Turkoman rugs are famous, tending towards rich reds with geometric patterns. Some traditional patterns are unique to each tribe, and an expert can generally identify the tribe from the shape of the medallion-like pattern elements called guls. However, it is fairly common to find a mixture; when a weaver from one tribe marries into a different tribe, she may use elements from both in her creations.
Sometimes Turkoman rugs are called “Bokhara” rugs because Bukhara in neighbouring Uzbekistan was a centre for their trade. Turkmenistan is not the only source of Turkoman rugs; Uzbekistan and northern areas of both Iran and Afghanistan have some Turkoman people. Other Afghan rugs are heavily influenced by Turkoman design and Turkoman designs are often copied in India and Pakistan; dealers may also call those rugs “Bokhara” but, while some of them are fine rugs, in general they are neither as high quality nor as valuable as real Turkoman rugs.
Today, wool is often coloured with synthetic and not with natural dyes; back in the 19th and early 20th century, this was a problem because early synthetic dyes were of low quality. Today, it is much less of an issue but some collectors still prefer natural dyes, mainly because they give better arbrash, the subtle variation in colour across a rug.
You need an export permission for carpets purchased in a bazaar or private shop. The Expert Commission on the back of the Carpet Museum in Ashgabat (phone 398879 and 398887, opening hours M-F 14:30-17:30, Sa 10:00-12:00) has to certify that the carpet is not more than 50 years old and may be exported. This costs 115 manat per square metre and can take a few days. In addition carpets exceeding 1.5 square metres are subject to an export duty of 400 manat per square metre payable in USD at the official rate of exchange at customs on departure.
Some carpet factories are run by the state owned company Turkmenhaly. If you buy a carpet in a state shop, the export fees normally are included in the price, although customs will charge a commission fee of 0.2 percent of the price of the carpet.
For an accessible (still in print and sanely priced) guide to these carpets, look for books by the California collector Dr. Murray Eiland. If you intend spending a lot, and especially if you are interested in older carpets, it may be worth looking deeper. The classic book on Turkoman rugs is Tappiseries de l’Asie Centrale by AA Bogolyubov, who was Tsarist governor of Turkmenistan, published in Russian and French in St. Petersburg in 1905. It was a limited edition and is now rare and extremely expensive (several thousand U.S. dollars). If you are passing through London, the British Museum has a copy and will let visitors browse through it. A translation (the original French plus English), Carpets of Central Asia (ISBN 978-0903580052), was published in Britain in the 1960s; it is no longer in print but can be found in libraries. On the used market, it is both much easier to find and far less expensive than the original.