The activity of changing location through which a person, a group of people or a community moves from one settlement to another is called migration. The factors that drive people to migrate from homeland are called ‘push factors’ and the conditions of the place to be settled are called ‘pull factors’.1 Because of its geographical situation as a junction point on the roads from Anatolia, the Balkans, the Caucuses and Crimea, Istanbul was a center comparatively free from political, social and religious turmoil in respect to other capitals. For this reason, Istanbul was one of the first places where immigrants settled permanently or temporarily. It is possible to look at the migrations to Istanbul during the Ottoman period in roughly three periods; revival, internal migration (forced migration, household migration), and war and migration.


Constantinople, before the conquest, had a cosmopolitan population. From the rise of the empire onwards, emperors encouraged individuals from the ethnic groups, with which the emperors felt an affinity, to settle in the capital of the empire. On the other hand, Istanbul appealed to populations from the eastern part of the Black Sea, the Balkans, the Italian Peninsula and Scandinavian countries. Among these were the Pecheneks, Cumans and Turkmen. During the reign of Bayezid I, the Byzantines decided to establish a Turkish district in Istanbul, in order to prevent Turkish raids and sieges. Thus, a group of Turkmen from Göynük and Taraklı Yenice were settled in Constantinople. After the Battle of Ankara this group was removed from Constantinople and sent to Tekirdağ.

The economic vivacity and population of Constantinople probably experienced a sharp decrease from the time of the Latin invasion onwards.2 The Turkish sieges intensified the economic and social distress in the city. The tradesmen and guilds that could not survive under these conditions found a solution by abandoning the city. Those who did not leave the city either went into hiding or escaped to Galata during the siege. The population of the city ranged from between 40,000 and 50,000 at that time.

In order to revitalize and revive the city after the conquest, Mehmed II took some measures: People who left the city during the siege were encouraged to return, they were granted the right to take their homes back and live according to their own beliefs. In order to meet the labor shortage, captives were settled in the desolate villages in the surrounding area. In accordance with the elimination of the feudalistic policy and in order to make the labor force more efficient, Mehmed II enabled people of the ortakçı kul (servant class) to become reaya (subjects), in exchange for a ransom fee. To make this transition easier, they were given permission to work in construction and repairs. In spite of all these applications, the most effective measure taken to repopulate the city was certainly the method of forced migration. Before leaving Istanbul in order to go to Edirne, Mehmed II planned that some of the wealthy Muslim, Christian and Jewish families in Anatolia and Rumelia be sent to Istanbul. However, some of these families did not remain long in the city, leaving shortly after their arrival. Learning this development in 1455, Mehmed II wanted these families to be relocated to Istanbul once again. As a result of these population movements, in 1477 there were a total of 16,324 households in Istanbul and Galata, including 9,486 Muslim, 3,743 Christian, 1,647 Jewish, 267 from Kefe in the Crimea, 434 Armenian, 384 Karaman and 31 Romany households.

Table 1- The Communities that settled in Istanbul during the Period of Revival and Locations of their Settlement

Place of Departure

Place of Settlement

Place of Departure

Place of Settlement



Jews of Safed



Büyük Galata


Akıllıbend Neighborhood

European people

Küçük Galata





Gypsies of Balat



Beyazıt Han Mosque and around


Hoca Inn (Mahmutpaşa)


Kazancılar Neighborhood

Acre, Gaza, Ramla



Çarşamba Bazaar


Aksaray Neighborhood



Jews (Salonika)

Tekfur Sarayı, Şuhut Kapısı


Küçük Karaman

Peloponnesian Greeks



Büyük Karaman







Armenia (Tokat-Sivas)



Üsküplü Mahallesi



Eğirdir, İğdir


Source: Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, prepared by Orhan Şaik Gökyay, Istanbul: Yapı ve Kredi Bankası, 1996, vol. 1, p. 45.

The forced migration method was also used after the reign of Mehmed II. For example, during the reign of Bayezid II, a population of 500 households was taken from Akkerman (Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi) and settled in Silivrikapı. The Jewish population of the city reached 36,000 in 1492, with people coming from Spain, Portugal and Italy. Selim I settled 700 households that he brought from Iran and Egypt in Istanbul. Suleyman I let some of them return to their homeland. He settled the Christians and Jews he had brought from Belgrade in Samatya and Belgratkapı. From 1570 onwards Muslim Arabs, known as müdeccel in the official records, were brought from Spain.

