788: Najibullah

Pakistan, Turkmen, Date Unknown
One thick overcast brown wool

Demonstrably a statement of Afghan nationalism, the Najibullah rugs, of which this is an excellent example, depict a moment of indigenous cultural control and power. The background consists of a country map in which Afghanistan serves as the central element (here in green).  The large figure in the center of the green field is Najibullah for whom this series of rugs is named.

Mohammed Najibullah (1947-1996) was a member of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and began his serious political career as head of the state intelligence agency, leading to his ultimate role as leader of the government of Afghanistan from 1986 until the seizure of the government by the mujahedeen in 1992, the uprising of which is depicted here. Seen clearly as a Soviet puppet, here designated by the hand with the hammer and sickle holding him, and backed by Soviet arms and weaponry including tanks, bombs, and helicopters, Najibullah is surrounded by entrenched Mujahedeen to whom he will lose, a fact well known to the rug’s intended audience.

The contrast between the large scale, but detached weaponry of the Soviets and the small scale, but personal nature of the local Afghan mujahedeen serves to turn this genre of rug into almost a warrior underdog story. In addition, the presence of the pastoral scene outside the fighting framework highlights the traditional way of life for Afghans and may serve to illustrate that which is meant to be protected from external forces.

By Alicia Cunningham-Bryant