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The Battle of Blue Waters
The Battle of Syni Vody was a pivotal event which resulted in the liberation of a large part of Ukrainian lands from the domination of the Golden Horde.
Rostyslav SEHEDA and Kostyantyn KINASH provide their reasons why we should know more about the Battle of Syni Vody.
One of the paradoxes of Ukrainian history is that quite often an event from the past gets blown out of proportion when it finds its way into the media coverage, whereas pivotal events which did make a great impact upon the local or even European history remain unknown to the general public. One of such events is the Battle of Syni Vody — Blue Waters, which was fought either in 1362 or 1363 (there is no final consensus among historians as to the exact date).
It was fought between the forces of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Algirdas and the forces of the Golden Horde.
The battle took place in the vicinity of a fortress, Torhovytsi (now there is a village there, located in Kyrovohrad Oblast), in the Land of Podillya in Ukraine. In spite of a momentous impact on the history of a very large area of Eastern Europe, Ukraine included, the battle somehow got lost in the annals of history and is known only to a small circle of historians who specialize in Lithuanian and Ukrainian medieval studies.
The obvious dearth of documentary and material evidence concerning the battle has no doubt contributed to the lack of mention about the battle in general history books. But had the battle been lost, the course of history of Ukraine would have been very different from the course it actually took, and Kyiv, with some stretch of imagination, could have been a Muslim city. In fact, it was not only the destiny of Christian Orthodoxy in Ukraine that was at stake — the destinies of the whole of Europe hang in balance.
What little we can extract from the chronicles boils down to this. The Grand Duke of Lithuania Algirdas chose the right moment to strike at the faltering Golden Horde. His forces included warriors from Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. They faced the Golden Horde forces led by Kuglug-Bey, Hadzi-Bey and Dmitry, the local rulers in the Ukrainian Land of Podillya. The armies clashed at the River Syni Vody (Blue Waters) and the Grand Duke came out the winner. Thanks to this victory, he expanded the lands he controlled well into the Ukrainian territory, with the Lands of Kyivshchyna and Podillya becoming part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Mongol and Tartar rule was broken in these Ukrainian lands and the Mongolian and Tartar expansion further into Europe was stymied. Ukraine was to remain an Orthodox Christian land.
One can’t help wondering why an event of such magnitude has remained overlooked if not totally ignored in history books. The answer can probably be found not so much in scarcity of documentary or physical evidence but rather in what may be called “ideological” motivations.
In the soviet times, history was one of the disciplines hit the hardest by the soviet ideology. Facts were ignored, the whole chunks of history were interpreted in the way the soviets thought suited their views of the events of the past.
The Battle of Kulikovo, for example that was fought in September 1380, in which the Russians, led by Dmitry, prince of Moscow and grand prince of Vladimir, defeated the forces of the Golden Horde, led by Mamai, a Mongol general, was trumpeted as a great event of a historic significance. The battle took place at Kulikovo Pol¸ (“Snipes’ Field”) on the upper Don River. But the victory of the Russians was in fact of little political consequence — two years later, in 1382, Tokhtamysh, the khan who had overthrown Mamai in 1381, invaded Russia. He devastated the lands, looted and burned Moscow, and forced the Russians to recognize once again the suzerainty of the Golden Horde.
The Battle of Kulikovo, in pre-soviet Russian imperial and later soviet propaganda, was elevated to the earth-shaking event thanks to which Russia came to its own and established itself as a major political force in Eastern Europe. Consequently, such events as the Battle of the Syni Vody were pushed virtually into oblivion even though its importance for the history of Eastern Slavs was considerably greater. Besides, it was awkward to admit that the Battle of Kulikovo was won not so much thanks to the military talents of Dmitry but rather his victory owes much to the fact that the Lithuanian Grand Duke, who was then an ally of the Tartars and Mongols, did not take part in the battle because of some of his “geopolitical” considerations.
Since the Lithuanians, Byelorussians and Ukrainians did not have their own independent states for ages, they lacked such a powerful ideological tool as imperial propaganda, and thus could not promote their own views of historical events of their past, or even study the historical legacy properly. The reinstitution of the importance of the Battle of the Syni Vody is a step towards reconstructing the events of the past in their true significance.
Battle of the Syni Vody Project
The Year 2012 will mark the 650th anniversary of the battle, and a non-government organization, TTI Club Crystal Lotus WZV, jointly with the Embassy of the Lithuanian Republic in Kyiv and Charity Organization Slovyansky Fond (Slavic Fund) are carrying out an international project, The 650th Anniversary of the Battle of the Syni Vody (www.bwb650.org), whose main aim is to promote information about the battle, to raise the awareness of the European community of the historical events that took place in the times of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, to provide information about the importance of the Battle of the Syni Vody for the destinies of the Lithuanian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian peoples, and thus throw revealing light on this epochal event.
The better we know the history, the better we can find understanding between peoples. The relations between the Muslim world of the Golden Horde and the Christian world of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania deserve a careful study, particularly in view of the processes that are taking place in the twenty-first century. The world community should be aware of the past in order to better deal with the present.
The 650th Anniversary of the Battle of the Syni Vody project, when carried out, will hopefully provide a free access to a large amount of information about one of the truly momentous events in the Eastern European history. A virtual museum, The Battle of the Syni Vody, once created, will be of a great help in this. According to Kostyantyn Kinash, who has initiated the creation of this Internet museum, it will be conducive to conducting further historical studies and will stir interest among the people of the European community in the history of Lithuania and Ukraine.
Within the framework of the project, conferences and roundtable discussions will be held. They will deal with this historical event and more broadly will contribute to the development of event-tourism in Europe. A reenactment festival, A Fourteenth-Century Battle, is planned to be held as well and it is likely that the festival will become an annual event.
The Golden Horde was a Mongol and later Turkicized khanate that formed the north-western sector of the Mongol Empire which extended, after the amazing successes of the Mongols in conquest of enormous territories, from Mongolia to the fringes of Western Europe.
Beginning in 1359 the khanate had begun to experience violent internal political disorder. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania profited from this situation and pushed deeper into the Golden Horde territory than any previous expedition and the Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-1377) defeated forces of the Golden Horde at the battle of Blue Waters c.1362.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th-13th century until 1569 when it became a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Duchy expanded to include large portions of the former Kyivan Rus-Ukraine and other Slavic lands, covering the territory of present-day Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Estonia, Moldova, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. At its greatest extent in the 15th century, it was the largest state in Europe.