Sunday, May 25, 2008

Polish-Persian Diplomatic Relations during the Safavid Period

Polish-Persian Diplomatic Relations during the Safavid Period

Developing of Polish-Persian relations was the result of the new conceptions shaping the political order in Europe after the waning of the Middle Ages and the demise of the idea of the "Christian Commonwealth".

The turning point in the political awareness of Europe, was the growth of the Ottoman Empire's might which threaten not only Persia, its archenemy of long standing, but also all countries of south-eastern Europe. A tangible fear of the nascent power of Turkey resulted in forming by the European powers alliances transcending religious divides, among other countries with Persia. The ever-developing political configurations led to gradual emergence of the diplomatic service. By gist of such diplomatic exchanges, treaties, commercial intercourse, and developing travel links, Poland as a part of Christian Europe, developed diplomatic relations with Persia.

Diplomatic missions began setting out from Europe to Persia with increasing frequency. Negotiations were held with Uzun Hasan (1453-1478) through the intermediation of catholic missionaries. European envoys carrying letters to be passed on used to arrive in Poland on their way to or from Persia. In 1474 a mission from Persia arrived at the court of Kazimierz Jagiellończyk (1447-1492), the first one to do so in the history of official contacts between both countries. The delegation was headed by Ambrosio Contarini, legate of the Venetian Republic. In a letter from Shah Uzun Hassan the Polish king was assured of the shah's friendship and was asked to provide military assistance in the fight against the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II. The Persian hope was that Poland can be enlisted in attacking Turkey from two sides, from the east and west.

Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, however, declined the offer made by Uzun Hassan. His foreign policy was one of avoiding direct confrontation with the Turks and, at least as importantly, of maintaining his alliance with the Crimean Tartars. The Polish monarch was also anxious to protect Moldavia - while sparsely populated and bare - it was of considerable strategic importance. It constituted a natural buffer protecting the approach to Poland. "If Moldavia is defended, the Crown will be defended as well" Primate Zbigniew Oleśnicki used to repeat. So Poland's diplomats strove to maintain some semblance of good relations with the Ottomans, and the envisaged anti-Turkish coalition came to naught. The fact is that the mission of Ambrosio Contarini started the development of diplomatic relations between Poland and Persia, the latter for centuries being perceived as a potential ally in the fight against the Turkish domination.

The 16th century brought a renewed threat on the part of Turkey which, having completed a series of conquests in Asia and Africa, undertook a push towards Europe; this was the reign of Sultan Suleyman I the Magnificent (1520-1566). Soon, the idea of an anti-Turkish alliance incorporating Persia was again circulating in the halls of power. European states had already made advances in this direction earlier, during the reign of King Zygmunt I (1506-1548), seeking to gain Persia's acquiescence. In reply, the Persians dispatched (in 1516) an envoy to Poland - Petrus de Monte Libano, a Maronite monk from Syria. Petrus carried letters from the Shah addressed to the European monarchs in which the drawing up of anti-Turkish treaties was proposed. The Polish king, however, displayed limited enthusiasm for similar solutions; in spite of low-intensity aggressive actions on the part of the Turks, he adhered to a policy of maintaining sound relations at all costs.

The attitude of Polish monarchs in that geopolitical game can be evaluated as reasonable, because the situation in Polish Commonwealth was somewhat different at that time than in other European countries. The Muslims and their culture were not some unknown, mysterious, and exotic world but, rather, a real-life presence. Many Muslims lived in Poland. Muslim Tartars played an important role in the country's political life; the Armenians settling in Poland continued to use Turkish (in the form of an Armenian-Kipchak dialect) and, in many instances, also Persian.

