Walking into Nizak Sahakian’s rug shop was like entering into an old world of business. One was greeted by the smell of wool and the dark austerity of a small simple undecorated room. A single light bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated the interior. But then there were the rugs! Art at your feet waiting to be discovered and discussed. Located at McCullough across from Mulberry in the old Monte Vista neighborhood, for 40 years his shop was a gathering place for quite an assortment of people. Doctors, lawyers, professors, students, those of modest means and those of wealth, the eccentrics and the ordinary, a population of all kinds gravitated to the Sahakian shop, all eager to see his new treasures and listen to stories of the old country and his opinions about all things.
With absolute authority Nizak presided over this court of customers, friends and hangers on. The women kissed his cheek and the men were deferential. With his mane of white hair and his thick handle bar mustache, even at 80, he cut a roguish handsome figure. Nizak was a man who appeared larger than life. He had a personality we rarely encounter today: irascible, straight forward, with a strong sense of self. Charming, a great talker and story teller, fluent in four languages, Nizak was comfortable with all sorts of people. He had survived the Armenian massacres, and had served with the British army in Mesopotamia. Nizak possessed a unique insight into human nature. He understood history.
Nizak had come to the United States, as part of the diaspora of Middle Eastern Christians fleeing the slaughter of the Turkish genocides. Armenian refugees quickly became involved in all aspects of the Oriental rug business. Historically connected with rug weaving for centuries and from a culture that valued commerce and entrepreneurship, they soon dominated and literally shaped the Oriental rug business in the United States. Their understanding of rugs went far beyond just the exigencies of business. Men like Sahakian had a true understanding and love for good rugs of all types. Their influence was essential in establishing old tribal and village rugs as valued art forms.
At a time when the American rug consciousness was still unformed, Nizak shaped San Antonio’s rug world. Sahakian’s customers and friends bought extraordinary old rugs on his recommendations trusting his taste and sense of beauty. They were never disappointed. His knowledge and love of rugs were a gift to the people of San Antonio. Teacher, rug man, a true gentleman, kind and generous, I was privileged to have known him. He literally changed my life.