Kieca, Baca and Coffee - 601 Years of Polish-Turkish Relations [interview]
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small, Kieca, Baca and Coffee - 601 Years of Polish-Turkish Relations [interview], Sarmatian fashion is one of the many Turkish influences on Polish culture – like the habit of head shaving. History of a Khanjar, a painting by Henryk, full_henryk_weyssenhoff_scena_szlachecka_-_historia_jataganu_770.jpg
Professor Tadeusz Majda speaks about Tatars, Sarmatian fashion, highland dialect borrowings from Turkish, tobacco smoking, equine fairs and other influences of Turkic communities on Polish culture.
Mikołaj Gliński: In 2014, on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the establishment of Polish-Turkish diplomatic relations, a Polish year was held in Turkey. But relations between Polish and Turkic communities are even older.
Prof. Tadeusz Majda: Turkish-speaking communities have been reaching our region since the turn of the 7th and 8th centuries. The majority of Eastern Europe, the steppes by the Black Sea and Crimea were inhabited by Turkic communities such as the Pechengs, Khazars, Cumans. These communities are only known to us from historical sources, in later centuries they were either exterminated or merged with the other Turkic people who came to these lands.
Contact with the Turkic communities in the border zone was established even before the Mongol invasion. Linguistic borrowings from the military sphere, such as the names of weapons and other instruments, like kańczug, batog or kajdany, can be regarded as traces of these contacts. These early borrowings belong to the group of Kipchak languages, which in turn belongs to the group of Turkish languages.
The most famous of the Turkic minorities which still live in Poland are the Tatars. Who were they and how did they find themselves in Poland?
The Tatars are a Turkic group of Mongolian descent. Being surrounded by Turkic tribes they were forced to somehow adapt and so they adopted Turkish language from the group of Kipchak languages, which was later known as the Tatar language. Due to large presence of Tatars in Central Asia, European sources referred to it as Tartaria. The Tatars were brought to the borders of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by the Lithuanian prince Vytautas during the period of dynastic struggles.
What other Turkic languages were heard in the republic?
At the same time as the Tatars, another Turkic community from Crimea arrived on the land of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the Crimean Karaites. They inhabited the Vilnius Region and the lands along the borders of Lithuania and the Republic of Poland. The Crimean Karaites speak the Karaim language, which also belongs to the group of Kipchak languages. Polish Armenians, who have been arriving from Crimea since the 15th century, also used the Kipchak language dialect.
Tatars are often discussed in context of the diversity and tolerance of the former Republic of Poland, that they were the only Muslim minority with a constant European presence.
This is a phenomenon indeed, no similar example can be found in Europe. Islam in the Balkans appeared much later, after Ottoman Turkey's territorial takeovers. Tatars, who arrived in Poland as Muslims, preserved their language for two, three centuries, but the spoken language was disappearing. In the 16th century, Polish Tatars turned to Sultan Suleiman for him to send over imams and mullahs, because the native language was vanishing and there weren’t enough clerics. Nonetheless, for a long time Tatar texts were copied from old manuscripts, what proves that the Tatar scribes knew the Tatar language very well. A similar situation occurred among the Polish Armenians, who preserved Armenian liturgies, but spoke the Kipchak-Armenian language on a daily basis.
Did the Polish Tatars feel a connection with Turkey?
Most likely yes, there’s evidence of trips, pilgrimages to Mecca via Turkey; Tatars remained in contact with Central Asia, especially with Crimea. Mullahs were sent away for education; manuscripts, from which Arabic and Turkish text would be copied, were brought over. In the 19th century Tatars also emigrated to Turkey.
Fashion and customs
In the common imagination of Poles, the area of Polish culture most influenced by Turkish influences was Sarmatian fashion.
European fashion was regarded by the Sarmatians as foppish, not suited to the nature and temper of the nobility, which wanted to have everything rich and elegant: ample fur coats, long golden caftans, magnificent weapons and groomed horses. The splendour of the oriental, Persian and Turkish products acted on the imagination and suited the idea of impressing and “showing off”.
What is interesting is that the influence of oriental fashion migrated to different social classes – also to the middle class and peasantry. An example of a loanword from Turkish is the word kieca ( meaning a dress), which comes from the Turkish word kecze, defining cloth and cloth works. The inventories of the middle class are full of words describing clothes and fabrics, of Turkish origin. The earliest influence in male fashion appears in the 15th century; Kodeks Baltazara Behema / The Balthasar Behem Codex from the 16th century contains many miniatures which show townsmen wearing oriental outfits.
Where else should one look for Turkish influences?
In the most unexpected areas. The dialect of the highlanders is full of Turkish loanwords. The Tatra mountains were a part of a communication route from the Balkans, where loanwords from Turkish shepherds’ language would arrive the earliest. These mainly relate to equipment, clothing and animals, like baran (meaning: a ram) or baca (meaning: a head shepherd).
What things, other than fashion, migrated to Poland from Turkey?
This topic is not well covered yet, but the sphere of influence is large – customs, like smoking tobacco or drinking coffee, sociable games, the gentry's custom of shaving their heads. There are also some typical summons, like kurdesz (from the Turkish kardesz, meaning brother), associated with brotherhood.
War and peace
The image of our contacts with Turkey is dominated by war. Was Poland considered the bulwark of Christianity?
