The Kilim Girls


The traffic signs show 100 km to Iran and 250 km to Iraq. Yellow mountains, hectares of dry stone. Marvelous historic castles give a first glimpse into the long history of Southeastern Anatolia. We arrive in Van, the second largest Kurdish city in Turkey. Not very long ago, Kurdish militant groups were fighting the Turkish hegemony here. But nowadays, people are more concerned about rebuilding large parts of the city after the 2013 earth quake. Political stability has brought some economic growth, tourists and access to the Western world to the conservative muslim region.


We meet Enver – the founder of the Kilimworks project. The project started some 20 years ago but he still seems utterly excited when talking about it. The idea of the project goes beyond conserving the traditional way of producing carpets or Kilims which brought the project already to exhibitions in San Diego and Zurich. The idea behind it will lead us to the tensions on the family level between a traditionalist local society and a globalized world. Where fathers won’t mentioned their girls when asked about their kids or 12-year old girls are promised to adult men if they offer good money. He takes us to some workshops where we spot some nervous young faces behind the windows.


Each workshop provides facilities for some 10-20 mothers, daughters and other young girls. The main room is filled with colorful yarns and weaving looms. The weaving craft looks really confusing for the inexperienced eye. Threads go up and down and left and right and to the front. Aljama, a 17 years old girl, does not get tired of correcting us again and again - and it has probably been the 50th time by now. She is about to finish high school and keen to study law afterwards. Outside of school, she spends most of her time at the workshop - to be with her friends, weave Kilims and attend English and computer classes.
We are supposed to come outside to help collect tomatoes and cucumbers for the common lunch. Every house has its own little garden and some beehives attached. One of them is labelled EMPOWER. Profits from the Kilims and honey are used for the pay of the women and for investments in new equipment and maintenance of the facilities.



Often two or three girls work on one Kilim collectively – while they chat, laugh and exchange weaving techniques. It takes the more experienced weavers about two months to hand-make a 2x2m carpet. They use wool from local sheep and natural dying methods. We cannot take our eyes off the beautiful Tribal Conflict Kilims. Each of them tells a unique story. Sema explains some of the patterns on her Kilim and how it gets very colorful and shiny at the top.



After two days in the workshops, we have had about a hundred Turkish teas and have a hard time saying good bye. Find the selection of our favorite kilims here.


Text and pictures by Tim Winke