The reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks is an insulting answer addressed to Mehmed IV, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in response to his order to stop attacking the Sublime Porte and surrender.
The Zaporozhian Cossacks are the part of the Cossacks of the Dnieper region (the territory of modern Ukraine) that in the 16th century had several scattered military fortifications beyond the Dnieper rapids outside the jurisdiction of any state. Subsequently, they united in a separate military and state organization called the Troops of Zaporizhzhya. It was named after the region of residence and the location of the Cossacks’ leading military fortification called the Zaporozhian Sich.
Mehmed IV was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire who ruled in 1648-1687. During his reign, from the beginning of 1683, successes in European wars were replaced by constant defeats, which resulted in the overthrow of Mehmed IV.
In 1667, the Truce of Andrusovo, a peace agreement between Tsardom of Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was signed for thirteen years. Under the agreement, Left-Bank Ukraine became the property of Russia, while Right-Bank Ukraine remained with the Commonwealth. Right-Bank Ukraine made peace with Turkey. However, most of the Zaporozhian Cossacks were against it, and they continued their raids against Turkish settlements and caravans. The Polish-Lithuanian government could not stop them. As a result, the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the Commonwealth deteriorated.
In 1675, during the Russo-Turkish war of 1672–1681, before sending troops to the Zaporozhian Sich, Mehmed IV sent the Cossacks a letter. He wrote that “as the Sultan; son of Mohammed; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God…”, he commanded them to submit to him voluntarily and without any resistance. The Zaporozhian Cossacks were outraged by the letter of the Turkish Sultan.
The style of the letter indicating numerous ranks of the Sultan did not frighten the Cossacks, but, on the contrary, made them laugh. They decided to write him a sarcastic response. The Zaporozhian Cossacks’ reply to the Sultan Mehmed of the Ottoman Empire was far from being polite. They denied the greatness of the Sultan and made fun of him. They wrote that Mehmed IV was “Turkish devil and secretary to Lucifer himself…fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God.” They added that they had no fear of him. The reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the sultan was full of vulgar rhymes and profanity.
The reply was written at a time when the tradition of such letters was developed in Ukraine. Even though the original text has not been preserved, it has mentioned in some documents since the 18th century. Several variations of the text are known. The Zaporozhian Cossacks’ letter, even if it was not sent, became a legend and evidence of the desperate courage of the Cossacks. Their sense of humor demonstrates the attitude of free people to foreign rulers.
The atmosphere and mood among the Cossacks, writing the letter, are reflected in the painting Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, written in 1880 by a Russian artist, Ilya Repin. Repin tried to reproduce in detail the moment of writing the letter. The artist painted the Cossacks laughing and having a good time. Repin managed to emphasize in each character of the painting the heroic spirit, independence, and the cohesion and strength of the Cossack community.