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May 19, 2024 25 mins

Margaret reads a piece of folklore about the colonization of Siberia.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Col Zone Media book Club book Club book Club Club.
Hello and welcome to Cool Zone Media Book Club. I'm
your host, Margaret Kildrey. Today I'm taking you on a
journey of discovery, well discovery about the things that I've

been researching obsessively for the past several months. I've been
doing a lot of research for the past few months
for my podcast about the history of Russia, especially all
the stuff that led up to the Russian Revolution of
nineteen seventeen. And there's this one character who's loomed larger
in the background of that story, larger than any other.
And it's not Rasputen, it's Leo Tolstoy. Well, he's loomed

the largest without taking center stage, at least as a
political thinker. He's loomed really large because Leo Tolstoy, one
of the most famous novelists of all time, didn't quite
start the Christian pacifist anarchist movement that was all the
rage in Russia the nineteenth century, but instead he had
become its central theorist and the most influential propagandist of it.
And so he's just like woven his way through all

of these narratives and soon enough, with Coolson Media book
Club and with my own cool people did cool stuff,
I'll be leaving Mother Russia behind and learning about and
talking about other places. But I figured last week I
told Cossack fairy tales, and today I'm going to read
a folk story written by Tolstoy himself that's about the Cossacks,

and it's kind of about the origin of the Cossacks
politically within Russia. I found this story from eighteen ninety
nine in a book called Fables for Children, and if
this is the stuff that children were reared on, it
sort of explains a thing or two about how Russia
went pretty immediately after. It's a story called Yurmak, the

Conqueror of Siberia. It's set in the sixteenth century in Russia.
Well it's not Russia at the time, it's Siberia at
the time time until it becomes Russia that see the
title conquer Siberias, but a guy who conquered Siberia. I
like this story one because it's kind of fun, well

my version of fun, and because I think it's useful
to help people understand how colonization is older than the
concepts of the state, how everywhere is conquered in controlled space.
How capitalism has been part of colonization since before capitalism
was even a word. And also the story reads is
something between a Conan and Wild West adventure, only written
by a Christian anarchist pacifist novelist. In Russia, here it

is You're Mac the Conqueror of Siberia by Leo Tolstoy.
In the reign of Ivan Vasilovich the Terrible, there were
the rich Mertens, the Stroganovs, and they lived in perm
on the River Kama. They heard that along the River Kama,

in a circle of one hundred and forty versts of
verses about two thirds of a mile, there was good land.
The soil had not been plowed for centuries, the forests
had not been cut down for centuries. In the forests
were many wild animals, and along the river fish lakes,
and no one was living on that land, but only
Tartars passed through it. The Stroganovs wrote a letter to

the Tsar, Give us this land, and we will ourselves
build towns there and gather people and settle them there,
and will not allow the Tartars to pass through it.
The Tsar agreed to it and gave them the land.
The Stroganovs sent out clerks to gather people, and there
came to them a large number of roving people. Whoever
came received from the Stroganov's land forest and cattle, and

no tenant pay was collected. All they had to do
was live and in the case of need, to go
out in mass to fight the Tartars. Thus the land
was settled by Russian people. About twenty years past. The
Stroganovs grew richer yet, and that land one hundred and
forty fives surround was not enough for them. They wanted
to have more land. Still, About one hundred versts from

them were high mountains, the Ural mountains, and beyond them
they had heard there was good land, and to that
land there was no end. This land was ruled by
a small Siberian prince, Kuchum by name. In former days,
Kuchum had sworn allegiance to the Russian Tsar, but later
he began to rebel, and he threatened to destroy Stroganov's towns.

