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  Land Of Russian Cossacks

Land Of Russian Cossacks 

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General information


The native land of the Cossacks is defined by a line of Russian town-fortresses located on the border with the steppe and stretching from the middle Volga to Dnepr and Don rivers regions. Cossacks were free people grouped in military and trading communities, constantly facing Turkish and nomad warriors on the steppe frontier. Cossacks received their name from Turkish word “Qasaq” which means “adventurer” or “free man”.

Cossack communities were formed in the 15th century with main locations in Don, Kuban and Zaporozhje (fortified islands on Dnepr river). The capital of the Don Cossack State was Cherkassk with Rostov and Tsaritsin (later – Volgograd) as significant Cossack towns.

Russian Cossacks played a key role in the expansion of the Russian Empire into Siberia, the Caucasus and Central Asia in the period from the 16th to 19th centuries. Cossack hosts were established in the Southern Urals, Siberia and Caucasus to secure Russian borders. Cossacks also served as guides to most Russian expeditions formed by civil and military geographers and surveyors, traders and explorers. In 1648 the Russian Cossack Semen Dezhnev discovered a passage between North America and Asia.

Cossack military traditions are strong and boys were trained as warriors from a very young age. As soon as a baby had his first teeth, he was brought to the church and a service to St. John the Warrior was served, so that the boy would grow strong and fearless, and dedicated to Orthodoxy. At the age of three the child could already mount a horse and by five he was a confident rider. At a young age he became also a perfect gun-shooter and master of sabre-fight (Cossacks’ sabre is called Shashka). During the war with Napoleon in 1812, Cossacks were the Russian soldiers most feared by the French troops. Cossacks also took part in the partisan war and were one of the first developers of guerrilla warfare tactics which is still used today in many war conflicts worldwide.


Recognizing the Cossack’s military skills, the Russian government tried to control them and make them serve the Tsar. The government turned the Cossacks into a special social estate, which was to serve and protect the Russian Empire. They served as border guards on national and internal ethnic borders and regularly supplied men to military conflicts like numerous Russo-Turkish wars. In return they enjoyed special privileges and vast social autonomy, which they valued. Cossacks, remaining true to their free spirits, mostly respected the Tsar and the Patriarch, but hated state bureaucracy. When their privileges were threatened, the Cossacks didn’t hesitate to start rebellions. The most famous revolt leaders of Cossacks are Stepan Razin, Kondratiy Bulavin and Emelyan Pugachev.

After the Bolshevick revolution in 1917 Cossacks fought mainly against the Red Army. Therefore they were heavily persecuted in Soviet Union. The revival of the Cossacks and their traditions began in 1989, during Perestroyka period. Today there are even special Cossack schools where students learn Cossack traditions and history along with the usual subjects.

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