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An unplanned Crimean stop-over, ancient port, kicked dog (19/6/06)

(CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE COMPLETE LIST OF DIARY ENTRIES & CHECK THE IMAGE GALLERY FOR UPDATES) Writing now from Sevastopol, Crimea. Since the last entry my horses and I haven’t actually moved at all. From the beginning I was made to feel at home at the horse farm ‘Argamak,’ run by Irina Vorobyova. The local administration and Ira helped to show me around the small port city of Feodossia. Feodossia is the former port of Kaffa, that appears in the history books several times in relation to the Mongolian Empire. Despite the assumption by many Slavic peoples that Mongols were slave traders, pillagers, and barbarians, many historical records point to the fact that Ghengis Khan banned slavery all together in his empire. The Genovese who ran the port of Feodossia were actively involved in slave trading, taking slaves from the Slavic heartland to Italy. The Mongols shut down the slave trade from here several times but it always started up again. In 1346 Yanibeg Khan was preparing to enter Crimea and attack Kaffa again, when the Black death emerged and many of his soldiers began dying. Some reports suggest that on arrival to Kaffa he ordered that dead bodies be catapaulted into the city over the fort walls. These bodies were then thrown into the sea. Some then believe that fleas that could have been on these bodies were then the cause for the spread of the black death to Europe via the Genovese trading ships. In Feodossia itself the wall of the city and main fort still remain, and one can look down from the open steppe to the calm waters of the port. There is also a Genovese church built during the 13th century, which also supports the idea that during the Mongol empire it was a time of flourish for all religions. Unlike other empires the Mongols never forced their way of life or religion on others, and even held regular forums for the many of the religions of the empire to hold open debate. ‘The Sky is one, but beliefs are different’ was the general idea of Ghengis. My entry into Feodossia interestingly coincided with the arrival of a ship carrying American soldiers, building materials and weapons. Rumours quickly spread that the ship was carrying radioactive waste for dumping in Crimea, to stories about a Nato base about to be built, and the import of dangerous military chemicals. As always happens at the beginning of the holiday season in Crimea, all of the main Russian TV channels were in wait to film the protests of mainly pensioners on the street holding placards reading ‘We are against Nato!’ There were in actual fact very few demonstrators, and it had all the hallmarks of another political tussle typical of Ukranian politics- practically all demonstrators were carrying the flag of one political party or another. Of course back in Russia on the TV it looked as if all out war was breaking loose in Crimea, and many believe that this is done on purpose every year to deter tourists from going to Crimea and help support the local Russian tourist industry on the black sea. It is a very difficult political situation on the Crimea, because it is still home to the Russian black sea fleet, and the population is largely Russian (in fact until 1956 Crimea was part of Russia when Kryshov handed it over to Ukraine). While the highly conservative, military-based society of Russians in Sevastopol (the largest coastal city in Crimea) are very anti-Nato, and equally anti Yurschenko (the president of Ukraine who was swept to power in the largely American funded ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004), there are minorities in Crimea also pushing their cause such as the Crimean Tatars. Many Russians here are very offended by plans for Nato because for them that means breaking the friendly relations with Russia (which the new Ukranian government has already essentially done). They also are extremely angry about Ukrainian being the sole official language of the Ukraine. Among these Russians sometimes appeard prejudice against Crimean Tatars, a prejudice which originates from the mistaken belief that they are the original Mongol invaders who were nothing more but murderers and villains. In 1944 Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Stalin, and only allowed to return to Crimea after Perestroika. There are now about 400,000 Tatars on the crimea in a general population of 2.6 million. What seems to happen here is that there is no united front at all but bickering which can be heard on the streets, and which during the Orange revolution sometimes erupted into street battles. Anyway on return to the horse farm one day Tigon (my dog) was nowhere to be found. After a search on sunset I was lucky to find him whimpering under a tree a kilometre away. He was unresponsive, scared, and very weak. I managed with some trouble to get him back to the farm. While neither Ira or I was at the farm, a local horse owner had kicked Tigon severely when he had begun fighting with local dogs. In actual fact he had only been protecting himself from three others but this particular person decided that as Tigon was a guest it was he in the wrong. Tigon’s condition worsened, his heartbeat was at 175 beats per minute for two days, his paws and ears went cold, his eyes white, and gums pale. He lay shaking and refused to eat or go to the toilet. The local head vet came and gave him a drip of glucose and some other injections. I was furious with the man who had kicked him, and when the man came to apologize he just justified why he had kicked Tigon and suggested he would do the same if he was in that position again. Ira though had already told the man straight that he was in the wrong, and the way that all locals were so worried about Tigon that I figure that the man could only feel bad about what he had done. While Tigon recovered slowly on a diet of bones and liver, I visited the Kara dakh national park, and then decided to come early to Sevastopol to organize things for the rest of my journey to Ukraine. I have left all of my winter gear here and a large stash of films, cassettes, diaries and many other things. I am staying with the family of Baba Galya (who I came to know during the frostbite saga of the cycling journey in 1999). Ira and all her clients and friends on the horse farm have been of great support, and I have learnt very much from them about horse culture of the Crimea and the mix of cultures that define the society of the Crimea. I am now planning to start this week again with the horses through the Crimean mountains to high alpine pastures where nomads traditionally took their animals in the summer. Then I plan to head onto the mainland of Ukraine and make for the Carpathians. The summer has begun and ahead lies some very hot times- the heat is much harder for the animals than cold. Tim. (CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE COMPLETE LIST OF DIARY ENTRIES & CHECK THE IMAGE GALLERY FOR UPDATES)