So the Stroganovs wrote to the Tsar, you have given
us land, and we have conquered it and turned it
over to you. Now the Thievish tsarling Kuchum is rebellion
against you and wants to take that land away and
ruin us. Command us to take possession of the land
beyond the Ural mountains. We will conquer Kuchum and bring
all his land under your rule. The Tsar assented and

wrote back, if you have sufficient force, take the land
away from Kuchum, only do not entice many people away
from Russia. When the Stroganovs got that letter from the Tsar,
they sent out to collect more people, and they ordered
them to persuade mostly the Cossacks from Volga and the
Dawn to come. At that time, many Cossacks were roving

along the Volga and the Dawn. They used to gather
in bands of two, three or six hundred men and
to select an ottoman, and to row down in barges
to capture ships and rob them. And for the winter
they stayed in little towns on the shore. The clerks
arrived at the Volga, and there they asked who the
famous Cossacks of the region were. They were told, there

are many Cossacks. It is impossible to live for them.
There is Mishka, Tchernishenin and Sarasmin. But there's no fiercer
one than yar Maktimofitch the Ottoman. He has a thousand men,
and not only the merchants and the people are afraid
of him. But even the Czarin army does not dare
to cope with him. And the clerks went to Ermak
the Ottoman and began to persuade him to go to

the Stroganovs. Ermak received the clerks, listened to their speeches,
and promised to come with his people about the time
of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Near the holiday
of the Assumption, there came to the Stroganov six hundred
Cossacks with their ottoman Yermak Timofitch, and at first Stroganov
sent them against their neighboring Tartars. The Cossacks annihilated them. Then,

when nothing was doing, the Cossacks roved in the neighborhood
and robbed. So Stroganov sent for Yermach and said, I
will not keep you any longer if you are going
to be so wanton. But Jermach said, I do not
like it myself, but I cannot control my people. They
are spoiled. Give us work to do so Stroganov said,
go beyond the Ural and fight the Kuchum and take

possession of his land. The Tsar will reward you for it,
and he showed the Tsar's letter to Ermach. Irmach rejoiced
and collected his men and said, you are shaming me
before my master. You are robbing without reason. If you
do not stop, he will drive you away. And where
will you go? Then at the Volga there is a
large Tzarin army. We shall be caught, and then we

shall suffer for our old misdeeds. But if you feel lonesome,
here is work for you. And he showed them the
Tsar's letter, in which it was said that Stroganov had
been permitted to conquer land beyond the Earl. The Cossacks
had a consultation and agreed to go. Yermak went to Stroganov,
and they began to deliberate how they had best go.

They discussed how many barges they needed, how much grain, cattle, guns,
powder led, how many captive Tartar interpreters, how many foreigners
as masters of gunnery. Stroganov thought, though it may cost
me much, I must give them everything, or else they
will stay here and ruin me. Stroganov agreed to everything,
gathered what was needed, and fitted out Yermak and the Cossacks.

On the first of September, the Cossacks rode with Yermak
up the river to Savayah on thirty two barges with
twelve men in each. For four days they rode up
the river, and then they turned into the Seabernaya River.
Beyond that point it was impossible to navigate. They asked
the guides and learned that from there they had to
cross the mountains and walk overland about two hundred versts,

and then the rivers would begin again. The Cossacks stopped,
built a town and unloaded all their equipment. They abandoned
the boats, made carts, put everything upon them, and started
overland across the mountains. All those places were covered with forests,
and nobody was living there. They marched for about ten
days and struck the river Zaranaya. There they stopped again

and made themselves boats. They landed, they loaded them and
rowed down the river. They rowed five days, and then
they came to more cheerful places, meadows, forests, lakes. There
they had plenty of fish and animals and animals that
had not been scared by hunters. They rowed another day
and sailed into the river Tura. Along the Tura, they
came upon Tartar people and towns. RMK sent some Cossacks

to take a look at a town to see what
it was like and whether there was any considerable force
in it. Twenty cossacks went there, and they frightened all
the Tartars and seized the whole town and captured all
the cattle. Some of the Tartars they killed, and others
they brought back a live. Yurmak asked the Tartars through
his interpreters what kind of people they were and under
whose rule they were living. The Tartars said that they

were in the Siberian Kingdom and that their king was Kuchum.
Yumak let the Tartars go, but three of the more
intelligent he took with him to show him the road
they rode on. The farther they rode, the larger did
the river grow. And the farther they went, the better
did the places become. They met more and more people,
only they were not strong men. And all the towns

that were near the river, the Cossacks conquered. In one town,
they captured a large number of Tartars and one old
man who was held in respect. They asked him what
kind of a man he was, and he said, I
am Tazik, a servant of my king Kuchum, who has
made me a commander in this town. Yermak asked Tazak
about his king, how far his city of Cyber was,

whether Kuchum had a large force, whether he had much wealth.
Tazak told him everything. He said, Kuchum is the first
king in the world of Cyber is the largest city
in the world. In that city, he said, there are
as many people and as many cattle as there are
stars in the heaven. There is no counting his force,
and not all the kings in the world can conquer him.