The people who were forced to migrate had a special status and were exempt from the avarız tax, but they could not leave the city without the permission of the şubaşı (chief of police). After their arrival in Istanbul, each group was perceived as a separate community, either because of their specific inclinations or their special status; they lived together and were named after the areas from where they came. Thus, the newcomers were mentioned as separate communities in the census reports and were not included in the lists of inhabitants in the neighborhoods. The communities either assimilated into neighborhoods where people of the same religion lived, or they established a new neighborhood over time. The neighborhoods were mostly named after whoever had built a small mosque there. Such a union among Muslims occurred in a short time, while it took more time among the Jewish population.

The population of the city differs in various records. However, the records are in agreement that the city was in ruins when it came under Turkish domination. It subsequently started to prosper, with both the economy and the population growing as a result of the measures that the Ottoman statesmen took, becoming one of the largest cities in Europe. By the middle of the 16th century, the city became a location where 400,000 people lived.


During the classical period of the Ottoman Empire, internal migration was allowed according to the permission and planning of the state, which sought to prevent damage to the production system. In addition, it is possible to see internal migration in the Ottoman land during almost all periods. The internal migrations occurred most often at the individual or collective level, but sometimes reached an aggregate level. While the migration of entire households was banned, the state was more flexible concerning individual migrations.3

With the aim of city planning and reconstruction after the conquest, populations from various parts of the state were directed to the city through forced migration. Skilled and unskilled labor from recently conquered lands was transferred to Istanbul. The general increase in the population and the policy of encouraging migration to the capital meant that Istanbul became a center of attraction for unskilled and peasant populations. In order to prevent both a decrease in the working labor needed in agricultural areas and the development of an unemployed crowd in the city, household migration into Istanbul was prohibited during the reign of Suleyman I the Magnificent. People who came after a certain date were forced to relocate, while those who came for work were obligated to pay a certain surety fee.

People who wanted to find better job opportunities and to avoid tax obligations and other responsibilities demanded by public officers migrated to Istanbul from the periphery. When drought or large-scale turmoil occurred in the provinces, migrations would reach a level that disturbed the authorities. The peasants who came to Istanbul built their houses in neighborhoods surrounding the city, such as Kasımpaşa and Eyüp, or they stayed in bachelor rooms. During the Jelali Revolts (1596-1610), thousands of people escaped and sought shelter in Istanbul. For those who lived in Istanbul, life was more secure and the risk of hunger was low. Charitable foundations made the lives of the newcomers easier. Thousands of people sustained their lives with the food that the almshouses of these foundations distributed. Just the population of the Armenians who sheltered in the city reached 40,000 households. Most of the people who came in this way were forced to return to their homelands. Following the Jelali Revolts, a mass migration of suhte (madrasa) students into Istanbul also occurred. After the suhte students created a disturbance in Anatolia in 1617, an edict was promulgated regarding the cessation of madrasa education in the empire’s periphery, except for a few schools, and the closure of the almshouses there. This paved the way for student migration. It is estimated that the number of people who came to Istanbul in this way ranged from between 5,000 and 8,000. Included in the floating population of Istanbul were officers who served in the navy, those who had come on business, or those who came to work in the construction of public buildings or in the shipyards, dervishes and beggars. Thousands of beggars came to Istanbul, especially during Ramadan, and filled the streets.

