Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 38

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Saudi Aramco World
Párkány, which occurred as part
of the Battle of Vienna in 1683
against the Ottoman Turks. As
wages for their service, the king
gave the Tatars the lands along
what is today’s Tatar Trail. Even
today, residents of Kruszyniany
can point to the place, over-
grown with old linden trees,
where the manor house of Krzec-
zkowski once stood.
The Tatars slowly blended into
their newly bestowed homeland.
“They gave in to it consciously,
but at the same time, they were
protecting their beliefs. In Poland,
being Tatar also meant being
Muslim,” says Ali Mi
ś
kiewicz, a
historian and editor of
Yearbook
of Polish Tatars
and other works
on Tatar history. Their traditions survived in major centers both in
Lithuania and in Poland, where they taught their religion and built
their own places of worship, he adds. And as Musa Czachorowski,
spokesperson for the
mufti
(chief Islamic legal official) of the Re-
public of Poland, says, “Muslims lived in Poland for 600 years and
the Polish law never forced us to act against the rules of Islam.”
In the 1920’s, about 6,000 Polish-Lithuanian Tatars lived
among some 19 communities and worshipped in 17 mosques.
In 1925, they established the Muslim Religious Association
(Muzułma
ń
ski Zwi
ą
zek Religijny) and attempted to unite all
Muslims in Poland. They also established the Cultural and
Educational Union of Polish Tatars, where they developed
social and cultural activities.
Living in a non-Muslim country, Polish Tatars
naturally absorbed their surroundings and, to a
certain degree, assimilated. For instance, it is typi-
cal that Polish-Lithuanian Tatar women have never
covered their heads or faces. “Although I sit with
women in the mosque, there are equal rights at
home,” Bogdanowicz says.
Architecture was influenced as well. The wooden
mosques in Kruszyniany and nearby Bohoniki
differ in outward appearance only a little from
Catholic and Orthodox churches, except for their
distinguishing crescents.
Tatar writing is another example of cultures
intermingling. Their literature was written in Polish
and Lithuanian, but also contained Arabic, Otto-
man Turkish and Tatar
elements. For the Qur’an
and other religious writings, Tatars at times used a form of
Arabic developed to allow phonetic reading of the words in
either Polish or Belarusian.
Some things, however, remained the same. Weddings
continue to be held on large swaths of sheepskin, a symbol
dating back to the Golden Horde that represented home,
wealthand stabilization.
However, in what seemed like an overnight sweep, Soviet
communists worked feverishly after World War
II
to stamp
out the individual cultures and religion of Tatars throughout
Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Be-
larus. Settlements, educational and cultural institutions, and
many mosques were destroyed. Members of the Tatar intel-
ligentsia were arrested, some repeatedly, deported or mur-
dered. The population of 6000 Polish-Lithuanian Tatars was
reduced to around 3000.
In Bia
á
ystok, the largest town in the region, the Tatar folk group
Bunczuk helps both adults and children maintain the traditional
folk repertoire of songs and dances.
D
Ī
emil and Kasia Gembicki, who are, respectively,
Muslim and Catholic, play at home in Kruszyniany with
their children. The couple explains they are raising
Selim,
left,
Muslim, and Lilia Catholic.
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