The numbers are against this image – the wars took only about a quarter of the 600 years of Polish-Turkish relations. Of course the most popular battles are remembered – the battles of Khotyn or Zbarazh, or the acquisition of Kamieniec. The Turkish invasion and siege of Podole (the defence of Kamieniec) was the most severe for Poland. It was the most difficult period in Polish-Turkish relations, which ended with the Battle of Vienna and victory for Poland. The Treaty of Karlowitz signed in 1699 was the caesura. A period of lasting peace and friendly relations began.
Territories acquired by Turkey were inhabited by many nations. How were Turkish politics on those territories?
The Turks organised garrisons, introduced their own administration, levied taxes from the non-Muslim population. Turks from Anatolia also inhabited the Balkans. They tolerated followers of other religions – Christians and Jews.
In the 19th century, Turkey transforms from an enemy to Poland’s friend. Istanbul becomes one of the most desired destinations for Polish emigration. Over there, Poles often turned to Islam…
After the November and January Uprising, and the Hungarian revolution, Turkey granted asylum to thousands of Polish political emigrants. Poles who wished to hold important positions had to turn to Islam, but it wasn’t considered treason. It was the case with Władysław Kościelski – Sefer Paşa – who was able to realise his ambitions after becoming Muslim – he attained the rank of general in the Ottoman army. Polish emigrants wished to strengthen Turkey, the ally of Polish interests against Russia.
Mickiewicz thought alike when he came to Istanbul in 1865. One of the last lines Mickiewicz wrote was in Turkish – as the Migrating University of Mickiewicz, one of the Polish Year in Turkey projects, reminds us.
Polish activists in Turkey wanted to communicate in the local language. Among the elite, one could’ve used French, but some expertise in Turkish was indispensable.
Mickiewicz belonged to the environment from which many later Orientalists originated. As a young man he wanted to study the languages of the East.
Vilnius was the strongest centre of Orientalism. The Institute of Oriental Languages at the University of Vilnius, in its short period of activity, shaped many notable Orientalists: translators, writers, professors. One of them was Józef Sękowski, the author of translations used by Mickiewicz in his poems Szanfary and Almotennabi.
project turkey 2014
adam mickiewicz institute
polish year in turkey
slav and tatars
Did Polish Orientalism differ from that of the West?
The East was an area which the Western Orientalists only got to know, conquered and colonised; for Poles, the East was a part of their country. Karaites, Tatars, Jews are native to the Vilnius region. People would learn their customs, language and folk, in particular their tales and legends. Polish Orientalism reaches back to the times of the Sarmatians and is lively until the 19th century. Polish contact with Turkey and the Middle East, as well as the memory of the Tatar invasions or the famous equine fairs, have greatly influenced literature and painting.
Was the Polish Orientalist tradition somehow continued?
After the University of Vilnius was closed in 1831, the Orientalists dispersed: some left for St. Petersburg, others to Kazan and Berlin. The Institute of Eastern Languages was a great example of Polish interest in Eastern culture, and it increased interest about this topic among our poets in the romantic period.
The Orient Painted
As part of the Polish Year in Turkey, an exhibition called Orientalism in Polish art was presented in Istanbul. Does Polish Orientalism in art differ from the Western?
According to Edward Said, Western Orientalism has enforced its vision of the East and its culture; Western artists show the East how Europe wanted to see it. Of course, by remaining in touch with European art, Polish artists couldn’t escape such a vision of the East completely. However, I think that the tradition of Polish Orientalism, the understanding of the realities of Eastern Poland and the hundreds of years of contact with the East affected our perception. It’s apparent in painting, in particular in the choice of topics. Oriental motifs and themes of the European painting also appear in Polish painting, but in different proportions, some of them marginally.
So what were Polish painters interested in?
Since Poland had contact with the East for centuries, and waged war with Turkey, it’s impossible not to portray that, this was a dominant motif. But there are also themes which one could not find in Western paintings. Our favourite topic, which combines the Eastern borderlands with Turkey, is the equine fairs. Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz, among others, painted those with great passion.
There are also many representations of types of people – there is great interest in other people, one can tell that the simplest person can become the subject of a painting – a peasant, a Bedouin, a beggar, a junk dealer. Portraits of beauty are rare. Landscapes, horses, town views, plain people dominate. Realistic representations are characteristic of our Orientalist paintings.
Poland-Turkey: year 601
Why is it important to organise events such as the Polish Year in Turkey?
The Polish Year was saturated with events which will certainly affect Turkish society for a while. It’s important for Polish culture to be presented in such diverse manner, not limited to Istanbul and Ankara. If someone already is or will become interested in Poland, this is certainly attributable to the the Polish Year programme.
At the Distant Neighbor Close Memories: 600 Years of Polish-Turkish Relations exhibition in Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul, we presented sultans' documents, alliance acts, which are also a piece of art, exquisitely adorned with sultan’s tughra. We’ve got an impressive number of those documents, and it's the first time that we were able to show so many of them at once. They provided a remarkable illustration of how close and good Polish-Turkish relations are.
Tadeusz Majda is a professor at the University of Warsaw. His interests focus on Ottoman language and literature, as well as on the group of Kipchak languages, like the Tatar language of the Polish-Lithuanian Tatars or Chagatai language. He’s also interested in the art of Islam, Turkish art in particular. Since 1989, he has been a curator of the Oriental Art Collection at the National Museum of Warsaw. In 2014 Professor Majda was a curator of two significant exhibitions presented in Turkey in the framework of the Polish Year.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, February 2015, transl. Agata Dudek, March 2015