The political, financial, military and social events in the eighteenth century destabilized the Ottoman State. Some of the Muslim and non-Muslim taxpayers who dwelt in the periphery and lived subsistence lives on the land abandoned their settlements and decided to come to Istanbul to avoid the associated tax obligations. Particularly in the first half of the eighteenth century, the migrations to Istanbul increased. The overwhelming majority of the newcomers were of Central Anatolian and Eastern Anatolian origin. In addition, there were also guest workers coming from Rumelia. Sixty-five percent of the newcomers settled in Istanbul, Galata, Eyüp and Üsküdar, and 35% of them settled in Silivri, Çatalca, Midye, Terkos, Hasköy, Haslar, Büyükçekmece and Burgaz. These migrations caused a decrease in production and an increase in tax obligations for the population that remained in the migrants’ former homelands, and socially distressing events in those areas to which the migrants arrived. The solution was found in preventing migrations and in returning the immigrants to their homelands. New lines of business were being created in a short time aimed at surmounting the measures taken. The waxing ayan authority in the second half of the century decelerated the inner migration to such an extent it nearly came to a standstill. Those who came from the periphery to Istanbul were employed in non-agricultural areas, particularly in trade. There were people working in public jobs, even in the court. As the population of the city increased and the problems of public security and food supplies came to the fore, the first precaution that the statesmen came up with was to send the guest workers back to their homelands, as happened in 1748 and 1763. The statesmen thought that sending these people back, methods known as tathir-i memleket, tenkih-i vilayet, the foodstuff in Istanbul would become cheaper and more plentiful, while in the agricultural areas it would help out the people who were having difficulty paying their taxes.

Until 1775 Istanbul was incessantly flooded by people coming from rural areas, partly due to the insecurity in these areas and partly due to the emergence of the service industry in the Ottoman economy. This flow slowed down towards the end of the eighteenth century, because the need for Ottoman handicrafts and also for human labor decreased due to the pressure of Western competition, and because the government started a strict population-control policy.

It can be said that mass migration on the imperial scale decreased in the nineteenth century, while it increased at the level of individuals or smaller groups. In this period, also called as the Modern Era, the nation states, commercial and industrial societies grew in number and the domination of imperial powers expanded. Correspondingly, coastal cities began to develop in terms of the economy and population. As a result, the commercial and financial potential of the Ottoman coastal cities increased between 1840 and 1914. In this period, Istanbul encountered waves of inner migration, as well as migrations from outside the state. In order to control these population movements, after the Peloponnesian Revolt, the practice of passage memoranda was implemented. In spite of precautions, the flood of guest workers to Istanbul could not be prevented. According to Ubicini, in 1853 the number of unmarried men in Istanbul was approximately 75,000. Two-fifths of this population were Turkish and the rest were Greek, Armenian or other origins. Most of them came into the city from the provinces with the hope of making money; in the end, they returned to the place where they had come from in order to establish their own businesses. Most of them had no skills and worked in any field: porters, water carriers or candy, helva and liver sellers.

There were also migrations from Istanbul to the periphery. The most important reason for this kind of migration was fire and natural disasters. The inhabitants of Istanbul whose houses were destroyed due to these disasters and who became homeless were sheltered in the courtyards of mosques, madrasas, vineyards or orchards. During these periods, food and construction materials were sold on the black market. In such circumstances, some people found a solution by migrating to other towns and cities. For example, during the 1509 earthquake, approximately 1,100 building collapsed and thousands of people died. Some of the people who became homeless migrated to the periphery in order to find adequate shelter. Officials tried to raise the labor force needed for the reconstruction of the city by bringing 66,000 people from Anatolia and Rumelia. As can be seen, these kinds of events could stimulate a twofold migration. Another factor that stimulated migration to the periphery was epidemics. For example, during the epidemic that occurred in 1466, most people left the city.


Between the years of 1750 and 1920, the Ottoman State frequently encountered the problem of migration and immigrants. There were mass migrations from the lands the Ottomans had invaded, such as North Africa, the Crimea, the Caucuses and the Balkans; the migrations were into lands where the Turkish flag still flew. Both before and during the Islamic era, Turkish people appreciated their homeland regions; here they could keep their customs and traditions alive. At moments when certain ethnic groups realized that they were struggling and unable to maintain their essential values, they found a solution in migration. Leaving their homes which had been invaded during the war, people took shelter in the cities behind the front lines. The capital Istanbul has always been a place of shelter for almost all migration waves, and it often served as a place of temporary settlement.

