Short Description/History

It appeared in the second quarter of XIX century as a settlement of Zaporozhian Cossacks who came back from Turkey. In January 1842 it got the status of a town.

Cossacks were known for exceptional honesty. According to the Catholic priest Kitovich, in Zaporozian Sech "one could leave his money out in the street, not worrying that it would be stolen". In relations among the Zaporozhian Cossacks it was not the age, but the time of joining the Sech that was important. The one who joined the fellowship earlier, called the newly joined one "son", and the latter one called the former one "father", although the "father" could be 20 years old, and the "son" 40. The novice became a real Cossack only when he learned Cossack rules and ways, and how to obey the ataman, the chiefs and all the brotherhood.

The basis of authority in Zaporozhye was mir, fellowship of Cossacks. When there was a need to solve some important issues, kettledrums summoned all the Cossacks to the Sich square, where Rada (Council) or the Host Council would take place. During Rada every Cossack, regardless of his rank or means, could openly tell his opinion and had a right to vote. But after the decision was taken by the majority of votes, every Zaporozhian and all the host in general had to abide by it.

One should not think that in Zaporoze there was an unorganized mass of people close to anarchy. As a matter of fact, Cossacks always had a clear hierarchy, and anybody could rise to the top of it. On the first step there stood molodiki (youngsters) coming through Cossack training (every skilled Cossack had about 2-3 of such "apprentices"), then there were Sich common fighters - siromashnya, and above these were starshina (masters) - distinguished warriors, who glorified themselves with heroic deeds. On the top of every Cossack pyramid there was a Kosh Ataman and his deputies. All this invisible-in-peacetime hierarchy turned into hard structure during wartime. The head of it was the Kosh Ataman, and during military actions everybody was to obey him. He had unlimited powers and the life of every Cossack, even the most distinguished, was at his disposal.

Under Catherine the Great territories in Pridneprovye began being populated by the Serbs, Valachs, Chernogors (Montenegrins). For defense from the Tartars they were allowed to build the fortress of St. Elisavet. The colonists formed four volunteer regiments of 4000 men each. To command those newly formed regiments Bismark was assigned - the ancestor of the future Unifier of Germany.

The Zaporozhian Cossacks and Poland

After the Mongol-Tartar invasion of Rus', Lithuania, the North-Western neighbor, began "filling the void" of power, and eventually expanded to the territory from Baltic to Black sea, and "incorporated" lands of defeated Kievan Rus' that simply did not have resources to resist.. Most of the people of the Great Duchy of Lithuania were actually Slavs, not Lithuanians, and belonged to the Orthodox religion up to XVIII century all people from the Great Duchy of Lithuania were called Litwa (Lithuanians), regardles of their ethnic origin or religious background). Lithuanian rulers were very tolerant to their Slavic subjects (we can see the same tolerance to Slavic minorities in Lithuania even today, unlike in neighbouring Latvia and Estonia) and guaranteed religious liberties to all their subjects, regardless of nationality or religion. And even after the unification of Lithuania with Poland, nothing really changed: Poles at first were quite indifferent on the subject. And the Zaporozhian Cossacks served the Polish kings in their wars against the enemies of Poland. But, by the beginning of the 17th century, the Jesuits began to undermine the position of the Orthodox Church in the Great Duchy of Lithuania. A Uniate Church controlled from Rome was established; Greek Orthodox congregations were repressed; and the attitude of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Polish crown began to change.

Zaporozhian Cossacks took active part in anti-Polish campaigns and rebellions that took places in modern day Ukraine, even though they were not actually part of Ukraine at that time. After a few important victories, they had a few defeats. It was clear that the anty-Polish movements began running out, simply because the sides were not of equal power. Among other options, Zaporozhian Cossacks under Bohdan Khmelnitsky looked at Moscow as a possible ally. 

In 1654, threatened by Polish domination, the Zaporozhian Cossacks signed a treaty with Russia (Union of Pereyaslav) and received privileges from the Russian government now, in return for the military service. At the end of the 18th century the Zaporozhian Host was disbanded by Catherine II on very unfriendly terms. Most of the Zaporozhian Cossacks were moved to the area of (Northern Caucasus (Kuban) under the name of the Black Sea Cossacks. Later they became part of the Kuban Cossack Host.

Zaporozian Cossack, beginning of the XVIIIc

This is the famous painting of the Zaparozhian Cossacks writing a letter to the Turkish Sultan

This is one of the best known and loved paintings, It shows the Cossacks of Zaporoze composing as insulting a reply as possible to a Turkish demand for surrender in1675.

Most people can identify with these Cossacks by imagining at least one address they would like to send such a letter to.


The historical background of the letter

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 "Syech'" near present-day Zaporoze on the Dnepr 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 Zaporogian Siech and raze it to the ground. There is a popular tradition that, before sending his troops to the Zaporogian Siech, Turkish Sultan Muhammad IV sent to the Zaporogians 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." Many who treasure South Russian lore preserve copies of this letter of the Turkish Sultan and of the quaint reply of the Zaporogians. The letter possibly may be fictitious, but it's consistent with the spirit of the Zaporogian Cossacks.




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