Topography and Environment
The Pontic Mountains run from west to east across the upper tier of the peninsula of Asia Minor. The northern slopes of these mountains comprise a well-watered coastal region with a temperate climate. The southern slopes belong to the more arid, less vegetated, hot-in-summer, cold-in-winter interior highlands of Anatolia. This contrast between coast and plateau intensifies as the mountains rise from west to east (see map 2).
Map 2. Lands of Canıık and Trabzon (early nineteenth century)
Along all the eastern segment of the coastline, from Ordu to Hopa, there are no large deltas, flat coastal strips are more infrequent and narrower, and the landscape is almost everywhere broken and precipitous. In the foothills near the shoreline, little hamlets with half-timbered houses pepper the foothills, sometimes barely visible among the trees and brush. Around each hamlet there are maize and bean gardens prepared by hand rather than by plough. Away from the shoreline in the upland valleys, the rainfall gradually decreases, the valleys are more deeply cut, and the mountains become steeper. Here the houses, almost always timbered, are sometimes clustered together on a promontory or in a valley, sometimes dispersed across the face of a mountainside (see fig. 6). The villagers are therefore forced to construct narrow terraces on the sheer mountainsides for their maize and bean gardens, sometimes securing themselves with ropes to tend them.
Figure 6. Wooden houses in the high mountains.
Owing to the uneven landscape, level cropland and open pasture are at a premium. To this day neither animal power nor machine power has ever been widely used in agriculture in the region. Along this section of the coast, nothing more than a meager living can be extracted from farming and herding. Farming is usually limited to horticulture. Herding is usually limited to a few cows. Large estates have always been the exception rather than the rule. Nonetheless, some of the area's inhabitants are able to become something other than subsistence farmers and herders, given the rela-tive absence of landlords and overseers. Leaving their garden farms to the care of women, the men of the eastern coastal region can look for work elsewhere in towns and cities of Anatolia. As a consequence, the residents of this entirely rural area have always included impressive numbers of soldiers, teachers, merchants, craftsmen, sailors, fishermen, peddlers, and laborers.
As one moves from the west to the east, the high Pontic peaks gradually come to define an "island on the land," set apart from the remainder of Asia Minor. East of the vicinity of the town of Trabzon, the littoral is not so much a greener version of Anatolia, but another kind of world altogether. Streams and rivers running north and south divide the entire eastern region into side-by-side valley-systems separated by densely vegetated foothills, falling and rising hundreds of meters to and from the water courses. Moving from one valley to another is often impractical owing to undergrowth and ravines. Instead, one must descend to the coastline, travel along the narrow shore, and then ascend into the next valley. Not so long ago, such a trek had to be made on foot or by horse. For lack of roadways, not even a cart could make its way through the foothills or across the rocky beaches. So it is that townsmen jokingly claim that the villagers did not learn of the invention of the wheel until the arrival of motor transport.
By contrast, the farming and herding world across the Pontic mountain chain is entirely different in character. The landscape is open and treeless, sometimes rocky and barren. Winters are cold. Summers are hot. Dry-farming (wheat and barley), stream irrigation (rice and vegetables), and goats and sheep (yogurt and cheese) are the basis of subsistence agriculture. Ploughs and carts are pulled by draft animals. Houses are constructed of mud bricks. Timber, being scarce, is used only for the roof poles, doors, and sashes. Until recently, the only fuel was cattle dung, which was molded into patties (tezek) and dried in the sun. Highly efficient ground ovens (tandıır) are the means for both cooking and heating.
To the north and south of the Pontic chain, rural life is governed by contrasting requirements and possibilities. Crops, flocks, tools, building materials, house designs, kitchen fuel, diet and cuisine, dress and manners, bodies and faces, accents and dialects are different. And some time ago, for a span of centuries, language, religion, and state were also not the same.