Arak escaped most of the triumphs and disasters that afflicted its neighbours. Sultanabad; old name for Arak; was founded in the beginning of 19th century by Fath Ali Shah. They are mainly Persian in race and speech. Agriculturally it is a very rich land.
Arak is hot and dusty during summer and cold during winter. The city has a fairly healthy climate and possesses an industrious population. It is a centre for agriculture and carpet weaving.
Arak is one of the four most important carpet centres of Iran. It has been the house of the cheap carpets for 100 years. Weaving has been going on in Arak for probably the past 150 years. During the nineteenth century Arak was producing sound, serviceable and inexpensive carpets; at first for home consumption and towards the end of the century for export.
Tabriz merchants about 1875 started production for export. On 1883 a British firm of Swiss origin; Messrs Zeigler and Co of Manchester; established an office there. They were importers of Manchester piece goods and their first office was in Tabriz. Their business prospered but they found difficulty in remitting the proceeds of their sales to London. Their principal method was to purchase sold coins, mainly Russian Imperials which they forwarded in groups by special messenger to Russia; whence the counter value was transferred to London through normal banking channels. One of Zeiglers’ staff, a German called Oscar Straus, suggested that it might be to the firm’s advantage to use their funds for buying carpets in Sultanabad, which they could turn in to money in England. The plan was adopted, and in 1883 Strauss was sent to Sultanabad to begin operations. Before many years Zeiglers possessed a large compound in Sultanabad, with houses for their staff, offices, dye houses and stores and were placing orders for carpets in the town and the surrounding villages. It was they who established the system of giving out the yarn ready dyed to the weavers. They used both native and European dyes. Their designs were mainly repeating patterns. The repeat was first woven in the form of mats, which were distributed among the weavers to be used as models for their carpets. In course of time these were replaced by scale-paper designs. The business grew in importance until by the turn of the century, Zeiglers were controlling 2500 looms in the area. The undertaking, after a long and honourable record was voluntarily liquidated shortly before the last war. It was not until the first decade of the 20th century that other European and American Firms established themselves in Sultanabad, like Zeiglers. They built dye houses, offices and stores, engaged designers and proceeded to plan orders for carpets in their own designs and colours, with town and county weavers. Most of the carpets were of medium quality. They were shipped direct to NewYork and London via Caspian and Batum.
Until World War 1 foreign firms continued to expand their operations in the area very rapidly. There were 3000 looms in Sultanabad alone and almost every name in the surrounding villages had a loom. It was estimated that £1m of foreign capital was invested in the small town of Sultanabad and it’s environs before World War 1.
An important part of the trade still remained in the hands of the Tabriz merchants. Until World War I. The two cheaper qualities of Sultanabad, Meshkabad and Mahal, were shipped to Istanbul, where they were sold to buyers from all parts of the world, particularly from Germany and Austria.
Collapse of Central powers after World War 1 was a serious blow to Sultanabad’s weaving industry and almost put Tabriz merchants out of business. However, it was saved by sudden demand from USA for a better grade of carpets i.e. Saruk. They took in notable quantities of this carpet during the boom years of Twenties. But with the advent of depression that market was temporarily lost as well.
Nevertheless as soon as US came out of crisis the demand for Saruks was revived. However, the situation in Sultanabad had changed. The production which was abandoned by Americans and European firms was now firmly in the hands of local Persian merchants. The foreign firms thought it impracticable to carry-on the old lines. Since the power and prestige, which they had previously enjoyed was gone. So they started getting their supplies from Persian agents and so it still continues.
Arak Weaving Area
The best way of surveying Arak weaving is by quality rather than district.
Arak proper produces three qualities; the Meshkabad, the Mahal and the Saruk. These are not confined to special villages or districts. Meshkabad and Mahal are closely allied and weavers some times switch from one to another. After the World War II town weavers and some of the more important villages have abandoned the cheaper qualities and are weaving Saruks.
Below is a list of principal weaving areas of Arak in 1948:
Arak Saruk: Extra, II & I
Farahan Saruk rugs, Mahals, Meshkabad.
Dulakhor Meshkabad, Mahal
Chahar-ra Saruk rugs
Mahallat Saruk: Extra II & I
Kezzaz Saruk: II & III
Khonsar Saruk I & II
Kemereh Lilihan, Reihan
Japalak Low grade Meshkabad
Saraband Saraband and some very low-grade rugs and carpets for home consumption
With the exception of the few Armenian villages of Kemereh and less important Turkish and Georgian villages of Fereidan the weaving area of Arak is inhibited by Persian Moslems; who weave the Persian Knot. The most important weaving districts outside the town of Arak are Meshkabad, Farahan, Dulakhor, Mahallat, Kezzaz and Khonsar. The Mahallat is the richest agricultural area of the province and some of the best Saruks are produced in it’’ prosperous villages. One of them; the important village of Mohajiran is reputed to produces the best Saruks in the whole province.
THE MAHAL CARPET
It is not totally clear where the name Mahal comes from. There is no basic difference in weave between Mahal and Meshkabad. The difference is one of quality and materials. Mahal is finer. The carpet is denser, somewhat thicker in pile and better finished.
Designs are more varied and more accurately executed. The principal areas of the Mahal carpets are Farahan and Dulakhor.