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Caspian Sea

Your name is The Caspian Sea

     “No nation has ever yet existed or will be able to exist away the sea. No one can imagine a great nation cut off from the seashore”. /K. Marx/

     Why the sea is called the Caspian Sea?

The Caspian Sea is situated at the interface of two continents, they are Europe and Asia. It looks like the Latin letter “S” by shape. The length of the Caspian Sea is about 400 km. from the west to the east. Approximately 10 million years ago the Caspian Sea tore off the global ocean and started its own story. At some period of history the Caspian Sea flew together with the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. It was a part of the ancient ocean Thetys. Just then a legend was born. The legend tells that the water of Black Mouth (Kara-Bogaz-Gol bay nowadays. It is situated southward Tupkaragan) flows to the Hades and connected with underdrains of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. Our sea was beloved and glorified at all times, even when it had a different name and shoreline, and took up a lot of land.

     During the Caspian Sea existence it had about 70 names. Different tribes and nations gave the sea various names. Famous Classical Greek poet called the Caspian Sea “The Pond of Sun”. Why? This question will be asked by those who has never seen off the Sun by the Caspian Sea. It is no coincidence that poets and artists get inspiration just at sunset. Father of History Herodotus describes the Caspian Sea as: “It is special. You can sail its length over in 15 days and its width in 8 days in a row boat. Caucasia lines along the west coast of the Sea. Caucasia is the widest by volume and the highest mountain”. For many ages Caspian bordering lands were considered an ancestral home of enigmatic Amazonians. And what is more, it is known that in ancient times one nation was living on the east coast of the Caspian Sea, they called themselves Massagetaes. Tomyris queen was governing that nation. Once upon a time a Persian king Cyrus tried to conquer that free steppe nation. His capturing plan failed. The Persian army was awake at night, but became weaker by morning. At dawn the steppe warriors on fast horses broke into the hostile camp and routed the Persian army. This fact gave a birth to a legend about Tomyris and her nationals’ magic, who could appear from the depths of the sea. Persians and Greeks called the Caspian Sea “Hyrcanys” in prehistoric times. Concerning the Arrian’s legend, just in the mountains of Hyrcania Alexander the Great commanded to “cut the forest and build long ships without decks upon the model of Greek people”. Gorgan (Jurjan) region was famous many ages later as one of the most important Caspian navigation centers. The Caspian Sea is called “the Northern Sea” in works of a famous geologist S.A. Kovalevsky (I century). The Chinese called this sea “the Western Sea”. The Assyrians called it “the Eastern Sea”. This sea is the best and warmest and that’s all.

     It is known not only by Peri-Caspian inhabitants that the “velvet” season on the seaside is all year round. The sea was known as “the Khazar Sea” in essays of Arab writers and scientists (IX century). Up to now the name “Khazar Denyzy” is currant in Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and in some other eastern countries. This name comes from a big Turkic ethnos and State formation – Khazar kaganat. In the X century Khazar people were routed by the Slavs and joint other nations. The history of this nation remained in the name of the sea. Venetian explorers Marco Polo and Harritsa (X century) called the sea “Hleveshelan”. With the spreading of Islam and Arab caliphate range expansion the sea became a special focus for Arab conquerors, scientists and explorers. It is called the Tabaristan or Chorasmian Sea. Names of the Caspian Sea during a millenary are equal the number of waves in the sea.

     In 1306 the explorer of the Caspian Sea and seashores Marino Sanuto I gave it a new name “the George Sea”. Amsterdam geographer and explorer R. Ottens called the sea “Bogar-Karsun” borrowed this name from Moors. A century later an interesting record appeared in notes of journey “A Journey Beyond the Three Seas” (1466-1472) written by Russian merchant and explorer A. Nikitin. It was written there: “I wrote about my sinful journey beyond the three seas. The first sea is the Derbent Sea or the Khvalynskiy Sea. (It was said about the Caspian Sea). The second one is the Indian Sea or the Hindustan Sea. The third one is the Black Sea or the Istanbul Sea”. “Notes” by A. Nikitin is a medieval Rus literary monument and is of value as geographical material. They mention the Khvalynskiy Sea in Russian folk songs which were popular during the Pugachev’s Rebellion, “Glorious Khvalynskiy Sea”. Before the Mongolian invasion Russian people called the sea Blue, the Turk called it White (Ak Dengyz), also Black and Red. In general we can say that the colour of our sea was different for each nation. On ancient and medieval maps you can find different names of the Caspian Sea: Abeskun, Daylam, Kolzum, Sihay, Kuchuk-Denyz, Mazandaran, Hilyan, Syrian, Persian, Pekhlivan, Baku, Astrakhan, Salyan, Shyrvan, Mugan, Albanian, Quazvin, Saray, Tabasaran, and Persian. This is all about the Caspian Sea.   

     When the sea was called The Caspian Sea?  

