occult books from Egypt that showed alchemical symbols alongside ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The nine colours of laid and couched silk thread are enhanced by the texture of a fine chequered background of diagonal brick filling stitch. While the outline stem stitch articulates the detailed motifs, the larger areas of the design are delineated by chevroned lines formed by reverse double chain stitch.”

To call the design here an “…enlarged version of tiraz…” is one of the dumbest statement ever made about these embroideries; franses should be embarrassed.

For those of you who do not know what tiraz is let RK explain.

A number of the most important ancient Egyptian garments have embroidered inscriptions placed around the neckline, sleeve or hem. Tiraz is the term used to descirbe these inscriptions.

Many of these have been translated and some can be dated from their inscriptions.

All tiraz is meticulously worked, incredibly fine and, no matter how one might stare or squint at this kaitag, RK finds it impossible to see franses's analogy.

It is nothing but another patently incorrect, highly misleading illusion a carpet-bagging hustler like franses throws around to impress the gullible and naïve.

Sorry, little lord franses, but back to the drawing board, or is it the dart board, so you can try out another dart?

As for the “coded language”, please franses/chenciner don’t make RK laugh any harder – you are either trying to out-do Houdini pulling a rabbit of a statement from a top hat or just so plain full of yourselves to believe anything you say will be lapped up by rugdom without even a burp.

Get real, you are both way, way off base and you should know it.

Here’s the next kaitag, called “Earthquake”. It is dated “18th century”:

“Kaitag region, south-west Daghestan
18th century
72 x 108 cm
silk embroidery on cotton”

“The embroiderer has created an image of the omnipresent Great Caucasian mountains. In Daghestan, the frequent earthquakes sometimes swallow up entire villages, as was the fate of Kazanitsi in 1972. They also reveal the geological layers formed by the upheavals of the earth's crust. Such physical surroundings may well have possessed the subconscious dreams of the embroiderer to evoke this stylised image of the creation of a primal mound surging out of the firmament, scattering water or lightning and a plethora of moving forms. The freely drawn outlines are filled with nine colours of laid and couched silk. The small motifs are picked out in a single thread stem stitch, while the larger areas are outlined in the broader reverse double chain stitch.”

Ho Ho, maybe franses should use the crystal ball that informed him of these alleged kaitag tiraz and earthquake designs to predict when the next earthquake will occur?

And please, little lord franses, explain to RK where you got your degree in psychology and dream interpretation, especially the one that might enable you to understand the unconscious motivations of a kaitag maker, who speaks English as well as you speak Kaitag.

And that primordial mound you refer to?

Wake up, frenchy, you are lost in the sauce, boy, big time.

This description goes miles to demonstrate how full of crapola you are and, even worse, how incapable rugdom is of differentiating BS from fact.

We saved the best kaitag for last. This one is called “Elk” and is dated “18th century or earlier:

“Kaitag region, south-west Daghestan
18th century or earlier
78 x 120 cm
silk embroidery on cotton”

“The central diamond-shaped medallions are surrounded by elk or deer with extended horns. They are reminiscent of a 5th to 6th century BC bronze from Georgia, or an ancient rock carving in Gobustan, 100 kilometres south of Baku in Azerbaijan. The end bands are both filled with a unique reciprocal border of twin-horned forms alternating with humanoids, surrounded by small hieroglyphs, animals and horns. Against the fiery red ground cloth, the eight colours of laid and couched silk are dominated by large areas of yellow chequered infill, which daringly changes to white, red or blue in the central diamond. The outline stem stitch and reverse double chain stitch are, unusually, suppressed, thereby emphasising the animals and chequered shapes.”

RK is sure the reason franses/chenciner do not mention the similarity with the following example, which is an undoubtedly earlier silk embroidery also from the Caucasus, is it makes mockery of their dating the kaitag to the 18th century, and not the 20th:

“Possibly Karabagh region, south-west Caucasus
circa 1700
72 x 84 cm (28 x 33 in)
silk embroidery in cross stitch on cotton”

This is a perfect example of the many analogous aspects kaitags share with Caucasian cross stitch and long stitch embroideries.

It also demonstrates the huge gaps between a distinctly articulated highly developed iconography, as seen in the Caucasian embroideries like the one above, and the indistinct, derivative interpretations present on many kaitags.

By the way, the Caucasian embroidery comes from franses own website.

Is he so rug-challenged to miss the connection when it is right there in front of his face?

We feel the many other similarities like this we could pose, and the complete absence of any kaitag illustrations or references prior to the end of the 20th century, provides substantial proof franses and chenciner’s lofty claims of great age and documentation of kaitag embroideries are complete hogwash.

Once again we challenge them, or anyone else, to try and refute our claims by discussing this, or any other related topic, with us on RugKazbah.com.

In closing, we must say we well know neither of them, nor anyone else, will accept our challenge.

We also know: The fact they won’t goes that long mile to prove our position and not theirs.

Kaitag embroideries are another hype and publicity stunt and, like we stated the other day, the kaitag embroidery will eventually be seen as the Ghiordes Prayer Rug Fraud of our generation.

Author: Barry O'Connell
Sun, Nov 6th, 2011 02:22:36 AM

RK Replies:

Greetings Barry and thanks for the information.

RK is not surpassed to learn franses has, in the article, made some critical errors in his efforts to hype kaitags and pump, or should we say pimp, the market for them.

Should you have the time to provide more details we are sure RK's readers would be most interested.


Hi Jack,

There are 34 people native to the North Caucasus. The Kaitag are counted as part of the Dargin people.

There are only about 7,000 Kaitag. They are only Sunni and Shia Muslims.

All those other religions cited in the article are doubtful to say the least and completely unsubstantiated as far as I can tell.

Summers Institute of Linguistics has been working on them for years and they are a first rate academic source.

If there were Zoroastrians or anything else they would have found it.

They have had trained observers in the area over the years.

The Frances article is troubling on many counts.

For instance Frances wrote: "These embroideries were not only once put to practical use as pillow covers".

When I look at the way these are made I have to wonder how much practical use they could withstand as a pillow cover.

With the way they are made the silk would abrade very quickly.

There are other issues, but got to run.

Best wishes,


Author: jc
Sun, Aug 5th, 2007 10:34:59 PM

RK is considering producing a movie.

We have already got a title, cast of characters and a plot.

Over the next fews days we are going to share this with our readers, as our time is quite short at the moment.

Though we will, before we go, let you all know the title: "kaitag: The Ghiordes Prayer Rug for Today."

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