Prof. Yücel OĞURLU: Turkey-Poland Relations in the Light of Minor Conflicts and “Eternal Peace”

Turkey-Poland Relations in the Light of Minor Conflicts and “Eternal Peace”

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Prof. Yücel OĞURLU

Turkish jurist, lawyer and professor of administrative law. Rector of Istanbul Commerce University and former rector of the International University of Sarajevo.

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The relations between Turkey and Poland, two countries that do not share a border today, have a depth far beyond expectations. In this context, it would be expedient to remember the deep-rooted reasons for today’s friendly relations in the context of many negative and positive events that occurred in the past.

.The relations between Poles and the Turks have a much longer history than what is generally thought. It is known that it was the first Huns, Avars, Pechenegs and Uzs in Europe who had first contacted with the peoples of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and that they disappeared among these peoples over time. The second time a deep-rooted contact was established between the Turks and the Poles was in the 13th century between the Golden Horde State and Kingdom of Poland. As the remnants of this period, Tatars and Karaites, who still indetify themselves as Turkic peoples, still exist in Poland and Lithuania.

The conquests of the Ottoman Empire in Europe since the 14th century aroused a great reaction in the Kingdom of Poland. The Poles supported their neighbors, the Hungarians, in the Battle of Nicopolis of 1396 fought by the Ottoman Empire against Europe. This was a perfectly normal and understandable choice by the Kingdom of Poland given the circumstances of the time.

The diplomatic relations between the Poles and the Turks are among the oldest examples of diplomacy in Europe. Diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the Ottoman Empire started in 1414. According to the notes of Jan Dlugosz, the Polish historian of the period, Polish ambassadors named Jakub Skarbek and Grzegorz Ormianin from Góra were received by Sultan Mehmet the First in Bursa, which was the capital of the Ottoman State at that time, and became the first Western diplomats in the Ottoman palace. This shows that the Ottoman Empire had a privileged and special view of Poland.

I would like to express with regret that there were also periods marked by negative relations the Kingdom of Poland and the Ottoman Empire, which even led to a big war followed by a series of agreements. The agreement made in 1640 ended these conflicts. As a matter of fact, when the Kingdom of Poland was attacked by the Tsardom of Russia from the east and by the Kingdom of Sweden from the north in 1654, the Ottoman Empire supported the Kingdom of Poland. This situation continued until 1669, which resulted in the rapprochement of the Kingdom of Poland and the Tsardom of Russia.

The Second Siege of Vienna against Austria in 1683 was one of the turning points in Ottoman-Polish relations. Vienna was saved with the help of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which sided with Holy Roman Empire led by the Habsburg Monarchy. Interestingly, despite the support of the Kingdom of Poland, in the following years after the siege was over, the Polish lands were divided piecemeal between their so-called allies, Tsardom of Russia, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Kingdom of Prussia.

The 1699 Karlowitz Agreement, which marked the end of the progress of the Ottoman Empire in the West and the start of loss of land, was made between the Kingdom of Poland and the Ottoman Empire. After this agreement, a period of peace began in Turkey-Poland relations. As a reason, Russia got stronger and started to interfere in Poland’s internal affairs. On the other hand, Russia was also a problem for the Ottoman Empire, so the two states got closer to each other. Russia’s interest in the region never ceased to exist for hundreds of years.

Efforts to strengthen the friendly and neighborly relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the Ottoman Empire resulted in the “eternal peace” agreement, which was signed in 1533 during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. This agreement is remarkable as it was the first peace agreement of this content signed between a Christian state and a Muslim state. Rokselana, who came from the Ukraine region of the Kingdom of Poland and became the wife of Sultan Suleiman, who would later be known as Hürrem Sultan, contributed greatly to the signing of this agreement. This agreement has left its traces in the minds of intellectuals, both Poles and Turks, who know their history, even today.

The territories of the Kingdom of Poland, which was already divided into three by the Tsardom of Russia, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Kingdom of Prussia in 1772, was partitioned again by the Tsardom of Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia in 1793, but as an ally of the Kingdom of Poland, the Ottoman Empire did not recognize this partition.

Finally, in 1795, the King of Poland abdicated the throne and the Kingdom of Poland lost its independence. The period of conflicts in the Ottoman-Polish relations was over since the beginning of 18th century, and diplomatic relations between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Poland have flourished against the Tsardom of Russia, which was an external threat for both entities.

Even between 1795-1918, that is, during the period when Poland was not independent and was under the domination of Tsardom of Russia, the Ottoman-Polish relations had continued. The Ottoman Empire supported the independence movements in Poland, namely, the 1830 and 1848 revolutions and the 1863-1864 uprisings, which ended with their bloody suppression by the Russians, and opened its lands to Polish refugees who were escaping the executions, imprisonments and the exiles enforced by  the Russians in relation to the said movements.

In 1842, Michał Czajkowski, one of the commanders of the Ottoman Empire and known as Sadik Pasha, founded Adampol (Polonezköy), a Polish village on the Asian side of Istanbul that has survived to this day. The Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, who came to Turkey when Polonezköy was founded, passed away in the Dolapdere district of Istanbul. In his memory, the Adam Mickiewicz Museum was established in the house he lived and passed away. About 30 families of Polish origin still live in Polonezköy.

It is important for Turkey that modern Poland was the first European country to recognize the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic when it was founded. The Treaty of Friendship signed in 1923, which continues to this day, is a clear indication of 100 years of friendship between the two republics.

The first ambassador of the Second Polish Republic with a permanent-status appointed to Ankara in 1924 was Roman Knoll. On the other hand, the first ambassador of Republic of Turkey to Poland, who was appointed to Warsaw in the same year, was İbrahim Tali Öngören.

During World War II, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Ankara continued its activities without interruption, and the Turkish authorities not just helped those that fleed Poland, but also assisted in the evacuation of the Polish Central Bank’s national gold reserves. After the end of the Second World War, although the Polish-Turkish relations could not progress at very high levels due to their affiliation to two different blocs, economic relations continued on a regular basis. It will be in the interest of each country to strengthen these economic relations with a win-win policy in favor of the two countries.

Poland’s support for Turkey’s EU membership process and Turkey’s support for Poland’s NATO membership in 1999 contributed to the development of political relations. Since 2012, Poland has been collaborating with Turkey in the field of security as part of the Poland-Romania-Turkey trilateral partnership. President Süleyman Demirel visited Poland in 1993 and 1997. Bilateral relations were raised to the level of strategic partnership with the first declaration signed at the Prime Ministry level during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Poland in May 2009.

Both countries’ efforts to learn more about the other will undoubtedly create new opportunities and open up new horizons in terms of Turkish-Polish relations in the future. In this context, events to be held in the fields of culture and arts, particularly in the field of cinema, would serve as good promotional activities for both countries.

Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center in Warsaw offers free lessons to Polish citizens who want to learn Turkish. In addition, there are Turkology Departments at Warsaw University, Jagiellonian University (Krakow) and Poznan Adam Mickiewicz Universities in Poland.

Erasmus Program provides an important opportunity for students of both countries to learn more about the other country. Poland is one of the most preferred countries by Turkish students within the framework of the Erasmus program.

Today, when economic competition has reached its peak, new commercial and economic opportunities should be studied in favor of both countries.

.As an academician and a rector from Turkey, I would like to express that we are ready to support the Turkish-Polish relations in every aspect in the spirit of the historical “eternal peace agreement” signed nearly five centuries ago. Along these lines, I would like to state that we are open to cooperation with Polish universities through research centers of our university, faculty exchange programs and Erasmus programs.

Yücel Oğurlu

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