But you know what can conquer you is advertising gets
into everyone's heads, slips into the middle of stories. And
we're back. Yermak said, we Russians have come here to

conquer your king and take his city and put it
into the hands of the Russians. Are we have a
large force. Those who have come with me are only
the advance guard. Those that are rowing down behind us
in barges are numberless, and all of them have guns.
Our guns pierce trees, not like your bows and arrows.
Just look, and Yrmak fired at a tree and pierced it.

The Cossacks began and to shoot on all sides. Tazak,
in fright, fell on his knees. Yrmak said to him,
go to your king Kutchum and tell him what you
have seen. Let him surrender, and if he does not,
we will destroy him. And he dismissed Tazik. The Cossacks
rode on. They sailed into the river Tobul and were
getting nearer to the city of Cyber. They sailed up

a small river, Babasan, and there they saw a small
town on its bank, and around the town a large
number of Tartars. They sent an interpreter to the Tartars
to find out what kind of people they were. The
interpreter returned and said, that is Kuchum's army that has
gathered there. The leader of that army is Kuchum's own
son in law, Mametku. He has commanded me to tell

you that you must return or else he will destroy you.
Urmak gathered as Cossacks landed on the bank and began
to shoot at the Tartars. The moment the Tartars are
the shooting, they began to run. The Cossacks ran after
them and killed some and captured others. Mametku barely escaped.
The Cossacks sailed on. They sailed into a broad rapid river,

the irtysh Down Irtysh River. They sailed for a day
and came to a fair town, where they stopped. The
Cossacks went to the town. As they were coming near,
the Tartars began to shoot their arrows and wounded three Cossacks.
Then Irmak sent an interpreter to tell the Tartars that
they must surrender the town or else they would all
be killed. The interpreter went and he returned and said,

here lives Kuchum's servant at Tikmerza Kharchara. He has a
large force, and he says he will not surrender the town.
Yarmak gathered the Cossacks and said, boys, if we do
not take this town, the Tartars will rejoice and will
not let us pass on. The more we strike them
with terror, the easier it will be land all and
attack them all at once. So they did. There were

many Tartars there, and they were brave. When the Cossacks
rushed at them, the Tartars began to shoot their arrows.
They covered the Cossacks with them. Some were killed and
some wounded. The Cossacks became enraged, and when they got
to the Tartars, they killed all that they could lay
their hands on. In this town, the Cossacks found much property, cattle, rugs, furs,

and honey. They buried the dead, rested themselves, took away
much property, and sailed on. They did not sail far
when they saw on the shore like a city, an
endless number of troops, and the whole army surrounded by
a ditch, and the ditch protected by timber. The Cossacks stopped.
They deliberated. Earmot gathered a circle around him. Well, boys,

what shall we do? The Cossacks were frightened. Some said
that they ought to sail past, while others said they
ought to go back, and others said they should take
advantage of these sweet, sweet deals. God, I yep, your's ads,

and we're back. They look gloomy and began to scold Irmak.
They said, why did you bring us here? Already a
few of ours have been killed, and many have been wounded,
and all of us will perish here. They began to weep.
But Rmak said to his Subottoman Ivan Colsteau, well, Vanya,

what do you think? And Colstou said what do I think?
If they do not kill us today, they will tomorrow,
and if not tomorrow, we shall die anyway on the oven.
In my opinion, we ought to go out in the
shore and rush in a body against the Tartars. Maybe
God will give us victory. Irmak said, you are a
brave man, Vanya. That is what must be done. Oh

you boys, you are not cossacks but old woman. All
you are good for is to catch sturgeon and frighten
Tartar women. Can't you see for yourselves? If we turn back,
we shall be destroyed. If we stay here, they will
destroy us. How can we go back? After a little work,
it will come easier. Listen, boys, My father had a
strong mare. Downhill, she would pull. In an uneven place,

