Tatar Podlasie – charming corner of Poland

How many of you have heard of Polish Tatars? Who are they and where do they come from? I have presented the Podlasie region in two previous articles in Polish. This time I would like to tell more about Poland’s culture and history to wider audience.

 

It has been my dream to travel to Podlasie, a region in east Poland. (Actually I had been there before, but I didn’t remember much.) Well, but this is not the end of the world. Białystok, the capital of Podlasie voivodeship, unlike many big cities in Poland, is linked to Warsaw with a decent highway (let’s call it a highway) and a good railway line. But I guess it is difficult to pull yourself together, quit the internet, leave your own laziness and move. Finally, I made some calls, did some bookings and decided: let’s go! So I took my friend with me and we left noisy Warsaw behind.

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According to the recent census in Poland from 2011, there are about 1916 inhabitans of Poland who declare their identity as “Tatar”. There are many Tatar nations (so it’s an ethnic group) in the whole world. They began migrating in the fifth century A.D. from north China. One of those groups settled in Lithuania in the 14th century thanks to Prince Witold, brother of Polish-Lithuanian king Jagiełło. Tatars fought together with Jan III Sobieski in 1683 in Vienna against Turkish Ottoman Empire, for which the king endowed them with land – one of the examples is the village Kruszyniany.

 

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What is worth underlining is that Tatars were guaranteed personal securities and religious freedom  by law. They were given the lands and in return they were obliged to do the military service. They have their share in the most important and dramatic moments in Polish history: the Kościuszko Insurection (1794), the Napoleon campaigns (Moscow, 1813) and the war against bolschevik Russia in 1919-1920.

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Today there are some small remainings of Tatar culture. Most mosques that were in Polish territories before 1939, after 1945 due to the Yalta pact went under occupation of the Soviet Union and their cultural richness has been lost. Fortunately, we can still admire the villages of Kruszyniany and Bohoniki (37 km north from Kruszyniany).

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The village Kruszyniany is 57 km from Białystok, next to the border with Bielarussia. It was settled around 30s and 40s of the 16th century. There is the oldest wooden mosque in Poland, with its architecture resembling a church, as it was built by local Christian people. It is also a proof of how Tatar-Muslim culture merges with Polish. Next to the beautiful green mosque one can see a cemetery (“mizar”) with graves even from the 17th century. Another Tatar cemetery in Warsaw was presented in our magazine in February. Both are worth seeing, especially the one in Kruszyniany, located in an old wood.

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But the place is known and liked not only due to history but mostly because of… the cuisine. Tatarska Jurta, a Tatar farm run by Mrs. Dżenneta Bogdanowicz and her family is something loved by the locals from all the region and tourists from other parts of Poland. Eating Tatar pierekaczewnik or pyza z mięsem w rosole – specialites de la maison – is something one will remember forever.

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And when you have had all these super tasty meals, take a walk around the village – it is absolutely charming and calming. Do not hesitate to talk to Mrs. Bogdanowicz – she is a wonderful teller of Tatar stories.

 

Anna Stępniak

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