Paulina D. Dominik of the Freie Universität Berlin investigates how the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic gave Polish activists refuge, inspiration, and hope of mutual support against Russia.

For over a century the Ottoman Empire and subsequently the Republic of Turkey played an important role in the geopolitical imagination of Polish independence activists and statesmen. Even before the demise of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a sovereign state in 1795, one can observe Polish-Ottoman attempts to cooperate against the Russian Empire’s expansionist ambitions in Eastern Europe. 

The end of the Commonwealth opened a new chapter in this history of interaction. Following the failure of the 1830 November Uprising, Poles fled to Istanbul in the hope of securing Ottoman support for efforts to regain national independence. The warm welcome they received made Istanbul a key centre of Polish national activities, alongside Paris. While Polish activities on the Bosphorus came to an end in the late 1870s, the Empire continued to play a role in the plans of the next generation of Polish campaigners grouped around Józef Piłsudski – who became the first Head of State and the First Marshal of an independent Poland. 


Once Poland regained independence in 1918, steps were taken to develop relations, initially with the Ottoman government in Istanbul and subsequently with that in Ankara. The goal of the Polish Eastern policy advocated by Piłsudski, known as Prometheism, was to weaken and eventually dismember Soviet Russia by supporting national independence movements among the non-Russian peoples who lived within Russia’s borders. [1] Piłsudski’s collaborators established contacts with anti-Soviet organizations and their émigré representatives: Ukrainians, Kuban and Don Cossacks, Crimean and Volga Tatars, and the Muslim nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia. These were assembled under the banner of the Promethean League of the Oppressed Peoples. In the long run, Piłsudski and his collaborators envisaged the construction of a bloc of allied states in Eastern Europe, a counterbalance to Soviet influence in the region. [2]

JÓSEF PIŁSUDSKI (IN THE MIDDLE) IN ISTANBUL IN 1932 (Source: The Polish National Digital Archive)

These peoples emancipated themselves politically in 1919 – 1921 only to lose their independence to Soviet Russia. Many had historical, ethnic, and religious ties to Turkey, and so Turkey served as a leading destination for the ensuing emigration. Despite the rapprochement of Mustafa Kemal’s government with the Bolsheviks, Piłsudski’s circle continued to see the Turks as potential allies against the imperialism of their Russian neighbour.  The Poles sought to transform Turkey into a centre of conspiratorial activities against Soviet Russia.[3]

Piłsudski’s circle continued to see the Turks as potential allies against the imperialism of their Russian neighbour.

The establishment of an independent Turkish state, free of Soviet influence and the European Powers, could set an important precedent for Poland. Polish observers thus followed developments in Lausanne closely.[4] Their unofficial delegation was led by Tadeusz Schaetzel, a major in Polish military intelligence. With the help of Cafer Seydamet,  political leader of the Crimean Tatars and fellow Promethean activist, Schaetzel relayed a message of solidarity from Piłsudski to Ismet Pasha: Poland and Turkey faced the same challenge of defending themselves against the egotist policies of the Great Powers, and so Poland stood ready to defend Turkish interests during the conference. 

(Source: Illustrowant Kuryer Codzienny from 5 July 1926, available at

İsmet Pasha was pleased, but also cautious.[5] The initiative had no immediate political consequences due to the difficult position of the Turkish delegation, and a changed political situation in Poland that led to Piłsudski’s withdrawal from Polish politics until the 1926 military coup. Schaetzel also drafted a memorandum for the General Staff.[6] This argued that the re-establishment of relations between Turkey and the Western European Powers left the door open to future Turkish support for anti-Soviet policies.[7]

In the following months, Jan Modzelewski, Polish Ambassador to Switzerland took renewed steps to negotiate with the Turkish delegation. These talks resulted in three agreements signed on 23 July 1923, the day before the Treaty of Lausanne was concluded: the Polish-Turkish Friendship Treaty and conventions on trade and immigration.[8] For the Poles, the conclusion of the treaty asserted Poland’s sovereignty in the international arena and highlighted their solidarity with Turkey. 


Much to Poland’s disappointment relations between Turkey and Soviet Russia did not deteriorate after the Treaty of Lausanne was concluded. Polish statesmen nonetheless continued to seek closer political, military, and economic cooperation with Turkey. Istanbul remained a centre for the Promethean movement in the 1920s and 1930s.

Cover Image: Marcello Bacciarelli, The Peace of Khotyn, 1796, Source:

Opinion pieces are published by TLP for the purpose of encouraging informed debate on the legacies of the events surrounding the Lausanne conference. The views expressed by authors do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of TLP, its partners, convenors or members.


[1] Paweł Libera, II Rzeczpospolita Wobec Ruchu Prometejskiego (Warsaw: Tetragon, 2013), 15, 17 – 18. 

[2] Sergiusz Mikulicz, Prometeizm w polityce II Rzeczypospolitej (Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza, 1971); Marek Kornat, “Idea prometejska a polska polityka zagraniczna (1921 – 1939/1940),” in: idem (ed.) Ruch Prometejski Walka o Przebudowę Europy Wschodniej (Warsaw, 2012), 33 – 90.

[3] Iurii Chainskyi, Walka za Kulisami Dyplomacji Międzywojennej: Turcja w Polskiej Polityce Prometejskiej w latach 1918 – 1932 (Warsaw: WUW, 2021).

[4] For the importance of the Ottoman Empire and subsequently of the Republic of Turkey in the political plans of Józef Piłsudski as related by one of his closest collaborators, Michał Sokolnicki, see: Michał Sokolnicki, “Polityka Piłsudskiego a Turcja”, Niepodległość vol. 6 (London: Wydawnictwo Instytutu Józefa Piłsudskiego Poświęconego Badaniu Najnowszej Historii Polski, 1958, 5 – 22. For the Polish-Turkish relations in the interwar period, see: Danuta Chmielowska, Polsko-Tureckie Stosunki Dyplomatyczne w Okresie Międzywojennym (Warsaw: Dialog, 2006); Władysław Stępniak, Dyplomacja Polska na Bałkanach (1918 – 1926) (Warsaw: Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych, 1998).

[5] Sokolnicki, “Polityka Piłsudskiego a Turcja”, 17.

[6] Joanna Gierowska-Kałłaur, Marek Kornat, “Turcja w koncepcjach polskiego Sztabu Generalnego w okresie Konferencji Lozańskiej (1922 – 23). Nieznane memorandum Tadeusza Schaetzla,” Studia z Dziejów Rosji i Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej XLIX (2/2014), 23 – 49.

[7] Ibid., 39.

[8] “Traktat przyjaźni między Polską i Turcją”, Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1924, nr 39, poz. 407, 606; “Umowa handlowa między Polską i Turcją”, Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskie 1924, nr 39, poz. 409, 607-612; “Konwencja osiedleńcza między Polską i Turcją”, Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1924, nr 39, poz. 411, 616-620.

Subscribe to be notified of new podcasts blogposts