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Agriculture and agrarian relations in Azerbaijan during 16th century

Related with the extended diplomatic and trade ties of Safavids state with foreign states in 16th-17th centuries, there were kept a lot of letters of European travelers, merchants, diplomats and Christian missioners, who visited Azerbaijan and its neighbourhood countries. More detailed evidences gave: Italians- anonym merchant, M.Mambre, V.Alessandry, Dj, Veketti; Englishmen – A.Jenkinson, A.Edwards, D.Deket, T.Herbert; the Dutchmen – Y.Streys; Germans – Adam Oleary, O.Kempfer; Frenchmen – Y.Sharden, Rafael- Dyu-Man, P.Sanson. There were kept valuable evidences in the stories of Ottoman traveler and historian, Evlia Chelebi and in the letters of Russian travelers, Fedot Kotov, as well as in the documents of Russian diplomats.

During the   establishment of Safavids state,   the   economic circumstance of Azerbaijan (excepting Shirvan) weakened because of the failure of Aghqoyunlu padiShahs’ reforms. Due to normalize the economic life and fill up the state Treasury with equipment, Safavids went to some facilitation in the circumstance of peasants. The strengthening of central authority in the presence of Shah Ismail I, who fought against the separatism of kizilbash nobility, decrease of local feudal wars and strifes in the first quarter of the 16th century, pushed to the rebirth of agriculture and other spheres of economy too.

Major engagement of population was arable-farming as before. Grains – wheat and barley were planted approximately in all regions of Azerbaijan – in Shirvan, Mughan, Arran, as well as in Southern districts circults of Ardebil and Khalkhal. Profusion of bread in Safavids state was mentioned probably by all European travelers. According to anonym merchant of Venesia, in Tabriz “there are a lot of rice and big profusion of barley and wheat”.

One of the major and traditional engagements of rural settlers was gardening and market gardening. Venesian ambassador, Alessandry, who was in Shah’s court informed about awesome fruit gardens in the regions of Sufiyan, Khoy and Marand. Fruit gardens and kitchen gardens also possessed essential place in the economy of city dwellers (they provided the need of the population). The plant of mulberry tress in Azerbaijan was related with silk-worm breeding and the growth of silk-worm here. The culture of silkworm was specially enlarged in Shirvan and Sheki, where was increased silk-worm on the ground of local raw-material. Englishman Jenkinson, who travelled Azerbaijan in 1562-63s warns that, “there could be obtained all needed goods-big and small nuts, raw-cotton, about all kinds of candies… But major goods was here – he continued raw-silk with various kinds and here was great profusion of this commondity”.

One of the major regions of the growth of silkworm in 16th century, was Aresh, which was mentioned as the area of the bought of raw-silk by foreigners, who specially visited this city, according to Englishmen. There were well-known different kinds of raw-silk in Europe, which were exported from Azerbaijan.

A part of Azerbaijan population passed to semi-namadic life- stocke and were traditionally engaged in cattle breeding.

There were kept previous forms of land-ownership during the reign of Safavids: divan, khasse, vaqf, mulk. New event in land ownership was the growth of state and domenial land-ownership as well as special type of conditional lands for service – tiyul. Shah Ismail confiscated big land foundation, which possessed to Aghqoyunlu dynasty, as well as the property of rich Sunnite clergy.

Along with the circult of Ardebil, first Safavids owned the rights of khasse (domen) over the lands of Isfahan, Fars, Herat in Azerbaijan. More harvestive and suitable properties were included to domens. The representatives of Safavids turned into the biggest feudals – land – owners of the country in this way.

Beginning from Shah Ismail I, Safavids began to liquidate inherited ownership for service – soyurgal, to prevent of transition of Treasury lands into the property of vassals – kizilbash emirs, khans and beys regarding to the interest of central authority: they began to apply new type of share of lands – tiyul. This was limited with the period of being in the service, not inherited land, which was shared to the vassal as the part of rent-tax (by money or natura), without owning these objects. Tiyuls were specially given to the stratum of kizilbash soldiers.

Soyurgals were not liquidated entirely, but changed in view: this had already been small property, which was under the utilization of shiite clergy and civil officers.

Most part of Azerbaijan population was constituted by peasants, which were exploited by kizilbash feudals. Frequently, peasants, who did not possess their own land allotments, hired them from the state, kizilbash khans, beys, owners of mulks, vaqfs and other landowners with heavy conditions.

Safavids, which initially utilized from the support of social stratum, did not realize any practic reforms in order to facilitate the condition of working people; but Safavids Shahs gradually reduced the taxes, due to provide the rebirth and improvement of economy as well.

Shah authority had to take into account the desires of nation after the long-lasted Ottoman invasions and the peace of 1555; so the administration reduced land-tax of malcahat (kharac) and other obligations.

Feudal rents also were the vehicle of exploitation of nation; one of three forms of this rent was the productive rent. Feudal rent was realized through hard system of agricultural taxes and obligations. Major tax, collected from the peasants was land-tax-malcahat, which amount consisted of 1/6 till 1/3 part of the harvest. Malcahat was paid especially with products and productions of agricultural industry-wheat, barley, rice, silk and etc.

The most exploited obligations of peasants were known under the term of “ikhracat” and “shiltakat”. Peasant had to present not only provinces for the troops or feudal militia, but also provide the cavalry animals with food and furage (alafa, ulufe); they had to present their houses to foreign ambassadors, Shah’s horsemen and other officers, as well as feed them by their own means.

Hard circumstances of the nation, which was exploited by kizilbash feudals pushed them to uprisings. Big antifeudal uprising occurred in 1537. Azerbaijan historian, Iskender bey Munshi wrote that in Shirvan “there disappeared order, chaos and disorder became obvious in the country”. Rebels occupied Shamakha without resistance, Shirvan emirs and under age ShirvanShah escaped from the capital and hid in the fortress. But this uprising possessed the same lacks as other uprisings – the leadership of the uprising, which did not have obvious goal, soon left Shamakha and retreated to Salyan. Shirvan emirs collected their forces and pressed the uprising.

More powerful uprising was the revolt of craftsmen and city poverty of Tabriz, taken place in 1571-1573s. The rebels had held on the city for two years. And although the Tabriz uprising was suppressed, it was deeply disturbed the Shah’s court. Scared Shah Tahmasib abolished the collections from craftsmen and freed the city from all state taxes for a while.

About Ismayil bey Zardabli

Author of t extbook for the higher educational institutions "THE HISTORY OF AZERBAIJAN, from ancient times to the present day"