By Slawomira Kozieniec
Coming to Turkey several years ago I had some ideas about Polish-Turkish relations. My knowledge was based on our Polish education, literature and… some of my friends who went on holiday to the warm country of old Orient. New connections because of the growing economic ties and mixed marriages between Poles and Turks are making the relationship even better. Geographically quite far from each other nowadays, but with deep historical roots and – it sounds strange today – even common borders in the 14th and 15th century!
On the occasion of the celebration of 600 years of diplomatic relations between Poland and the Ottoman Empire (later: Turkey) the Sakıp Sabancı Museum opened a beautiful new exhibition: Distant Neighbor, Close Memories.
At the entrance of the exhibition my slow steps kept me at the wall with a long line on it reflecting the history of Turks and Poles throughout time; above the line the history of Turks, under it of Poles. I read all of it, from the first to the last word and got the impression, that I won’t be the only one who pays so much attention to it. Who can resist such an informative introduction? It is for all of us who always feel they have missed several pages in our school books, some not mentioned facts or people. While visiting museums we discover more details of the bygone world.
Later I admired walls covered with impressive detailed drawings and paintings of battle fields known from my old school books, portraits of familiar faces, maps, descriptions, documents, some huge like a billiards table with tiny calligraphy in Arabic and Latin. Even without understanding a word you look at it and wonder: how skilful is that handwriting, nothing corrected or removed. It is the work of masters in pen and ink; as it is the work of those with needle and golden threads left on heavy kaftans, shoes, tapestries and carpets.
In front of the huge sultan’s tent there are also other figures: natural seize horses with decorated saddles. Plenty of weapons testify that friendship had its ups and downs and worn drums of war bit ominous rhythm many times. Soldiers’ chain mails, halberd, and quivers are silent witnesses of the less friendly episodes in the Polish-Turkish relations.
The further in time, the more mutually support there was between Poland and Turkey. Polish bard Adam Mickiewicz, who came here to organize Polish soldiers in order to free his country from foreign occupation and who died in old Constantinople also got his place in the exhibition.
Unfortunately there is nothing about the origins of Adampol, today’s Polonezköy. I miss a note about this gift from sultan Abdülmecid I for Polish soldiers, who were forced to fight in the Tsarist army and had escaped to Ottoman Empire or were sold as slaves. Their misery ended when the Polish duke Adam Czartoryski bought them and set them free, so they could become farmers. This is a very important chapter, because this year we celebrate 172 anniversary of that small, still very Polish village, on the Asian side of the Bosporus some 30km away from the historic city center of Istanbul. For both sides it has historical and – especially for Poles – emotional value.
A documentary film on the lowest third level (war destruction in Poland and rebuilding of land and people’s lives) and an animated three minutes film of Polish history just before the exit are a good finishing touch for old and young visitors.
In the exhibition rooms, heavy with the weight of centuries of history, I would like to hear the sound of subtle music, as an additional bridge between our cultures. Do we have some common legacy in music too? Yes, we do.
There is a note about him – Wojciech Bobowski (Ali Ufki) – he was one of our common musical ancestors. He worked for 20 years as a Polish slave in the Sultan’s court. As a musician and musicologist he devised a method to record Ottoman music and folk melodies. Charming Oriental sound unusual for our ears could be followed by subtle romantic sound of Polish composers like Chopin.