The Greek Revolution and Migration

As a result of the policy maintained in the area during the Greek Revolution and the foundation of Greece, the Muslims who were living in the lands from which the Turkish soldiers withdrew and those who managed to survive the massacre had to seek shelter in lands that were under the control of the Ottoman State. Some Moreans who migrated during this period preferred to come to Istanbul, particularly those who migrated in 1824. The ones who had relatives in the city were settled in their homes, while attempts were made to accommodate the rest in lodgings near Eyüp or the city walls. The grand vizier was told to focus on taking care of the problems of these people, and those who in need were given a housing benefits and a salary from the government. Some of them were employed in official institutions. Some of the immigrants who had been sent to the Morea, Euboea and Athens began to move to Istanbul, trying not to attract attention with their movements. This, however, caused an increase in the number of immigrants and led to security problems in Istanbul. In order to maintain security, plans were made to reduce the number of immigrants in the city, and some were sent to the Çirmen district. However, until 1860 there were Morean immigrants in Istanbul who continued to receive government stipends.4

The War of 1828-1829 and Migration

During the war of 1828-1829, the communities on and behind the front lines in Rumelia, the Caucuses and Anatolia were relocated. The Greek and Bulgarian populations in the Balkans and the Armenian citizens in Anatolia migrated to the Caucuses, following Russian troops. Some of the Muslim population withdrew to places that they thought were safer. Some of the people who decided to migrate arrived in Istanbul. A group of 848 people came to Istanbul from Varna on merchant ships. They were settled in Galata, Kasımpaşa and Eyüp by the central administration. There were people who found places to stay in Istanbul from Lüleburgaz, Çorlu and Silivri. Since those who came from provincial locations were planned to be sent back to their place of origin after the war, they were settled in Yenibahçe, Baruthane and Sütlüce. Those who could not be settled in these places or who did not want to go back to them were sent to Anatolia. Another precaution was that the immigrant groups were allowed to settle in convenient regions in Rumelia.

During and after this war, Bulgarians also participated in the waves of migration. Not only did the Bulgarians migrate to Wallachia, Moldova and Southern Russia, but there were also some Bulgarians who came to Istanbul. In fact, the Bulgarian migration to Istanbul began in the eighteenth century, when some of the residents in this area left their homeland to settle in the villages and farms around Istanbul. This was followed by the settling of some skilled professionals and agricultural workers at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The revolts and the war between 1820 and 1830 meant that a large-scale Bulgarian migration to Istanbul occurred. Bulgarian immigrants settled in Topkapı, Kumkapı, Langa, Kasımpaşa, Hasköy and Ortaköy. As a result, in the middle of the nineteenth century a Bulgarian community of 30,000 to 50,000 people appeared in the city. The population of this community was reduced with the banishment of the Bulgarian exarch in 1913.5 In the meantime, in addition to immigrants from Tunisia and Syria, some came to Istanbul from Algeria, which had been invaded by France in 1830.

Crimean and Caucasian Migrations

Crimea was occupied by the Russians in 1783. From this occupation until 1922, 1,800,000 Crimean Turks migrated to Ottoman lands.6 Russia was not just interested in the Crimean, but also in the Caucuses. A handful of mujahedeen, led by Imam Mansur and Sheikh Shamil resisted the Russian attacks. Following the surrender of Sheikh Shamil, Caucasian communities started to migrate to Ottoman lands in order to be free and to guarantee their security of life, property and cultural purity. Between 1856 and 1876 this immigrant population ranged from 600,000 to 2,000,000 people.

Immigrants were sent from the ports in the Crimea and the Caucuses to Istanbul on mail boats, either directly or via the ports and piers of Samsun and Trabzon. Between the months of November 1858 and December 1859, more than 17,000 immigrants gathered in Istanbul, including 11,309 Nogais, and 5,694 Circassians and Abkhasians. Nogais were mostly sent to Dobruja and the Circassians were sent to Anatolia. In late 1859, 2,400 immigrants remained in Istanbul. The Nogai population that had been sent to the periphery numbered 17,000 in 1860. The construction of sheds in Yenibahçe was planned for the immigrants who were to spend the winter in Istanbul. In spite of these procedures, there were 14,000 Circassian and Nogai immigrants in Istanbul in March 1860. According to a document dated December 1863, approximately 1,000 immigrants came to Istanbul. Since the immigrant population increased quickly after this date, displaced people were sent to Black Sea ports, so that they could be transported as quickly as possible to the settlement areas. On the other hand, people who were going to move to the Mediterranean coast were taken to Istanbul. To prevent the outbreak of an epidemic, the immigrants were taken to empty spaces, like İbrahim Ağa Meadow. Six people were put in charge of identifying and recording the total number of immigrants along the Kumkapı coast, as well as the number who were unwell.7

The immigrants were ordered to stay in Istanbul until their settlement provinces had been determined. Within the city, it was typically unused public buildings, barracks, inns and buildings that were assigned to the immigrants. If these places were not sufficient, open lodgings of citizens were rented out or the immigrants were quartered in citizens’ homes as their guests. Moreover, from time to time tent cities were established for the immigrants.

