The Famous Legend about the insulting Letter the Cossaks sent to the Ottoman Sultan
Tradition has it that in 1676, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed IV, wrote a letter to the Cossacks of the Zaporozhian Host who lived in the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine. His army had failed to defeat them on the battlefield, so he sent a letter demanding they submit to his rule anyway, as his victory was inevitable and there was no real need for further bloodshed given this obvious fact.
We know that an insulting letter was actually written in the 1660s in answer to a letter from Sultan Mohammed IV of the Turkish Empire. However the question is was it actually composed as a historical document or was it only created as a piece of literature? Historians have taken both sides of this question.
The Sultan’s Letter
“As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the Sun and Moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians—I command you, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.”
There is some debate about whether the Cossacks actually wrote back, as that was not their custom, but it makes a very good story that they did, most of these insults rhyme in the original, so it must have taken a little while to compose.
Reply of the Cossacks to the Sultan
“Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!
You are a Turkish imp, the damned devil’s brother and friend, and a secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are you that cannot slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil shits, and your army eats. You, a son of a bitch, will not ever make subjects of Christian sons; we have no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with you, f–k your mother.
You are the Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-f—er of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, Armenian pig, Podolian villain, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, a fool before our God, a grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our di-k. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, screw your own mother!
So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You will not even be herding Christian pigs. Now we will conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t have a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year in the book, the day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!”
Signed Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host”
Who are the Cossacks?
1.The Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who originally were members of democratic, semi-military communities in Ukraine and Southern Russia.Most Cossack leaders estimate the number of ethnic Cossacks as between 2.5 and 4 million.In the 15th century,Cossack society was described as a loose federation of independent communities, often forming local armies, entirely independent from the neighbouring states.
2.In 1648 there was a revolt of them against the Polish king and they killed 100,000 Jews in 300 Jewish communities.
3.During the Russian civil war of 1917-1922 the Cossacks in the monarchist White army,which was against the Communist Red army,killed 100,000 Jews.
The Cossack who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965
He was Mikhail Sholokhov (1905-1984),born in a Cossack village, and author of “And Quiet Flows the Don” (1934),about the life of the Cossacks under the Tsar,then WW I,and the Russian Civil War.
It was formerly thought by famous Russian novelist Solzhenitsyn(1918-2008)(Nobel prize,1970) that he did not really write it but had plagiarized it,but the original manuscript was finally found in 1999 and an analysis of the manuscript has proved Sholokhov’s authorship. The writing paper dates back to the 1920s and 605 pages are in Sholokhov’s own hand.
The Ukranian author,Gogol(1809-1852),who wrote a famous novel about the Cossacks:”Taras Bulba”(1835)
He wrote in Russian and his masterpiece is the novels “Dead Souls”(1842),against serfdom, and he also wrote a famous satirical play “The Governement Inspector”(1836),about government corruption.On his father’s side Gogol was of Cossack origin.It is believed that Gogol was buried alive by mistake.After he had been buried they opened the coffin and found his body had moved.
In “Taras Bulba”(1842) it is the story of an old Cossack, Taras Bulba, and his two sons, Andrei and Ostap,and it is in the 17th century.It is mainly based on the legend of cossack Sava Chaly whose killing was ordered by his own father for betrayal of Ukrainian cause
Taras’ sons studied at the Kiev Academy and return home. The three men join the Cossacks in southern Ukraine, and go to war against Poland.In the end Taras Bulba is burned to death by the Poles.
The origins of the first Cossacks are disputed. Traditional historiography dates the emergence of Cossacks to the 14th to 15th centuries. According to one theory Cossacks were first run-away peasants.Cossacks originated as bands of run-away peasants of different ethnic origins (Ruthenians, Turks, Germans etc.). The necessity of defending their lifestyle (piracy, unregulated fishing and hunting) and protecting their settlements from the attacks of Tatars, Mongols and other nomadic tribes that lived in the steppes of Southern Russia, forced these bands of escapees to organize into a military society. In exchange for protection of the Southern borders of medieval Russia, the Don Cossacks were given the privilege of not paying taxes and the tsar’s authority in Cossack lands was not as absolute as in other parts of Russia.
Towards the end of the 15th century, the Ukrainian Cossacks formed the Zaporozhian group. Initially a vassal of Poland the increasing social and religious pressure from the Polish king caused them to proclaim an independent Cossack Hetmanate, initiated by a rebellion in the mid-17th century. Afterwards, the Treaty of Pereyaslav brought most of the Ukrainian Cossack state under Russian rule for the next 300 years.
The Don Cossack Host, which had been established by the 16th century,allied itself with Russia.Together they began a systematic conquest and colonisation of lands in order to secure the borders on the Volga, and the whole of Siberia. In extreme cases, whole Hosts could be dissolved, as was the fate of the Zaporozhian Host in 1775.
They were ruled by the Ataman/Hetman
1.In early times, Cossack bands were commanded by an ataman (later called hetman). He was elected by the tribe members as were the other important band officials: the judge, the scribe, the lesser officials, and even the clergy.
2.The ataman had executive powers and at time of war he was the supreme commander in the field. Legislative power was given to the Band Assembly. In the absence of written laws, the Cossacks were governed by the “Cossack Traditions,” the common, unwritten law.Cossack society and government were heavily militarized.
The Cossacks under Russian rule
By the end of the 18th century, Cossacks were transformed into a special social estate,they served as border guards on national and internal ethnic borders (as was the case in the Caucasus War) and regularly supplied men to conflicts such as the numerous Russo-Turkish Wars. In return, they enjoyed vast social autonomy.During the Russian Civil War, Cossack regions became centers for the anti-Bolshevik White movement.The Cossacks even formed short-lived independent states, the Ukrainian State, the Don Republic and the Kuban People’s Republic. With the victory of the Red Army, the Cossack lands were subjected to extensive repression .In Russia’s 2010 Population Census, Cossacks have been recognized as an ethnicity.