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The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan of Turkey

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Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks:

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 Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.

Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV

Ilya Repin

Ataman Ivan Dmitrievich Sirko.

Study for the picture The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan of Turkey, 1889

The Famous Cossack Letter immortalized in the painting "Zaporozhian Cossacks of Ukraine Writing a Letter in Reply to the Sultan of Turkey" by Ilya Repin is a historical puzzle. 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 However the question is was it actually composed as a historical document or was it only created as a piece of literature?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.

There are variations of the letter but the main thrust of the letter is a parody of the Sultan's titles in a manner which shows cunning knowledge of what would be most insulting to such a mighty ruler. The letter was probably originally composed in the 1660s, and Ivan Sirko (ca. 1605-August 11, 1680), a famous and fierce Ukrainian Cossack warrior, is given as the signer of the letter. Apparently, this is a letter in reply to the Sultan's demand to the Cossacks of Ukraine to voluntarily accept Turkish rule.

The Ukrainian Cossacks did not make empty boasts when they wrote of battles on land and sea. The courageous Zaporozhians fought on several occasions to the gates of mighty Constantinople itself. These events were reported throughout Europe and even distant England and Holland took an interest in them. For example, the Gazette of Antwerp on December 10, 1621 reported. "New messages from Germany how 50,000 Kozaks (Cossacks).... have crossed the Danube to plunder and burn up to Constantinople." (British Museum No. pp. (326).

Ripley's New Believe it or Not pocket book no. 992 has distinguished the Ukrainian letter by calling it "The Most Defiant Letter." However, it confuses Ukrainian and Russian history. There are 17th century copies of the letter which were circulated widely probably as humorous literature. It may be found in many sources, for example in the Annals of Kiev (Kyivska Starina Vol. II, p. 371, 382, 1891, the histories of Prof. D. Yavorytsky (Evarnitsky) and in his pamphlet published in St. Petersburg in 1902.

English language versions may be found in The Cossacks, by W.P. Cresson and in the Portable Russian Reader, edited by G.B. Guerney (New York 1947) which is based on the Russian historian M. Pokrovsky. I also published it in MYH Beams (Ukrainian National Youth Federation in Toronto, vol. IV No.1, January 1958, p. 8).


Version 1

Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!

O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil's kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are you, that can't slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil excretes, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we've no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck your mother.

You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig's snout, mare's arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, screw your own mother!

So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won't even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we'll conclude, for we don't know the date and don't own a calendar; the moon's in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day's the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!

Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host.

Version 2

The Kozaks of the Dnieper to the Sultan of Turkey:

Thou Turkish Satan, brother and companion to the accursed Devil, and companion to Lucifer himself, Greetings!

What the hell kind of noble knight art thou? The Devil voids, and thy army devours. Never wilt thou be fit to have the sons of Christ under thee: thy army we fear not, and by land and on sea we will do battle against thee.

Thou scullion of Babylon, thou wheelwright of Macedonia, thou beer-brewer of Jerusalem, thou goat-flayer of Alexandria, thou swineherd of Egypt, both the Greater and the Lesser, thou sow of Armenia, thou goat of Tartary, thou hangman of Kamenetz, thou evildoer of Podoliansk, thou grandson of the Devil himself, thou great silly oaf of all the world and of the netherworld and, before our God, a blockhead, a swine's snout, a mare's arse, a butcher's cur, an unbaptized brow, May the Devil take thee! That is what the Kozaks have to say to thee, thou basest-born of runts! Unfit art thou to lord it over true Christians!

The date we write not for no calendar have we got; the moon is in the sky, the year is in a book, and the day is the same with us here as with thee over there, and thou canst kiss us thou knowest where!

Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host.

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Preliminary sketches

Preliminary sketch

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Second version

Last version

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Following Zaporozhian Cossacks'," by Nikolay Solomin, 1980

In popular culture

The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire wrote a versified version of the letter ("Rponse des Cosaques Zaporogues au Sultan de Constantinople") as part of his poem "La Chanson du mal-aim" in his collection of poems Alcools (1913).

This versified version of the letter has been set to music by the French singer-songwriter Lo Ferr, who composed a whole oratorio on La Chanson du mal-aim for soloists, choir and orchestra (1953).

The writing of the letter is depicted in the film Taras Bulba (2009).






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