„Cezary did not know who he actually was and where was his place in these disputes. He could not stand on the side of the Armenians, neither the Tatars, nor the Turks, nor the English, nor the Russians who ruled here and later overthrew their power, bringing the slogans of the Revolution. The Revolution, however, failed and was out of the question in the fire of two furious fronts. Nature, Fire, Religion, Earth, Interest. The only real and unchanging reality was once again, as before countless centuries, gas, a burning hydrocarbon, the capture of which was atoned by Prometheus with his hands nailed to the rocks of the Caucasus…” – wrote one of the greatest Polish writers, Stefan Żeromski, almost 100 years ago.
The author of “The Spring to Come” (“Erkən bahar”) warned Poles against taking a position too easily in the Transcaucasian conflicts, noticing the enormous potential in this region, one of the most important of the world. But despite Żeromski’s warnings, Poles tend to behave in the very difficult and delicate realities of Transcaucasia politics with our geopolitical lack of grace, i.e. something between a pig in the mud and a bull in China shop.
And we had such a good start! After all, when 100 years ago, in the heat of fights with neighbours and the Bolsheviks, the modern independent Azerbaijan was forging. There were Poles in the ranks of its army, headed by the great Maciej Sulkiewicz, a Pole, who was thanks to his Tatar origin linking Polish tradition, the Mongolian steppe and Pan-Turkism. Neither in the past nor in the present are Poles somehow historically and genetically tied to national sympathies and age-old alliances that would make even elementary geopolitical flexibility impossible. And yet, when the South Caucasus is boiling again – Polish perception seems to be not able to go beyond the Lviv Armenians from 17th Century and President Lech Kaczyński in Tbilisi 13 years ago…
Let’s learn from Azerbaijan how to be an independent regional power
Paradoxically, the official substitute of Polish geopolitics (usually servile dependent on the West) – initially managed to find itself in this part of the World much more in line with Polish objective geopolitical and economy interests. And no matter how bravely the Armenians in the 17th Century helped to defend Polish Kamianets-Podilskyi against the Ottoman Empire – Azerbaijan remains our much more natural ally and partner in the Transcaucasia. As a large producer of energy resources, but above all as a geopolitically independent state, closely cooperating with the United States and Great Britain – but certainly fully independent. Exactly how we want Poland to be.
In the best period, Polish trade with Azerbaijan reached USD 150 million, with the average for recent years at most USD 100 million. Not much, considering that since we have been talking about independence from Russian gas for so many years, we are still doing strangely little for partnership with the only serious and achievable alternative for this direction. Moreover, a long period of even more than distrustful attitude of Azerbaijan towards Russia kept open doors to the most anti-Russian state of the macro-region, as Poland is deservedly concerned. And yet, despite many propaganda gestures, despite visits at the highest level, despite the natural kindness that Poles may encounter even on a dark Baku street – in so hard and harmful Karabakh conflict, Polish sympathy was unequivocally located on the side of Armenia.
Poles should close accounts with the Armenians
Theoretically, Poland stands on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and therefore does not recognize the separatist Arcach or the annexation of other Azeri territories by the Armenians in the 1990s. But the Polish Parliament in 2005 supported the resolution recognizing the so-called the Armenian genocide – and in Polish consciousness there are no Armenian massacres on the Turkish population of Baku, although they were mentioned even in “The Spring to Come” by Stefan Żeromski, one of the most important Polish novels of the 20th Century. Even in the film adaptation of this excellent book (made in 2001 only thanks to the considerable help of the Azerbaijani and Baku authorities) – accents were put just to reinforce the false propaganda of presenting Armenians only as victims, and not as often more than the cruel and brutal side of the conflict. Needless to say, that almost no one in Poland has heard of the Xocalı Massacre and even the laying of flowers by Polish officials there is done secretly and quietly, just so no one in Poland finds out.
There are many reasons for this phenomenon. Of course, the Armenian diaspora is strongly rooted in Polishness. For centuries it has been treated in Poland’s very specific political and economic system as an alternative to Jewish trade and services. Polish Armenians and Turkish Jews – this was especially the case in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Any border changes between Poland and the Ottoman Empire have always resulted in favouring one of these groups over the other. So, it was an obvious and understandable, comprehensively beneficial business. Which, however, ended at the latest with the fall of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, after which Polish Armenians also became loyal subjects of either Austria-Hungary or the Russian Empire. It was with Russia, to which Armenian interests were connected throughout the 19th Century, and finally during the Great War they were associated with the geopolitical activity of the French Republic. In short, despite the merits of many great Polish patriots of Armenian origin – our interests have been completed and settled, and Armenia and Poland do not necessarily have similar goals or the same allies any more. Unlike Poland and Azerbaijan…
Poland – an unreliable partner?
Unfortunately, however, politics in Poland is basically naive and infantile. The recent Azeri fights with the Armenians to regain control of the so-called buffer zone in Nagorno-Karabakh – sparked an outbreak of spontaneous support for Armenians. And the Polish Government did nothing to eliminate or even balance this pro-Armenian propaganda by presenting real information about the course and genesis of the Karabakh conflict. On the contrary, the Polish state television immediately began repeating the terrible and mendacious film “The Promise”, and portals and social media exploded with a wave of hatred for “terrible Turks murdering Christians”. The fairy tale that “the Azeris are going to burn churches” and not regain their own stolen land – has gained an unexpectedly large audience in Poland.
Why? Contrary to appearances, the puzzle is not that difficult. Both the Polish pro-American Government and the pro-European (pro-French) opposition were aimed at strengthening Nikola Pashinyan’s power and Armenia’s pro-Western course, even at the expense of relations with the increasingly stronger and more independent Azerbaijan, and neither with Turkey gaining position of the regional superpower. And this is especially sad in the context of the modern history of Polish-Turkish relations. The great Polish hero of the 20th century, Józef Piłsudski, is formally the patron of the present governments in Poland. But this is only a theory, because in fact Marshal Piłsudski had great respect and friendship for the Great Atatürk, and they both built the foundations for a lasting alliance of our states and nations. But today both governments, in Warsaw and Ankara, make only mock gestures of friendship, instead of strengthening real geopolitical ties, which our American superiors do not allow Poles to strengthen. That is why Poland is not a reliable partner in deals with real states. And it will not become one until we have got a mind of our own. Also, in not-so-distant Transcaucasia matters, exactly how Stefan Żeromski warned and taught us…