The diplomatic relation between Poland and Persia based on a wide anti-Turkish alliance once again enliven during the Safavid period. The idea was very popular in Europe and accepted by Polish king Stefan Batory (1576-1586) who was planning a great crusade leading through Moscow and on to Istanbul. The negotiations in this regard were carried on with the Persian shah. The mutual diplomacy was very active. It is reputed that negotiations in this regard were carried on with the Persian shah through the intermediation of Marcin Broniowski. This secretary to the king, much experienced in diplomatic negotiations, is supposed to have sojourned at the court of the Persian shah, Mohammed Khodabande (1577-1581) on a mission. Yet the far-reaching plans of the combative king came to naught, interrupted as they were by the sudden death of Stefan Batory in 1586. The friendly relations between Poland and Persia struck up during this time, however, survived, assuming a special character during the reign of his successor, King Zygmunt III Vasa (1587-1632). The escalating conflict with the Ottoman Porte brought an end to the lively commercial exchange with the Turkish cities, and it became necessary for Poland to seek new markets as well as allies for her military endeavours; Persia was a natural, if geographically distant, candidate.

Contacts were very much eased by the policy of tolerance pursued by Abbas I the Great with regard to the Jews and Christians living in Persia. The Safavid court began to solicit foreign advisors; their knowledge and skills were held in great esteem. These included - the Polish Jesuit Tadeusz Krusiński. This enlivening of diplomatic relations with Persia meant that Poland, always a convenient transit point on the East-West trail, became frequent host to passing diplomatic missions.

Safavid Persia, led by its energetic ruler, stood open for an alliance with the Christian states and for friendly relations with the Polish Commonwealth. The successful mission of the Polish merchant-cum-diplomat, Sefer Muratowicz, confirmed that. In 1601, the king Zygmunt III Vaza, a consummate lover of the arts, sent Sefer Muratowicz - an Armenian living in Warsaw, supplier of carpets to the royal court - on the long voyage to Persia, more specifically to Kashan, a major carpet-making centre. The instructions issued to Muratowicz were simple enough: he was to order carpets with the King's coat-of-arms from the local craftsmen. In the opinion of many historians this expedition to Persia, had political goals in addition to its overt commercial objectives.

Surviving in part to this day is the account of Sefer Muratowicz's journey in which he describes his contacts with the highest Persian officials as well as with the Shah himself. His was the first Polish report to dwell in such detail on the relations prevailing in Persia's ruling house.

What was ostensibly a commercial journey did not arouse the suspicions of Poland's enemies and Muratowicz, carrying an assortment of letters of safe passage, was allowed to continue eastwards unmolested. After 158 days on the trail, Muratowicz safely reached Kashan and set about procuring the carpets requested by his monarch: "There, I had made for His Majesty the King a few carpets with silk and with gold, also a tent and a damascene sabre". Some of the carpets brought back by Muratowicz were incorporated into the dowry of the king's daughter and are preserved at Munich's Residenz Museum to this day.

In addition to its commercial dimension, the voyage of Sefer Muratowicz had a less patent purpose - a diplomatic one. The opinion of many historians is that the main purpose of his trip lay in sounding out the real Persian attitudes with regard to the anti-Turkish league, in assessing her military potential, and in appraising the possibilities for establishing permanent diplomatic relations between the Polish Commonwealth and Persia. Muratowicz was also charged with mapping out the safest and most direct route between Poland and Persia for use by the anticipated papal mission as well as with exploring the feasibility of attempting missionary activity in the land. Muratowicz, taking advantage of his command of the Persian language and of his familiarity with the Orient, disposed himself very well, gaining the favour of the shah. In his account, Muratowicz proudly recounts the words addressed by Persia's supreme ruler to the vizier: "Haten beg, I have had in my halls many different envoys, Muscovite, English, Venetian, and papal, but with none was I more content than with this man with whom I can converse in my own language - one has little taste for speaking through an interpreter".

During the next years other missions were sent by the Persian shah to mount a join defence against the Turkish onslaught. In Polish archives in Warsaw we can find interesting letter of Shah Abbas the I to Polish king Zygmunt the III. The shah personally reaffirmed his friendship and his desire to work together with Poland. The letter was delivered to the court of Zygmunt III by Mahdi Kuli Bek Turkman, royal dragoman, in 1605. Shah Abbas I declared his friendship, recounted his recent military victories, and proposed an alliance against the Turks, making much of their status as a common enemy. In this letter, the shah writes "we recount this so that friendship and love arise between us two lords, as deep as it does between the Christian lords. The Turk is a foe to us as well as to all you Christians". These portentous developments notwithstanding, history again foiled the plans for a joint anti-Turkish undertaking. Resolutions adopted by the Polish Parliament (Sejm) in 1605 and 1606 with a view to securing peace with the Ottoman Porte pushed the perspective of joint military enterprises with the Persians further away.