she would pull, but when it came to going uphill,
she became stubborn and turned back, thinking it would be easier.
But my father took a club and belabored her with it.
She twisted and tugged and broke the whole cart. My
father on hitched her from the cart and gave her
a terrible whacking. If she had pulled the cart, she
would have suffered no torment. So it is with us, boys.
There is only one thing left for us to do,

and that is to make straight for the Tartars. The
Cossacks laughed and said, Timofitch, you are evidently more clever
than we are. You have no business to ask us fools.
Take us where you please. A man does not die twice,
and one death cannot be escaped. And your Mak said, listen, boys,
this is what we shall do. They have not yet
seen us all. Let us divide into three parts. Those

in the middle will march straight against them, and the
other two divisions will surround them on the right and
on the left. When the middle detachment begins to walk
toward them, they will think that we are all there,
and so they will leap forward. Then we will strike
them from the sides the way. Boys, if we beat these,
we shall not have to be afraid of anybody. We
shall ourselves be kings. And so they did. When the

middle detachment with Yermak advance, the Tartars screamed and leaped forward.
Then they were attacked by even Colsteaux on the side
and by Meshcheryakov, the Attaman on the left. The Tartars
were frightened and ran. The Cossacks killed a great many
of them. After that, nobody dared to oppose your Mak.
Thus he entered the city of Sibir, and there Rmak

settled down as though he were a king. Then Kinglets
came to see Rmak and bowed to him. Tartars began
to settle down in Sibir, and Kuchem and his son
in law Mamat Koul were afraid to go straight at him,
but kept going around in a circle, wondering how they
might destroy him. In the spring, during high water, the
Tartars came running to your Mok and said, Mamatkoul is

going against us. He has gathered a large army and
is making a stand near the river vargay Yrmak made
his way over rivers, swamps, brooks and forests, stole up
with his cossacks, rushed against Mamat Koul, killed a large
number of Tartars, and took Mamotkoul alive and brought him
to Sibir. After that there were only a few unruly
Tartars left, and yr Mak went that summer against those

who had not yet surrendered, and along the Irtish in
the ab Yrmak conquered so much land that one could
not march around it. In two months, when Yermak had
conquered all that land, he sent a messenger to the
Stroganovs and a letter. I have taken Kuchum city, he said,
and have captured Mamat Koul and have brought all the
people here under my rule. Only I have lost many Cossacks.

Send people to us that we might feel more cheerful.
There is no end to the wealth in this country.
He sent them many costly furs, fox marten and sable furs.
Two years passed after that. Hyrmak was still holding Sibir,
but no aid came from Russia, and a few Russians
were left with Irmak. One day, the Tartar Karacha sent

a messenger to your Mak, saying, we have surrendered to you,
but now the Nogays are oppressing us. Send your brave
men to aid us. We shall together conquer the Nogays,
and we swear to you that we shall not insult
your brave men. Yurmak believed their oath and sent forty
men under Ivan Costeau. When these forty men came there,

the Tartars rushed against them and killed them, and there
were still fewer Cossacks left. Another time, some Bukhara merchants
sent word to Yrmak that they were on their way
to the city of Sibir with goods, but that Kuchem
had taken his stand with an army and would not
let them pass through. Yrmak took with him fifty men
and went out to clear the road for the Bukhara merchants.

He came to the Irtysh River, but did not find
the Bukharans. He remained there over night. It was a
dark knight and it rained. The Cossacks are just lain
down to sleep, when suddenly the Tartars rushed out and
threw themselves on the sleepy men and began to strike
them down. Irmak jumped up and began to fight. He
was wounded in the hand. He ran toward the river.

