Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Before there were Danish cartoons - there was the Cossack letter to the Sultan of Turkey

By Aussiegirl

This is not the first time in history that humor has been used as a weapon of defiance against the oppression of encroaching Islam.

Back in the 17th century, sometime in the mid-1660's, the Sultan of Turkey wrote a letter demanding that the Zaporozhian Cossacks of Ukraine voluntarily submit to Turkish rule.

The brilliantly insulting and comic reply sent by the Cossacks has gone down in history as a testament to their independence, defiance, courage and wit, and was immortalized in the great painting you can see pictured above by the great Russian painter Ilya Repin, under the title: "Zaporozhian Cossacks of Ukraine Writing a Letter in Reply to the Sultan of Turkey".

This painting is understandably much beloved by Ukrainians, and is often found hanging on the wall in a prominent position in the family room.

You can read a bit more of the history of this letter and some historical difference of opinion as to whether or not the letter was actually sent or was a literary creation, at this website: The Cossack Letter -- "The Most Defiant Letter!"

And here's some historical background about the Cossacks and the texts of the two letters. Note how the Cossacks wittily mocked all the Sultan's grandiloquent titles.


In the 17th Century, the land that today is called Ukraine was a constantly disputed borderland between Catholic Poland and Muslim Turkey, and Orthodox Russia. Indeed the very name "Ukraine" means "border."

The Cossacks were cavalrymen originally chartered by Poland to establish autonomous military communities on the Turkish border. The most famous Cossack settlement was the Zaporogian "Sich'" near present-day Zaporozhe on the Dnipro River. At various times, different Cossack bands shifted allegiance back and forth between Poland and Russia. As Poland intended, however, they usually opposed Muslim Turkey on religious grounds.

In 1675, Poland was forced by military reverses to sign a treaty surrendering areas including Zaporoze to the Turks. The Cossacks themselves had plenty of fight left, however ...

These attacks so inflamed the hatred of the Muslims toward the Zaporogian Cossacks and the entire Christian population of Ukraine that the Turks decided to attack the Zaporozhian Sich and raze it to the ground.

There is a popular tradition that, before sending his troops to the Zaporozhian Sich, Turkish Sultan Muhammad IV sent to the Zaporozhians a letter demanding they submit voluntarily to him, an unconquerable knight.

To the Sultan's letter, the Cossacks responded with free choice of words in a letter of their own. It denied the Sultan all honor, cruelly mocking the boasts of an "unconquerable knight." The letter possibly may be fictitious, but it's consistent with the spirit of the Zaporogian Cossacks.

Sultan Mahmud IV to the Zaporozian 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.
Sultan Mahmud IV

And -- the Cossack's reply:

The Zaporozian Kozaks 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 ass, 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!


At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Muslim riots could be seen as "just desserts" for a Europe that stood idly by as the Russian empire destroyed the Zaporzhian Sich and its Cossack descendants.

As the European Union gatekeepers so clearly demonstrate, Europe still prefers the Sultan's army to the Cossacks.

Will they never learn?

At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cossacks sure know how to show "cheek" (no pun intended)! But then the stakes for them were very high and that bit of bravado probably won the day for them.

But what purpose did the cartoons serve for the Danes or the West generally? Were the Danes embolden by this show of cheek or has the blow-back by now cowed them into a corner more thoroughly than before?

Sometimes it's best to pick and choose the ground on which one should fight. I'm not sure that cartoons were the best tactic to use when countering or commenting upon a threat such as Islamofascism. It's seems a waste of effort, because while they respond by burning embassies and trashing Christian neighborhoods, our rule of law prohibits our burning theirs, nor should we in any case.

It seems that this episode has only served to show muslims what great power they can flex to intimidate us. And how many Western governments and newspapers have since backed down and abased themselves with apologies? What then was gained by the cartoons?

In the game of politics, let's not throw away our advantages over trifles. It's time to play smart...

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cartoons just illustrate a narcissistic world-view that many Europeans and Canadians (and Michael Moore devotees) attritube solely to Americans. They need to take a closer look in the mirror.

The yahoos that published the cartoons thought they were flexing their democratic muscles. All they managed to do was demonstrate that they are utterly clueless.

The liberal left, especially those in the media, consider Muslims cool basically because they are anti-Christian. They consider Christians evil because that is what *their* prophet, Karl Marx, taught.

Only the very foolish believe that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Too bad every one else has to suffer for the stupidity of a few.

At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. A Catholic priest was murdered in Turkey today over this. It won't stop there, I'm sure. And the Michael Moores of the world will stupidly rejoice.

To the Michael Moore devotees--What happened to the "liberals" of past revolutions? Weren't they the ones the Lenin called "useful idiots"? Weren't they the very ones that the revolution of Robespierre and Danton, Lenin and Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot quickly devoured?


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