Caucasus Journey: Getting Started

April 2, 2009
On Thursday, April 2, I'm beginning my Caucasian odyssey with a flight from Istanbul to Trabzon, a city on the Black sea coast of Turkey. After spending a day or so in Trabzon, I'll travel by bus to Hopa, just across the border from Batumi and about three and a half hours from Trabzon. From Hopa I'll take a minibus to the border, and from there plan on walking across the border and then taking a taxi into Batumi.
Batumi, I think, will be pretty cool. Despite my years of education in Russian and Ottoman history, I really don't know much more about the city than what is written in its wikipedia entry. I'd known, for example, that Batumi had been part of the Ottoman Empire (indeed, the city has been an important part of my research here in Istanbul), but I hadn't known that Batumi, which I've been looking at mostly in the context of the late nineteenth century, had been part of the Ottoman Empire for so long (1627-1878). Since I've been spending a lot of time looking at issues like smuggling, illegal immigration, and other forms of cross-border travel, I really hope to get the chance to do some archival work when I'm in Batumi. 
Batumi is the capital of the Republic of Adjara. Like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which declared independence last year, Adjara is an autonomous mini-republic within Georgia. Unlike South Ossetia and Abkhazia, however, Adjara--which is made up largely of Georgian-speaking Muslims--did not declare independence and still considers itself a part of Georgia.
I'm not quite sure how long I'll stay in Batumi. I've been trying to find information about whether or not there is a [Russian imperial] archive in Batumi where I would be able to research. If I can find it, I'll try to stay there for a couple of weeks and get some stuff done. If not, I'll head to Tbilisi after a couple of days and start researching there.

It's never easy leaving Istanbul
As usual, it's difficult to leave Istanbul, the grandiose imperial capital. I'm not quite sure when I'll be back--probably sometime in early May. Hopefully I'll be able to update the blog from the road. We'll see.

I'm looking forward to the trip, one of the few that I've taken with my old backpack since first entering graduate school back in 1999. When I was living in Turkey in the 1990s, I took loads of trips, mostly in the summer, through the Balkans, the Middle East, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine. And during the Spring and Summer immediately prior to beginning my MA at Princeton in the fall of 1999 I traveled for five months through India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China, before getting back to Istanbul via a flight from Beijing to Budapest, then training through Romania and Bulgaria until I finally arrived in the City of the Sultans on April 15, 1999--two days before a massive earthquake struck that would kill more than 20,000 people.

For most of graduate school, I however, I traveled with suitcases. My style of travel changed, too, exchanging the carefree pleasures of months on the road for a more-or-less direct ticket and an apartment in a city somewhere in Turkey, Hungary, or the former USSR. Since graduating in 2007, I've taken my backpack on the road only once--for a couple of weeks in the northern Aegean region of Turkey in the Summer of 2007.

This trip will therefore be a bit different, in that I'll be combining my travel equipment from two different eras. On the one hand, I'm taking only my backpack. On the other hand, I'm also taking my laptop, which is a real pain. Nevertheless, I don't think I can be very productive without it, so hopefully I won't destroy the damn thing en route.

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