Richard Fletcher relfects on a lecture by Polish Ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Andrzej Ananicz, celebrating the anniversary of 600 years of diplomatic relations between Poland and Turkey.
It must be one of the more interesting quirks of diplomatic history – 600 years of unbroken diplomatic relations between the Poles and the Turks. But, hang on, you might say. “Poland” simply did not exist for various periods over the past 600 years. The simple answer is the Turks refused to recognise the carve-ups that took Poland off the map, consistently saying they were dealing with Poland and the Poles, not the people/countries that nominally took control.
Why Wellington? It was a question he asked himself after the Polish and Turkish ambassadors invited him to speak. In the end his answer was ...why not?
Ananicz himself is an interesting character. Initially an academic – in Poland and the USA – he joined the Polish diplomatic service to, among other things, become head of the Polish Intelligence Service and Deputy Foreign Minister. A specialist in “Turcology” he speaks Turkish, Farsi (Persian), German, Russian, Urdu and English with a subtlety and sense of humour that shows he knows both the light – and dark – sides of diplomacy.
He said the relationship began in 1414, 1415 according to some, when the then “Polish” king and the Turkish sultan agreed they had common interests over countries between Polish territory and the Ottoman Empire. “Polish” is in quote marks as, during the first couple of hundred years, “Poland” as we know it now did not exist. Among other things, it was part of a Lithuanian/Polish state that spread from the Baltic to the Black Seas. Subsequent events as many will know included Poland becoming part of Russia and being carved up between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. When Poland was dismembered in the 18th Century the Ottomans refused to recognise this and subsequent changes. In modern times the Turkish republic similarly refused to recognise the Nazi-Stalin carve-up and the Polish “satellite-state” post- World War II. Formal relations resumed after Poland re-established
On the Turkish side, the Ottoman Empire at its zenith reached the borders of Austria. Ironically and despite opposition from many Poles King John Sobieski sided with the Austrians during the siege of Vienna but this did not break diplomatic relations between Poland and Turkey. After its defeat in World War I the victors, having broken up the Ottoman Empire, in 1920 tried to carve up what little was left of Turkey. Ananicz says, with help from the “new” Polish state and Polish advisors in the Turkish government, Kemal Ataturk successfully preserved what became modern Turkey.
The help Ataturk had begins to hint at the less formal, at times quirky, but apparently very strong informal relationships that have existed between Poles and Turks for centuries. For a period Polish princes went “oriental”, dressing in Turkish style to the point that when a delegation visited Paris the French thought they were Turks. Turkey proved a safe haven for many Poles when others took over their country. A Polish prince established Adampol, a village some 30 km from Istanbul. The village still has an annual Polish festival. The prince’s representative in Turkey converted to Islam. Many other Poles converted. Others remained Roman Catholic in the tolerant Ottoman Empire. Some Polish soldier converts became Ottoman generals. One, who fought with Ataturk at Gallipoli, became a key adviser in establishing the new republic.
Perhaps Gallipoli is the vague connection with New Zealand that may have prompted the Polish and Turkish ambassadors to bring Ananicz to Wellington as part of their 600th anniversary celebration. Whatever the reason, the result was a fascinating insight into an unusual and lasting relationship.
Richard Fletcher is a journalist, lawyer and a member of the advisory board at Diplosphere