April 4, 2014

With recent events once again bringing world attention to the Ukraine a slice of history and art from that troubled region might be interesting. -JJ

The Great Ottoman War refers to a series of conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and several contemporary European powers, then joined into a Holy League, during the last decades of the 17th century. In 1683, the Austrians and their Polish allies took advantage of dissent within the Turkish military command and poor disposition of his troops, winning the Battle of Vienna with a devastating flank attack led by Sobieski's Polish cavalry. The Turks retreated into Hungary and the Holy League continued their long, but successful campaign to push back the Ottomans to the Balkans. The subsequent Treaty of Constantinople in 1700, ceded Azov, the Taganrog fortress, Pavlovsk and Mius to Russia and established a Russian ambassador in Constantinople, and secured the return of all prisoners of war. The Tsar affirmed that his subordinates, the Cossacks, would not attack the Ottomans, while the Sultan affirmed his subordinates, the Crimean Tatars, would not attack the Russians.

 The Zaporozhian Cossacks, inhabiting the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine, had defeated Muslim forces in battle in 1676. However, Mehmed demanded that the Cossacks submit to Turkish rule. The Cossacks, led by Ivan Sirko, replied in an unusual manner: they wrote a letter, replete with insults and profanities. The painting exhibits the Cossacks' pleasure at striving to come up with ever more base vulgarities. During Repin's time, the Cossacks enjoyed great popular sympathy. Repin also admired them: "All that Gogol wrote about them is true! A holy people! No one in the world held so deeply freedom, equality, and fraternity."


The Zaporozhian Cossacks write a letter to the Sultan of Turkey
Ilya Repin
1880–1891, State Russian Museum



There are various versions of the letters but here are two that convey the spirit of the times:

Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporohian Cossacks

I, the Sultan, son of  Mohamed, brother of the Sun and Moon, grandson and vicegerent of God, sovereign of all kingdoms: of Macedonia, Babylonia, and Jerusalem, of Upper and Lower Egypt: king of kings; ruler of all that exists; extraordinary, invincible  knight; constant guardian of the grave of Jesus Christ; trustee of God himself; hope and comport of Moslems, confusion and great protector of Christians, command, the Zaporohian Cossacks, to surrender to me voluntarily and without any kind of resistance, and don't permit yourselves to trouble me with attacks!

              -Turkish Sultan Mehmed 

          Mehmed IV

 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, screw 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!