Hand-made carpet weaving in Tajikistan with its centuries-old history and rich traditions is an integral part of the culture of its people. For centuries carpet weaving has passed down generations mainly through women, not only among Tajiks but other nations of Central Asia too. Since ancient times, this art has often become a family business with a stable income. Even now, carpet weaving is often the only source of income, especially for women who find themselves in difficult circumstances.
One such example is the story of Bilkis Nuri, a refugee from Afghanistan, who is today virtually supporting her entire family thanks to her skill of hand-weaving carpets of incredible beauty and high quality.
Four years ago, Bilkis with her husband and two sons were granted the refugee status in Tajikistan. They left literally all at their home country: their relatives, their house, job they loved and their hope for a bright future, searching for a peaceful sky above their head. Bilkis’ husband was a civil servant in Afghanistan – he worked in the Ministry of Communications of the IRA, she worked as a press secretary under the same Ministry. Her eldest son was in his third year of medical institute when they had to flee.
Unfortunately, migration history of this family is full of bitterness and wanderings, because for more than 20 years they have been searching for a better life. Bilkis was 20 when she got married. Right after the wedding, the newlyweds went to Iran, where they lived for about 15 years. Then they tried to return home but the war did not give them the opportunity to improve their life so they were again forced to change their place of residence. This time, the choice fell on Pakistan, where they could also live only for a few years. Then they try once again to settle in their homeland, but a fear for the future of their sons living in danger every day, makes them take a decision to move, and this time to Tajikistan.
“When we arrived in Tajikistan, we hoped that we could find a second home here, because the culture of Tajiks and Afghans is very similar. Our people have a thousand-year history of friendly relations. We fled the war but life here turned out to be no easier for us a bit”- says Bilkis Nuri. “Life here is very expensive. There is no work. Housing rent is high. Utility cost is also expensive. My husband and eldest son are unable to find work for a long time now. We brought with us about 30 thousand dollars saved for a rainy day, but that money was already out, and we were left without means of support.”
In desperation, Bilkis Nuri remembered the craft she had mastered since early childhood, as she literally grew up in a carpet workshop. At one time, her family owned a carpet manufacturing company making handmade silk carpets. They had a workshop where Bilkis, already as an adult, taught the intricacies of the craft to 80 students. Their carpets were in great demand among foreigners, who bought up all the products to take them to their countries. However, over time, the hardships of the war affected this family business, which gradually ceased to exist.
Bilkis contacted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and a few months later, UNIDO national experts, in close cooperation with the UNHCR in Tajikistan, learned about the skills of an Afghan refugee who is proficient in not only Afghan, but also Tajik, Iranian and Pakistani carpet weaving techniques. Bilkis was helped to get a job at Gulward enterprise, a UNIDO project beneficiary that specializes in manufacturing of handmade carpets.
“When I saw the carpets produced by Tajik craftswomen under the UNIDO project, I really wanted to join them. I started out with small rugs that I weaved at home. The experts liked my work, and for me it was at least a kind of income. In our situation, any opportunity to make money is a great luck. Now I am finishing work on my first large carpet. Of course, you can’t make big money by carpet weaving, but I am eternally grateful for this opportunity. Thanks to the project experts for helping me find orders, owing to which I get a fee for my work in good time. This is an invaluable support for my family” – noted the Afghan craftswoman.
Today, a family of four lives in a small one-room apartment. That one room serves as both a recreation area and a workshop where unique products are woven. Smiling Bilkis Nuri modestly dreams of a separate workshop and an assistant: “Of course, mastering such an ancient skill is very good but in order to work quickly and efficiently, one needs a separate, specially equipped room and students. I have many ideas which, unfortunately, are not yet possible to get implemented.”
“When I saw the carpets produced by Tajik craftswomen under the UNIDO project, I really wanted to join them.”