     In ancient times Caspian tribes were living on the south-west coast of the Caspian Sea. They mostly did cattle-breeding. This tribe’s name assigned to the biggest closed basin-lake Caspian. For the first time our sea was called the Caspian Sea in Arab sources. Historians witnessed that in the II millennium B.C. the Caspian lived in independent country, which name was “Caspiana”. Weaken the country’s strength and power Caspiana became a part of Albania and a part of Azerbaijanian nation later. Many years have passed, but the nation kept their legends. In one of the legends it is told that in former times it was a powerful and warlike nation. They were called “Custodians of Caspian Gates” of Northern Azerbaijan and Derbent key point. Classical authors note that this nation was fighting with Xerxes Persian armies (V century B.C.). The modern name the Caspian Sea got from that ancient maritime tribe.

     Arab historians and writers who described the Rus’ military expeditions for the Caspian Sea, Ibn-Isphendiar and Ibn-Moskaveih called it the Caspian Sea. The Rus knew about the existence of the Caspian Sea as early as in IX century. In 913 Prince Igor’s men-at-arms quartered the Caspian Sea. After the Turk conquered the Anatolian peninsula it turned out impossible to use the well-trodden trade routes from Europe to India. That’s why there was a necessity to find new routes. In the middle of the XVI century after the conquest of Kazanian and Astrakhan khanates, Moscow state opened a rout to India through the Caspian Sea. It strengthen Russian borders greatly, which were ruled by Peter the Great that time.

     Many nations living on the Caspian coast in different countries disappeared, but the Caspian Sea is alive. It inspires poets to write poems, artists to draw paintings, and common people to have a rest on the tender and warm Caspian coast.

     One wise man told: “The Sea is fascinating as a woman, brave as a man, cruel as a beast. It swallows up, charms.” You should remember that the Caspian Sea is a mystery keeper of sunken cities. Up to now water depths keep tracks of ancient civilizations.

     Storms are often in the Caspian Sea. Not without reason sailors say: “For those who got through the Caspian storm, storms in the ocean of no fear”. Lively wind of the waves left a track not only on sun-drenched coasts, but also in talented people works. Movements of the sea inspired them to create new works. After the winter disaster in 1899, when big ice-cakes destroyed and flood many cities in modern Atyrau and Mangystau regions, the great Kazakh composer Kurmangazy impressed this disaster in his music “Kobyk Shashkan” (Waves Eruption). Kashagan wrote about this disaster in his famous poem “The Flood”. “Since the Earth appeared the sea cannot calm down. Since that the sea fights against the land, and the land fights against the sea. People have a hard time because of that. People stay between the land and the sea.” – Ch. Aitmanov wrote it in his story “A piebald dog running along the sea”.

     Peri-Caspian nations kept a marine motif in their culture, customs and traditions. “Blue, earthy, steel, pearl, gold, black, dead, dozy, foamed – don’t forget any of these changing sea faces. Keep silence and don’t try to describe the play of the waves with words… A wave after wave lies down you feet spreading its rainbow foam in front of you, then there is dirt and slime on the foam and you can gather shells, and think about your past and future”. (K. Chapek)

     Since ancient times on the Caspian coasts live people of different nations, confessing different religions. The Caspian Sea is a historical monument of ancient civilizations, national property of many people living on its coast. It is no coincidence that for many years there is a tradition to have the international festival in Mangystau which name is “The Caspian Sea is the Sea of Friendship”. Many talented people from Pre-Caspian countries come to this festival.

     It’s okay that names of the sea change, but the sea stays alive, slashes and makes people happy much time after us. Oh Sea, you are bottomless in your history, and you will stay in human minds forever.

     Why is the Caspian Sea salty?

     A native of Yaizk city or Guriev city (it was the name of Atyrau in the past) J. Pastukhov, he is also a head of paleontological museum in Atyrau region, told us an interesting legend he heard from old people:

     “It was long time ago; no one remembers the exact date. Much water has flowed under the bridges since then. Old Caspian inhabitants tell that there was a wonderful mortar in one of the villages in the Caucasus Mountains. As soon as a traveler says: “Mortar, mortar I need you. I need pure salt!” The mortar began to pestle salt before the traveler says: Mortar, mortar stop! Don’t work anymore!”

     The mortar was working for free, and could give much salt for those who need it. Everyone was happy, before one greedy Persian khan knew about it. He went to the Caucasus Mountains with his army and took the mortar with him. He became to sell salt for gold and pearls. All day and night long the mortar was pestling salt and the Persian khan became richer. People became poor. Ordinary people couldn’t buy salt. Stenka Razin found out that people were offended and decided to punish the Persian khan. He gathered an army and went on the schooner to Persia.

     The fighting was not long. Stenka took the mortar and went home. He knew that all the Caspian fishers were waiting for that mortar. While he was sailing back, he decided to try the mortar and said magic words. The mortar became pestling and couldn’t stop. The schooner started to drown. Stenka threw the mortar overboard as he did with beautiful queen before. Divers say the mortar is at the bottom of the sea up to now, still pestling the salt. So, the Caspian Sea became salty, because of Stepan Timofeevich Razin. Caspian people catch fish and use salt from the sea. May be it’s just a fairytale, but the sea is really salty.

/From the book N. Zaderetckaya «Tupkaragan - cradle Mangistau», translated by V. Gonchar/

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