Iran's Kashan Bazaar Rug Exports Plummet Amid Sanctions and Tourism Decline

Iran's rug exports have plummeted to under $50 million, down from $2 billion two decades ago, due to US sanctions and decreased tourism. The historic Kashan bazaar, once a thriving hub for silk carpet exports, has been severely impacted by the economic turmoil.

Trim Correspondents
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Iran's Kashan Bazaar Rug Exports Plummet Amid Sanctions and Tourism Decline

Iran's Kashan Bazaar Rug Exports Plummet Amid Sanctions and Tourism Decline

The historic Kashan bazaar in central Iran, once a thriving hub for silk carpet exports, has seen its rug exports dwindle to less than $50 million in the last year, a drastic drop from the $2 billion mark two decades ago, according to government customs figures. The collapse of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers and increased tensions with the West have dealt a severe blow to the centuries-old industry.

Why this matters: The decline of Iran's rug exports has significant implications for the country's economy and cultural heritage, as well as the global market for handmade crafts. The loss of this traditional industry could also have a ripple effect on local communities and artisans, leading to further economic instability and cultural homogenization.

The decline in exports is largely attributed to the reimposition of US sanctions on Iranian-made Persian rugs in 2018, following President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal. The sanctions have effectively cut off the lucrative American market, which once accounted for a significant portion of Iran's rug exports. Ali Faez, owner of a carpet shop at the bazaar, lamented the loss of American customers, stating, "Americans were some of our best customers... Unfortunately, this has been cut — and the connection between the two countries for visitors to come and go has gone away."

Compounding the industry's woes is the sharp decline in tourism to Kashan, particularly from high-value American and European tourists. The lack of international visitors has further exacerbated the challenges faced by rug weavers and merchants. Abdullah Bahrami, head of a national syndicate for handwoven rug producers, expressed his frustration, saying, "The whole world used to know Iran by its rugs... It started when Trump signed that paper. He ruined everything."

The rug weaving industry, designated by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage, has been hit hard by the economic turmoil. Weavers, many of whom are women, are now working for as little as $4 a day. The collapse of the rial currency has also made it difficult for Iranians to purchase handwoven rugs, leading to a growing number of Afghan migrants working in workshops around Kashan.

Designer Javad Amorzesh, who once employed four to five assistants in a large workshop, now finds himself alone, struggling to make ends meet. "Inflation rose every hour. People were hit repeatedly by inflation," he said, offering a bitter laugh. "We've been left isolated."

The Kashan bazaar's rug exports, once valued at $80 million a year to the US alone, have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former glory. As tensions between Iran and the West continue to simmer, the future of this ancient cultural tradition hangs in the balance, with weavers and merchants hoping for a breakthrough that could revive their struggling industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Iran's rug exports have dropped to $50 million, down from $2 billion 20 years ago.
  • US sanctions on Iranian-made Persian rugs have cut off the lucrative American market.
  • Tourism decline in Kashan has further exacerbated the industry's challenges.
  • Weavers, mostly women, now earn as little as $4 a day due to economic turmoil.
  • The industry's future hangs in the balance due to ongoing tensions between Iran and the West.