Despite other missions sent by the Persian shah to mount a join defense against the Turkish onslaught, Zygmunt III was loath to wage war on Turkey; his reply to the shah, while courteous and teeming with protestations of friendship, was rather short on specifics concerning the proposed anti-Turkish effort. Subsequent overtures made by the Persians over the coming years met with similar replies, both on the part of the Poles and on that of other European nations. No consensus regarding a common struggle was reached.

Polish new king, Władysław IV, successor to Zygmunt III, changed his policy and he send his envoys out to countries which might conceivably be interested in joining anti-Turkish alliance. Venice and the Papal States pledged financial aid; an alliance with Moscow also seemed a real possibility, and negotiations were underway with the Cossacks. The king also dispatched an embassy to Persia. In the year 1639, Count Teofil Stahremberg spent some time at the court of the shah, endeavouring to fathom the current political situation and to gauge the chances for a joint enterprise as well as seeking protection for Polish missionaries. Diplomatic intercourse with Persia was on the upswing again, with many a delegation from Poland, Venice, and from the Pope making their way thither. In 1647, an embassy on a grand scale to Shah Abbas II (1642-1666) was headed by the nobleman Jerzy Ilicz. As with Count Stahremberg before him, the purely diplomatic aspect of Ilicz's mission was augmented with an assignment relating to a Jesuit facility in the shah's domain; while the shah declined to mount a joint initiative against the Turks, he did accord multiple privileges to the Jesuit order. The King's death in 1648 moved the spectre of war with Turkey further to the future.

Soon enough, however, it became manifest that a confrontation with the Ottomans is inevitable. After 1650, what was hereto with a stable balance of power in Central and Eastern Europe began to shift; the expansive policies pursued by Turkey as well as the absence of an agreement with Russia were generating new alliances. While the spectacular triumph of King Jan III Sobieski at Vienna temporarily checked the Turkish advance, effective counteraction of the Ottoman threat required further military measures. The Polish king believed it necessary to mount a concentric offensive against Turkey. "This is the time", he wrote, "that the ages have been leading up to, and should we neglect it, we will answer to the Lord".

While King Jan III Sobieski did conclude an alliance with Austria and with Venice under the auspices of the Pope, he also sought allies in the Muslim world. His greatest hopes were associated with Persia; in the course of his reign, no less than eleven Polish missions made their way to the court of the shah. Surely the greatest authority working in the king's diplomatic service was Bohdan Gurdziecki, a Georgian by origin. Gurdziecki remained at the court of the Persian shah for several years in the capacity of special resident and representative of the Polish king; it was him who delivered to the shah news of the victory at Vienna.

The long months of negotiations with the Persian shah, however, did not bring the hoped-for results. The envoy Zgórski and the archbishop Knab, ambassadors of the Holy League representing Poland, the Emperor, and Venice, had to return home empty-handed. In the course of a gala audience held on March 20, 1686, Shah Sulayman (1666-1694), a vacillating ruler who was very much under the sway of his viziers and who was interested in the arts much more than in politics, officially refused to participate in a joint effort against the Ottomans.

Yet the intensive diplomatic contacts were engendering dynamic development in the commercial sphere. In the course of the seventeenth century, commercial expeditions travelling directly from Poland to Persia became increasingly common, although this was by no means tantamount to a neglecting of contacts with Turkey - Poland's traditional trading partner in the East. The conflict between Poland and Turkey was one factor contributing to the increasing turnovers between Poland and Persia; another lay in the commercial policies of Shah Abbas I geared at stimulating Persian exports to India on the one side and to Europe on the other. It was with a view to such growth in trade that the shah ordered the construction of many new roads and bridges. What's more, Persian goods were generally superior to Turkish ones in craftsmanship and decoration, characteristics which could only add to their appeal. The items imported to Poland included encrusted weapons, shields, textiles, belts, tents, as well as magnificent carpets and jewellery. Many Poles engaging in commerce with Persia were of Armenian origin, and they made good use of the presence of their countrymen and relatives in this exotic land.

The establishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and Persia was initially dictated by political considerations, though undoubtedly there was another goal, namely protection over Christianity. Tolerant policy of the Safavid Shahs towards the Christians enabled the activity of Christian missions in Iran.

The first Polish Jesuit to organise, in 1654-1659, a mission in Persia was Tomasz Młodzianowski; he was well-phrased in the Persian language as well as disposing of a thorough understanding of the customs and rules in force at the Persian court. With time, the Jesuits, by gist of this very knowledge of the political situation prevailing in Persia, came to be included in embassies as advisors, envoys, and as ambassadors. Over the years of 1690-1693, two Polish monks, Jan Gostkowski and Ignacy Franciszek Zapolski, parleyed with Shah Suleyman II concerning a war with Turkey; upon returning to Poland, they provided their principal with much information about the shah's intentions and about the political situation prevailing in Persia and in the Caucasus. Their competence is borne out by the fact that King Jan III Sobieski appointed Zapolski his permanent resident at the court in Isfahan, at which he remained until his death in 1703.

Jan III Sobieski was generous in extending his support to Christian missions in Persia. In the year of 1691, he donated one thousand red złoties from his private funds to the Jesuit mission in Shamaha (now in northern Azerbaijan). He appointed the members of this mission "chaplains of the embassy of his Majesty the Polish King" and obligated them to accompany his envoys from Shamaha to Isfahan (for a period of fifty days) as well as to remain with them at the court of the shah for two months.

Particularly noteworthy among the Polish Jesuits in Persia was Tadeusz Krusiński. A consummate expert on Persia, Krusiński arrived there in 1707 and remained for well-nigh twenty years; he was an eyewitness to the downfall of the Safavid dynasty. Father Krusiński's Persian activities were not limited to the religious sphere; he also contributed significantly to the improvement of relations between the two countries. Retained at the court of Shah Hussain (1694-1722) as a translator, he produced Persian-language versions of letters arriving from various European monarchs, of treaties, and of contracts. He also maintained an archive for the use of the shah, ordering and storing documentation pertaining to religious and diplomatic missions. Held in great esteem and respect by the shah and his officials, he became - in 1720 - the procurator general of the mission.

Father Krusiński travelled extensively in the Orient. Accompanying merchant caravans as a physician, he traversed the Caucasus and Syberia; he visited Kurdistan and Turkey, Palestine and Arabia, he reached Afghanistan. Adding constantly to his knowledge about the traditions and customs of the East, he gained renown as the first European researcher of Persian history. As a witness of the tragic events such as invasion of Afghan tribes which took Isfahan in 1722 and overthrown the Safavid dynasty he recounted these in his books. In 1725 father Krusiński left Persia and travelled to Italy; it is there that he set to paper his work about the Afghan-Persian wars. It is purported that he himself translated this work into Persian; the Persian-language version was put out in Istanbul in 1730 by the first Turkish printing shop, that of Ibrahim Müteferrik.

Polish Jesuits, who enjoyed the Shah's respect and esteem of his officials, helped towards the strengthening of mutual contacts. They were interrupted by a civil war in Iran that was ignited by the Afghan troops onslaught. Soon after, the partition of Poland, too, contributed to the stoppage of the exchange of envoys. The last Polish mission headed for Persia in 1712 under the leadership of Stanisław Chomentowski, Poland's last envoy to that country. Although, ultimately, despite prolonged contacts and negotiations, no common actions were undertaken by Poland and Persia, nevertheless traces of former closeness have been preserved for good in culture and art. Thought no consensus regarding a common struggle was reached, the diplomatic relations between two countries Poland and Persia laid their fundaments and therefore opened the course of their history.

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