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Polish Diaspora in Turkmenistan

A Colonial Narrative

Walenty Tyszkiewicz

(continued from the previous issue)

A new wave of Polish deportations to Turkmenistan came in 1920 from partitioned Ukraine and partitioned Belarus. After the Treaty of Riga in 1921, those Poles who found themselves on the Soviet side of Ukraine and Belarus were deported by the order of Moscow authorities. This group constitutes one of the least known waves of Moscow-engineered deportations and persecutions of "politically incorrect" nations.

The next wave came in 1935, when persecution of Poles in the Soviet Union intensified. And a real big wave came after the Soviet Union occupied western Ukraine and western Belarus, as well as eastern Poland, in 1939. During World War II, Turkmenistan became a way-station for the "Polish war children." These were the children of families deported to Siberia after the Soviet attack on Poland on 17 September 1939. Most of them were orphans by the time they arrived in Turkmenistan. Eventually, many of them were shipped to North Africa, New Zealand, Republic of South Africa, Canada and Australia. Some of these children of war eventually established contact with us: Mr. Tadeusz Dorostanski from Australia, Mr. Franciszek Gercog from the United States, and Mr. Bronislaw Kowalewski from Bielsko-Biala in Poland.

On its way to Africa, Gen. Wladyslaw Anders' army passed through Turkmenistan, setting up Polish military hospitals in Ashkhabad and Krasnovodsk. Gen. Anders' army consisted of Polish prisoners of the Gulag whom Stalin allowed to enlist as volunteers in the Polish army fighting the Nazis. These new soldiers were in terrible physical shape. In Ashkhabad, 59 of them died after a short stay in the hospital, in Krasnovodsk, 81. We do not know where their graves are because the archives dealing with that period are not available to us.

After 1945, Poles continued to come. These were the victims of arrests in Poland during the Soviet-engineered wave of arrests of members of the Home Army and their families. It is estimated that in 1948, there were 25,000 Poles and persons of Polish background in Turkmenistan. The number has since decreased owing to high mortality and assimilation into the Russian nationality.

After the October Revolution, the Soviets established in Ashkhabad a "Narkomat for Polish Affairs" which established contacts with Polish authorities in Poland. Eventually, this Narkomat became a Polish diplomatic outpost. This group succeeded in sending to Poland two trainloads of Poles who wanted to return to Poland. This happened before 1925. After that date, the repatriations ceased. The Soviet authorities were not interested in diminishing the number of Europeans in Ashkhabad, knowing full well that whatever their background, they would soon be Russified and thus add numbers to the imperial nation. Indeed, it took heroic efforts to maintain a Polish identity in conditions of Russian-speaking totalitarianism, especially that many natives of the region were unable to make a distinction between the Russian-speaking oppressors and other whites who happened to be co-victims.

In 1956, a repatriation commission was set up again, but its work was limited to the city of Ashkhabad. Huge distances, a lack of transportation and of a free flow of information (one could be arrested for passing on information that did not appear in official newspapers) prevented those Poles who lived in other regions of Turkmenistan from knowing about that commission, let alone availing themselves of its activities.

(To be continued in the next issue)


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The Sarmatian Review
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