01 January, 2018

The Politics of Persian Rugs

Persian Rug

To look at Persian rugs is to gaze into a world of artistic magnificence nurtured for more than 2500 years. The Iranians were the first carpet weavers of the ancient civilizations and through centuries of creativity and ingenuity building upon the talents of the past, achieved a unique degree of excellence.

From being simple articles of need, the increasing beauty of the carpets soon found them new owners. Kings and noblemen invested in these fine carpets as signs of wealth and power and adorned their fine buildings with Persian rugs. Over many centuries, Persian Rugs have maintained their value to the present day.

Sanctions on Iran were all about oil, right? Yes, but a little-known fact is that the international sanctions imposed over the past decade to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions had a devastating effect on its second largest export: the iconic Persian rug.

Iran is one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations, and the Persian carpet tells much of that story, tracing back at least as far as the Bronze Age. It has been infused with magical properties in tales such as One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, celebrated by everyone from Edith Wharton to Sigmund Freud, and has survived centuries of holy wars, colonialism and revolutions.

But until January 2016, when President Barack Obama signed an executive order lifting sanctions, all Persian rugs—whether antique or brand-new—were banned from entering the U.S., regardless of how long they had been outside Iran. For instance, a Persian rug sold in London that had not been in Iran for more than a century still could not be shipped to the United States. Purveyors of Persian rugs in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere were forced to navigate convoluted rules imposed by the U.S. government that would shift every several years or so, depending on the political vicissitudes of the day.

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