Words about Words; ‘Kazak’.

The Nomads Tent has been selling rugs described as ‘Kazak’ by all and sundry in the rug weaving world. In my ignorance, of which I have an abundance, I assumed Kazak rugs had something to do with Kazakhstan, east of the Caspian Sea. Well this is true only of a few rare but very lovely examples. The name almost invariably refers to rugs from the Caucasus. Here are some facts recently unearthed. It shows how a little knowledge and a lot of supposition led me astray, and also how interesting words can be.


Modern ‘Kazak’ rugs (A and B) are mostly woven in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

These rugs are called ‘Kazak’ because their designs originate in, or take inspiration from examples found in the Caucasus, including Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, this latter country having in it a town call Gazagh, pronounced by some as Kazak.

Since the huge rug weaving boom of the late 19th century, it appears the name ‘Kazak’ got stuck as a description for these rugs.

Typically ‘Kazak’ rugs have rich, complex and mainly geometric designs. 

Early examples are hugely prized. The example shown (C) has a Turcoman like ‘gul’ at the centre, showing the mixing of traditions that so enriches rug weaving.


The River Kazagh (D) runs north to south through Armenia in the area that Kazak rugs were woven. Apparently in ancient times the region was called Khazar or Khazak. Still in Persian the Caspian Sea is called sea of Khazar.

Cossack has no historical or cultural connection with Kazakhstan, the Gazakh region of Azerbaijan, or the River Kazagh.

But Cossacks were of course a notably free and independent people.

I have heard from a reliable source that ‘Kazak’ means free or independent. Gazagh region seems to have been a recognised Sultanate, though not with much real independence, established during the reign of Shah Abbas and continuing through Ottoman and Russian control of the region.

For the serious word nerd: 'Max Vasmer's etymological dictionary traces the name ‘Kazak’ to the Old East Slavic word козакъ, kozak, a loanword from Cuman, in which cosac meant "free man" but also "adventurer”. The ethnonym Kazakh is from the same Turkic root. In modern Turkish it is pronounced as "Kazak".' (Thank you Mr Wikipedia!)

Finally, (though my efforts are very, very far from the last word on this matter) some rugs really were woven in Kazakhstan. I suspect it was a trade that died in the mid 20th century, perhaps under the ‘modernising’ influence of the Soviet Union. Above (E.1 and E.2) are some mid 20th century examples borrowed from a collector in Kazakhstan with typical Caucasian elements.

With thanks to learned ‘ruggies’ around the world who offered advice on this subject.