When it comes to what to depict on rugs, Afghan weavers traditionally turn to what’s most familiar. So in the 1980s, when the Mujahedeen were fighting back the Soviet occupation, some local weavers abandoned flowers and water jugs to illustrate what their days consisted of back then: war.
Tanks, helicopters, Kalashnikovs, hand grenades, and bazookas started creeping into the centuries-old tradition, either as elements of a landscape or as icons in a pattern. “My favorite one is an old Beluch style one,” says the 49-year-old U.S. entrepreneur Kevin Sudeith. “The design dates back to the 19th century but it has two helicopters and two tanks at each end of the rug.”
In 1996, Sudeith discovered one of the war rugs in the house of an Italian architect and decided to start collecting them. Shortly after, he was dealing them, both online and in flea markets around New York for prices ranging from a few hundreds to several thousand U.S. dollars each.
After 9/11, he thought his business was going to disappear. Surprisingly, a renewed interest in Afghanistan pushed the orders up, especially following the arrival on the market of a new set of rugs, depicting the attacks to the World Trade Center. In one of them, the misspelled caption “The teroris were nhe American” caused controversy in the U.S., as it seemed to imply that the rugs’ makers were celebrating the attack.