Russian Passports to Persian Merchants: Subject Status in the Caspian, 1738–82

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 9:10 AM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Kevin Gledhill, Yale University
This paper examines the Russian passport regime in the Caspian Sea and its role in defining subject status of merchants from the 1730s to 1780s. After the signing of the Treaty of Rasht in 1732, Russian subjects gained the right to trade without tariff obligations throughout the lands of the former Safavid Empire. This agreement posed the difficult question of how to determine subject status between the two states, often in the absence of a recognized government in Iran. Here, it will be shown that Russian diplomats at the consulate in Gilan attempted to define subject status on the basis of residency within the Russian Empire, especially at Astrakhan and Kizlyar. Iranian authorities applied a variety of criteria in different periods, as local authority changed hands throughout the eighteenth century. The paper will address the ways in which control over the passport regime at Astrakhan and Rasht or Enzeli enabled Russian authorities to win occasional claims for authority over merchants of ambiguous status. This trend will be shown in the case of Reza Mekhtaev, a “Tatar” merchant who came to Gilan selling dyes in 1738. In the 1770s, a second case, that of David Moiseev, an Armenian from outside of Rasht, demonstrates the permeability of lines between “Russian” and “Persian” subject Armenians, who acted as agents on behalf of both the regional autonomous rulers in Iran and the consulate. The paper, therefore, will not only show the central role of Russian diplomatic order in binding together the Caspian as an integrated commercial and political space, but also the ways in which local commercial actors navigated the framework of this Caspian world to their benefit throughout the post-Safavid period. 
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