The Tartars after him. He into the river. That was
the last time he was seen. His body was not
recovered and no one found out how he died. The
following year came the Tsar's army and the Tartars were pacified.
The end. What a good story for kids, I, you know,

can't imagine any other story I'd rather tell children. And
the thing I find interesting about it, There's so many
things I find interesting about it, and one of them
is that, like, Okay, this is you know, presented as
a story for kids, because your Mak, the conqueror of Siberia,
was almost certainly a real person, but he also is

completely shrouded in mystery. And the first sources, the original sources,
there's a word here that I should know, and I
normally do know. The prime sources are contradictory and not conclusive.
And I'm, you know, haven't done a wild deep dive
into this particular historical figure or time. But I just

I find it so interesting. I find how this story
feels like it kind of be anywhere in the world
so fascinating to me. For a full blown history episode,
I'll go deeper on my sources in Wikipedia, but for
now I'm going to reference the Wikipedia page on the
historical Yarmak. I've talked a lot of my podcasts recently
about the Cossacks. How culturally that label meant something between

the name of an ethnic group and the name for
mercenary groups of bandits loyal to the czar. And I
had no idea where that had come from, right, that
was just always presented as like, oh, of course the Cossacks,
you know, they're loyal to the czar, even though they're
this nomadic people who do war. I'll probably not get

into the nomadic war machine concept by delusion quatari, but
this story is like the best example and I've ever
seen in my life. If you ever want to lose
yourself to strange continental philosophy that reads like poetry and
halfway makes sense, read nomadology by losing kwatari about the
concept of the nomadic war machine. And anyway, and so
this story, not this version of it, but your mock

and this conquering is where the distinction came from about
what Cossacks mean in sort of more modern contexts. To
quote Wikipedia, your mock transformed the image of the Cossack
overnight from a bandit to a soldier recognized by the
Czar of Moscow. Your Mack's call for aid thus spawned
a new type of Cossack, which by virtue of its

link to the government, would enjoy significant favor from future
Russian rulers. And so you have this idea. Oh, I said,
I wasn't going to get into the nomadic war machine,
but here I am doing it. There's this idea. It's
a philosophical idea. It's not a like true, guaranteed science.
Thing that we tend to think of violence is the
thing that the state does. But there's this idea that

the thing that does the violence is often a force
that's outside the state, and specifically, it's often a nomadic
war machine. It is a tool that is used by
the state to enact violence. And the reason that they
are distinct is that the state doesn't want chaos, right,
It wants control. It wants everything to be the same,

and predictable violence and war are kind of the opposite
of that. And so the modern state exists on some way.
Again we're talking philosophically rather than like true or whatever.
The modern state exists by balancing this calm center, right,

this non chaotic space, with a harnessed war machine. And
it's interesting because in that same way, what can undo
the state also lies there and you will see this
a lot in say, for example, most famously the Mexican Revolution,
where a lot of the more important revolutionary figures actually

came from banditry. And you know, banditree is a sort
of classic nomadic war machine. The Cossacks are sort of
a classic nomadic war machine, only in this case they're
primarily for the state, you know. And you have exceptions,
like some of the Cossacks ended up fighting in Ukraine
against all of the armies except the Black Army Maknos

Black Army, and fighting for a society of equals and
things like that, and you have like there's like roots
of democracy. You have this like violent force. The Cossacks
in this story, right, they're running around and they're colonizing
and they're killing all these people. But their atomon, their leader,
is clearly not an authoritarian leader. He is saying like, well, boys,

what do we do? How are we going to do this?
You know, and they all have to sort of give
their assent. And I am not yet an expert on
exactly how that what their decision structures were, but this
is the kind of thing that we see again and again,
most famously in a Western sensed the pirates of the
Golden Era of piracy, and I think all that stuff's

neat and I hope you did too, So thanks for listening.
See you next week with another cool Zone Media book Club,
the only book club where you don't have to do
the reading because I read it to you. Unfortunately, you
don't get to say as much about what happened because
I also do the interpretation for you. That part doesn't

seem fair. So if you want to go on Reddit,
that sentence doesn't start anything good. If you want to
go on Reddit to the subreddit, then you could talk
about the stories in the books that we talk about
on Coolzone Media book Club, and that is one way
you can talk about it. Otherwise you're stuck with my
interpretation by It Could Happen Here as a production of

cool Zone Media. For more podcasts from cool Zone Media,
visit our website coolzonmedia dot com, or check us out
on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen
to podcasts. You can find sources for It Could Happen Here,
updated monthly at Coolzonemedia dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening.

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