Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Bey of Azov

In the 14th century, Genoa would found the exchange port of Tana at the mouth of the Don River, at the eastern extremity of the Sea of Azov.  Not actually a marketing town, it was a transshipment point for goods deriving from the Caspian Sea, lands east of the Urals and trade coming along the Silk Road through Samarkand and Herat, loaded on vessels in Tabiristan and Gilan (the south shore of the Caspian).  Tana then shipped to Kaffa, the Genoese port on the Black Sea, and thence to markets in western Europe.  For a century, despite the Black Plague, the flow of goods from Tana made Genoa rich.

When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1454, however, and the Black Sea became a Turkish lake, Genoese trade collapsed.  As goods to Constantinople came via the overland passes through the Transcaucasus from Baku to Vati, Tana withered.  Only with the rise of Russia in the early 16th century (the time of Ivan the Terrible) was there a resurgence of trade in the Azov.  The Ottomans refounded the town, established diplomatic relations with the Russians and began to transfer goods from the north.

The Bey of Azov is a small enclave bordering the lands of the Don Cossacks and the Kingdom of Cumana. bashi-bazouks, numbering more than a thousand. These are leaderless, irregular soldiers of the Ottoman army, free to do as they will in times of minimal activity.  Armed, given places to live, the bashi-bazouks receive no pay and are thus dependent on plunder and adventure.  Typically, they roam the rural provinces both inside and outside the Bey in gangs of 20 to 30, threatening peasants from Ottoman-controlled Kubanistan or in Cumana. Typically they do not provoke the Don Cossacks, but larger raids have been known to occur.  The bashi-bazouks are also known to have pirated small vessels on the Sea of Azov.  They are primarily interested in drunkenness, lewd activities or the personal trading of opium, furs and caviar, brought from the environs of the Astrakhan pirates.  A raiding party can often be 'bought off' with provisions and spirits.

The unpleasantness of the posting - rife pestilence of the surrounding swamp lands, at the edge of the empire, threatened by raids and suffering cold in the winter - has resulted in the town becoming a military outpost dominated by

There is also a contingent of Janissarries in Azov, number 150, posted in a single fortress.  Highly trained fanatic soldiers, these keep order both among the Azov population and the bashi-bazouks.  The Janissaries are much feared, even by the Cossacks, being the principle reason why raids are not typically carried out in Ottoman lands.  They typically fight with pole-arms and crossbow, and in close order, being deadly in both the attack and defense.  The Devsirme, the practice in which non-Muslim boys are seized and trained to be Janissaries, was discontinued in 1638 (13 years before), but virtually all adult troops in these contingents are still deeply entrenched in their loyalty to the empire.  They are among the most dangerous soldiers in the world.

The rural lands within the Bey, stretching along the Sea of Azov, tend to exploit the 'dry roads' from the Kubanistan hinterland to the sea.  These are routes through the gulleys and sand flats of Azov, where
wanderers and their equipment can easily fall prey to quicksand if they do not know the correct way.  Along the coast, tiny villages collect anise, maize, rice, wheat, coriander, soybeans, tea and tobacco from the interior and ship it along the coast in ketches to Cherzeti.

The rural people drink a tea made of pine and wormwood, boiled all day and sipped from small cups that rest in the palm.  In the winter, holding the cup balanced on the palm of the hand is a means to warm oneself against the bitterly cold winds that sweep from the west.  Much of the poetry that is written among these Azovian peoples concerns itself with the smell of the land, the odor of the sea, the wet, mildewing emanation that rises from the soil.  Poetry is preferable to music, and is spoken nightly in the home.  Young poets are encouraged to apply their efforts, but the meter and precision of the poetry form demands a very rigorous approach to subject material.

As the land will not support many, in times of drought children have been known to be exposed.  Some of these may be found by wandering bashi-bazouks and brought to Azov, where they are sold as slaves - sometimes to orc pirates or brigands from the Jagatai Empire north of the Caspian.  If so, the children are said to be eaten in festivals.  The peoples surrounding Azov have many awful tales they tell of the Jagatai, the remnants of the Golden Horde that once dominated this area and Russia, but a live and let live policy is usually adopted towards Jagatai orc traders that pass through.

There is only one significant produce that derives from the Azov itself, that being fish both from the delta and the sea.  Otherwise, the towns of  Azov and Bataysk (founded by Russians) are occupied by soldiers, a few traders and a significant criminal element.  Smuggling is rife, particularly into Cumana, that goes on unrestrained by any element of Azov.  The Bey of Azov, Andru-sa-Alam, dwells not in the land itself but in the court of the Sultan, in Constantinople.


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