October 11th, 2005


heartfelt diplomacy

    The following exchange is traditionally attributed as the demand for fealty made by the Turkish sultan Mehmet IV (1642—1693) to the Zaporozhian Dnieper Cossacks, followed by the answer given by the Cossacks and their chieftain Ivan Sirko (1605?—1680).
    Son of sultan Ibrahim I born of and brought up by his Russian concubine Turhan Hatice, Mehmet IV ascended to the Ottoman throne following the assassination of his father in 1648. His reign witnessed great military victories against Venice, Transylvania, and Poland. However, his ambition to extend his rule into Podolia and Ukraine in the East, and Austria and Hungary in the West, was thwarted on September 12 of 1683 by the rout of the Ottoman armies at the walls of Vienna, at the hands of the coalition led by Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine and king Jan III Sobieski of Poland. In the wake of a further defeat in 1687 at Mohacs, inflicted by the Holy League led by Charles V of Lorraine, Mehmet IV was deposed and imprisoned by his council. He lived out his days with two concubines, confined in quarters overlooking his favorite hunting grounds.
    Cossack chieftain Ivan Sirko distinguished himself in campaigns against Poland, the Ottoman Empire, and Crimean Tatars, accompanied by constant fluctuation in principles and alliances. A characteristic episode in his military exploits has him liberating seven thousand Christian prisoners from Moslem captivity. To these beneficiaries of his martial prowess Sirko offered a choice between accompanying his Cossacks to Rus, and returning to their original Crimean homes. He then dispatched his trops to slaughter three thousand Christians that chose to return to their homes instead of starting from scratch amongst the Cossacks. Surveying the ensuing carnage, the heroic chieftain spoke: Forgive us, brothers, and sleep here until the Last Judgment of our Lord, lest you multiply in the Crimea amongst the infidel, vexing our brave spirits, and causing your eternal unbaptized damnation. (Простите нас, братья, а сами спите тут до страшного Господнего суда, чем размножаться вам в Крыму между бусурманами на наши молодецкие головы, а на свою вечную без крещения погибель.) This amalgam of pragmatic interest in preempting the reproduction of potential enemies with altruistic concern for saving Christian souls provides a vivid illustration of the Cossack chieftain’s favorite saying: «Нужда закон змінює», need will amend law. Today, this intrepid Cossack hero is celebrated in official Ukrainian coinage. Collapse )