- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 19, 2004

Nuri-Nuris: Fate and the art of doll making

Every Saturday morning Ashot Khalatyan takes a bag full of good luck to sell at Yerevan 's outdoor bazaar, vernisage.
A tradition of good luck.

Inside the bag are the black bearded faces and traditionally-decorated headwear of dolls created thread by thread to hold together a tradition that reaches to pagan times in Armenia.

They are Nuri-Nuris, colorfully-woven dolls that are believed by some to bring good fortune to the homes in which they are placed.

Nuri-Nuri means rain bride. In old times the dolls were used to ask rain from the sky on hot days or during drought. They also came to symbolize abundance and fertility.

Ashot's wife, Mariam, makes the dolls, and for the past 10 years or so they have been a source of good fortune for the couple, providing an income, selling at $5 to $25 apiece.

Ashot and Mariam are by no means the only Nuri-Nuri sellers. As cultural tradition has surfaced following the Soviet Union 's neutralizing effect so have the Nuri-Nuris in salons, bazaars, souvenir shops, their red cheeks and metal coins on foreheads and large dark eyes and long tresses of hair.

However, Mariam's Nuri-Nuris are different by their neat knitting, color and facial expressions.

On a small loom Mariam starts the base with threads on which she weaves the doll's skeleton, its body and clothes with multicolored woolen threads. The readied carpet exterior is filled with clean cotton wool and the doll gets its main roundish shape. At the end is the most responsible part – embroidering the face and placing hair and the beard which is done again with woolen threads. Besides that, Mariam also puts leather moccasins on her dolls' feet and there are also small clay jugs hanging from women's waists and then Nuri-Nuris are ready.  

“My girl was just born when I made the first doll for her, from fabric,” tells Mariam. “At that time it didn't even occur to me that Nuri-Nuris will become an inseparable part of my life. The first doll that appeared in vernisage was my work, which was improved with time and reflected nuances and
customs of Armenian folk carpet making.”

Mariam's understanding is that Nuri-Nuri dolls come from the tradition of Vardavar, a feast that comes from pagan times symbolizing the worship of water. The main component of this ritual – which continues one Sunday per year – is water which people pour on each other as a sign of fertility and success.

 “On Vardavar these dolls had a ritual meaning and were symbols of new life, water, fertility,” Mariam says.

Mariam sews, Ashot sells.

Tradition is
tradition, and even today sacramental faith in Nuris continues for some who buy the dolls deeply believing that they will bring happiness and success to them or their family.

“There have been many cases during these years when people have come and thanked us for the happiness that Nuri-Nuri made by my wife has brought to them,” tells Ashot. “Someone bought a doll from us and gave it to relatives who live in the States and who hadn't had any children for more than 10 years. Nuri-Nuri brought happiness to them and they had twins. By the way they named the girl Mariam, in honor of my wife. The name Mariam was written on the doll. Someone else got married, another one had great success.”

Such stories encourage Mariam, who spends up to 10 hours completing one doll.

“I work with great pleasure and I think my mood passes on to the dolls,” says Mariam. “I get very glad when they say that my dolls have brought happiness or good luck. But I think happiness also comes from a person's inner faith.”

Mariam, who started her craft as a rug maker 25 years ago, says that together with handicraft she constantly learns about nuances and ornaments of Armenian folk traditions. According to the master the aprons of Nuri-Nuris just like the women in old centuries tell a history of a whole clan and have their own symbols.


Previously a director of Sundukyan Theatre, today a doll-seller, Ashot starts putting the sad and happy dolls rich in color and ornaments one after the other on a wooden display and the day at vernisage begins.

“My specialty helps me to interact with people and present them my wife's hand made work,” says the bearded (like a Nuri-Nuri doll) Ashot. “But the greatest pleasure is the happy faces of those people who come back and thank us for the luck and happiness that the dolls have brought them.”

Mariam says that over the years she has made thousands of dolls that live in different parts of the world. Just like people, each one of them has its fate and long or short life.

“We had one male doll whose wives were always bought and he would stay alone and each time when my husband was taking out of his bag that doll with sad expression on its face my heart would break. So I got angry and made him three wives at a time. But one day they bought him too,” says Mariam. “In general, you never know who they will like and who they won't. Once I made a doll and it ended up so ugly, she looked like our actor Mher Mkrtchyan. I though they wouldn't like it but I was wrong. In the world of dolls just like in real life everything is unpredictable.”

And, sometimes, says the couple, perhaps a reflection of the real world...

“Once I returned home with only male dolls. I don't know why, but they bought all the female ones on that day,” tells Ashot. “Mariam started laughing and said it was just like life in Armenia . Women make money and men come home empty handed.”

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Fire and Rain and a Rain of Fire

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