Eine Frau geht an einer Weltkarte, die aus Kinderporträts besteht, am Freitag (18.06.2010) im JuniorMuseum in Köln vorbei.

1.4.2009 | Von:
Ahmet İçduygu, Deniz Sert

Historical Trends in Emigration and Immigration

During the first years of its existence, the new Republic of Turkey faced two parallel international migratory movements: the mass departure of non-Muslim minority populations and the influx of Turkish Muslim populations that were left outside of the borders of the Republic.

The Republic of Turkey is the successor to the Ottoman Empire, which was partitioned by the Allied Powers after World War I.

1923-1960s: Creating the Turkish nation-state

The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire began with the Young Turk Revolution that reversed the suspension of the Ottoman parliament by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, marking the onset of the Second Constitutional Era. It ended with the aforementioned partitioning, which prompted the establishment of the Turkish national movement for independence under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1919. What followed was the War of Independence that ended with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne and the establishment of the Republic in 1923.

During the first years of its existence, the new Republic of Turkey became a landscape for two parallel international migratory movements: the mass departure of non-Muslim minority populations (e.g., Greek Orthodox Christians to Greece) and the influx of those Turkish Muslim populations from the Ottoman Empire (especially the Balkans) that were left outside of the borders of the Republic. Not only in Turkey have policies aimed at nation-building been the cause of international migratory movements; the first half of the twentieth century was very much marked by state and nation building, generating large waves of forced migrations and deportations [1]:

Thus, these initial population transfers were the result of the independence movements and the nation-building efforts of the new states emerging from the Ottoman Empire. This was a trend that began with the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, which resulted in mass departures of Muslim populations from the Balkans to Anatolia and the exodus of Christians in the opposite direction. Within this context, two notable movements were the deportation of the Armenians during 1915/16, which led to the loss of many lives among the Armenian population in Anatolia, and the population shift between Turkey and Greece in 1922/23, which resulted in the exchanging of a large proportion of Anatolia's Christian population for Muslims in Western Thrace.

Muslim and non-Muslim populations in Turkey, 1914-2005 (in thousands)
Greek Orthodox15491101047683
Percentage of non-Muslims (%)19,12,51,50,80,30,2
Sources: From 1914 to 1965, Ottoman and Turkish censuses and statistical abstracts; from 1990 to 2005, personal communication of representatives of non-Muslim communities to the author

During the final days of the Ottoman Empire and the first twenty years of the Republic of Turkey, the country's non-Muslim minority populations were driven out. The majority of the members of non-Muslim communities migrated to a range of countries in the world. To illustrate, while there were almost 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians living in Turkey in 1914, their number had decreased to 104 000 by 1945; a large number presumably had moved to Greece (see table). Similarly, the Armenian community declined from 1.2 million to 60 000 persons between 1914 and 1945 (see Table 1). Successively, large numbers of Muslims belonging to a range of ethnic groups arrived in Turkey from the Balkans. Between 1923 and 1939, approximately 400 000 Muslims emigrated from Greece to Turkey. As a consequence of this process of ethnic homogenization, the demographic structure of the population of the Republic was considerably altered: the percentage of non-Muslims among the population dropped from 19% before World War I to 2.5 % thereafter. While non-Muslims composed approximately 3 % of the total population of Turkey in the 1920s, their number had decreased to 0.2 % by 2005 (see table).

At the same time, exclusive priority was given to encouraging and accepting immigrants who were either Muslim Turkish speakers, or who were officially regarded as belonging to ethnic groups that would assimilate into a Turkish identity without difficulty, i.e., Bosnians, Circassians, Pomaks, and Tatars from the Balkans. [2] From the foundation of the Republic in 1923 until 1997, more than 1.6 million such immigrants arrived and settled in Turkey and were readily accepted into society.

The early years of the Republic of Turkey were a period of homogenization of the population within its borders into a Turkish-Muslim identity. This process was consolidated by the state policies in the early 1930s. The Law on Settlement of 1934 is the major piece of legislation that sustains this conservative state philosophy even today. The law contains terms on who can immigrate, settle, and acquire refugee status in the country, giving notable preference to immigrants and refugees of 'Turkish descent and culture'.


See Marcus (1985), Zolberg (1983).
See Kirişci (1996, 2000).


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