ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News
The asphalt road leading to Polonezköy, or Adampol, as residents call it, was constructed only 10 years ago. Nowadays, especially in spring and fall, hundreds of vehicles use it to get to this peaceful oasis in the outskirts of Istanbul.
People escaping from the city noise come here to enjoy the best of what the green countryside has to offer, but not many of them actually know how deeply it is buried in history. Many have visited or at least heard about the place, but only a few can connect the village to its Polish roots.
Antoni Dochoda, an authority on the history of Polonezköy, knows the stories of all local families. �My grandfather was a prisoner, caught by Circassians during the Crimean war 1854-56,� he began his story. �At the time of partition of Poland, the largest part of the country was annexed by Russia, and so was the Polish army. The soldiers, who didn't want to fight for the invaders, deserted to the Ottoman side,� said Dochoda. But there are also other stories. The grandfather of Ziolkowski family was an officer on a German war vessel, which was later given to Turkey in order to make the country participate in the war, and that is how he came to Turkey. Wincenty Ryzy, patriot and political activist, arrived in Adampol after an exile in Siberia. His youngest daughter, Zofia, adapted their family house to the culture center, which due to its family character is known as �Aunt Zosia's home.�
Polish immigrants, who found themselves scattered in all parts of Europe, organized themselves into numerous patriotic societies. One such society in France established a representative in Istanbul in order to help buy back many of their compatriots who had been sold into slavery in Turkey. The group made contact with a French order living in present day Polonezköy to establish a shelter for Polish refugees. The village then became settlement, with a special regulation allowing only Poles to settle there.
Between 1842, when the community was established, and the end of 19th century the Polish population grew to 150. However, not all family names survived. �Due to difficult conditions, many families migrated abroad, mostly to Australia and Canada,� said Dochoda. �I was also considering to migrate, but in the end we only moved to the center of Istanbul. I decided to come back 10 years ago when the transportation system was improved.� Currently Dochoda runs a prestigious restaurant complex, named Leonardo, which is visited by many prominent guests such as Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former president of Poland.
No public bus goes directly to Polonezköy. The residents kindly rejected the municipality's offer to establish a line as they were afraid that visiting crowds might not appreciate the history and culture they had managed to preserve. �We do not complain about the lack of popularity,� said Daniel Ohotsky, the mayor of Polonezköy. �It is very easy to get here once you have a car. Many renowned Turkish personalities come to visit us, as well as to settle.� He declined to give any names, saying, �It is their private life and we respect it.�
The stories of Polish settlers continued in the 20th century, but the problems they faced turned out to be different. �Newcomers were needed to maintain the Polish population in Polonezköy,� Dochoda laughed. �That's how my mother got here before the war; to marry my father.� Nowadays there are a lot of intermarriages between Poles and Turks, which are definitely not considered as a threat to the Polish culture.
�I know many Turkish wives here who are cultivating Polish rituals much more than the Polish ones do,� said Ohotski. �And on all special occasions and holidays we meet all together.�
Polonezköy has both a church and a mosque, Christian and Muslim holidays are equally celebrated, and both imam and priest take part in weddings and funerals. �There is no other place like this,� said Dochoda. �We never quarrel.�
The village has started changing from typically agricultural to tourist as early as the late 1920s, but the real boom came in the '70s. The residents of Polonezköy were renting rooms in their own houses, offering guests a wide range of homemade delicacies. The quality turned into a brand, gaining its own customers in Istanbul, who started visiting the place more often and bringing other people with them.
Newly built guesthouses created more employment opportunities and the village continued to develop. �Polonezköy has very good relations with Beykoz municipality, which supports and contributes to the changes we initiate,� said Ohotski. �Last year we opened the first and only BMX Park in Turkey.�
Last week Polonezköy was hosting a sculpture workshop, organized by academies of fine arts from Istanbul and Krakow, Poland. But there are many more examples of international cooperation between the two countries.
�We have a few partner towns in Poland,� said the mayor. �Soon we're going to present our village at a festival in Zakopane.�
One of the oldest partners of Polonezköy is Przemysl, located in the southeastern part of Poland. The idea of cooperation between those two townships began in 1912, when a group of tourists took a picture of Polonezköy and presented it to the local museum. �Current activities, such as a youth exchange, are organized due to the contribution of a Turk living in Przemysl. Although originally from Zonguldak, she is a wonderful promoter of Polonezköy,� the mayor said.
In Adampol, everyone knows the story in which the Ottoman sultan hoped for an ambassador from an officially nonexistent country. During the period when Poland was divided among three countries and therefore did not exist on the map, the sultan declared that he continued to recognize the country and expressed publicly his great support for the Polish cause. And he was continuously concerned about the arrival of an ambassador from �Lehistan,� the name given to Poland by the Ottomans. The same story is told to polish school kids in their history classes.