The renting of lodgings and inns to immigrants living in Istanbul, as well as their need for clothing, bread, coal and transportation, were supplied by the state. The health problems of the immigrants were also taken care of. Male patients were treated in the Gureba hospital and females were treated in Yenibahçe Hospital. In spite of these precautions, since hygiene conditions were below a certain standard, epidemics could still occur and spread in Istanbul, particularly in areas that had an intense immigrant population. For example, in 1860, typhoid was quite widespread among immigrants.8 In such circumstances, attempts were made to reduce the density of the population in Istanbul by transmitting immigrants to the periphery as quickly as possible. From time to time, Caucasian immigrants were sent directly to their settlement areas without allowing them to disembark in Istanbul. Behind the decision for this direct transmission was the concern that slave traders could prey on Circassian immigrants.9 Istanbul continued to receive waves of migration after the ‘93 Russo-Turkish War.10 The immigrants coming from Crimea and Caucasia after this war were temporarily employed in the places like madrasas and the humbarahane (bombardiers’ quarters).11 Some Crimean immigrants were settled in villages and farms around Istanbul.12

The Migration of the ‘93 Russo-Turkish War

Russia charged Prince Cherkasky with the establishment of a Bulgarian administration in the provinces of the Danube, which it invaded during the war of 1877-1878, as well as for the reorganization of Bulgarian society. Cherkasky implemented the method of annihilating the Turkish population. First, weapons gathered from the Turks were distributed to the Bulgarians. Second, the Bulgarians, Russians and Cossacks came together in a movement of mass destruction. As a result of these policies, hundreds of thousands of Muslims died and most of those who managed to survive the events immigrated. Turkish people were also exposed to attacks by Russian soldiers, Bulgarian guerilla fighters and Cossack cavalries on their migration routes. The 1,200,000 people who survived these attacks sought shelter in Varna, Thessaloniki, Skopje and Istanbul.

The first group of immigrants arrived in Istanbul in July 1877. The majority of the immigrants, who came by land, sea and railway transportation, consisted of women, children and the elderly. Leaving all they had behind, those who immigrated in the atmosphere of war were starving, ragged and in need of help. As much as possible, the subsistence of the newcomers was initially provided by the Hamidiye Almshouse and by charity committees, and the Şehremaneti (city council) tried to accommodate them in mosques, starting with the ones nearest to the Port of Sirkeci. The migration movement into the city gained a massive character towards January 1878, to such an extent that from this date onwards 10,000 immigrants came to the city every day. In February 1878, the population of the immigrants in the city reached a total of 150,000. Consequently, between July 1877 and September 1879, the number of immigrants in the city reached 387,000. The number of immigrants in the city started to decrease gradually only after 1880. There were also Bosnians among the immigrants that came to Istanbul. Between 1889 and 1908, 878 Bosnian immigrants came to Istanbul. Some of the Bosnians inhabited the villages of Bayrampaşa, Yeni Bosna and Hamidiye.13

In the first three days, the government tried to accommodate the immigrants in the mosques around Sirkeci; they were then sent to other available public buildings, like mosques, masjids, madrasas and schools within the precincts of Istanbul and the Bilad-ı Selase districts. In spite of this, the majority of immigrants remained homeless. A solution was found by separating the immigrants into two groups. The first group consisted of those who wanted to settle in Anatolia permanently, and they were sent to Anatolia. The second group consisted of people who wanted to return their homeland after the war was over. It was nearly impossible to accommodate these people within the public buildings for an extended period of time. For this reason, it was decided to seek out any available private buildings, like mansions, manor houses, residences, sheds and vineyard houses, which could be utilized to help the immigrants to meet their temporary housing need; it was estimated that, although temporary, this need would last for quite some time. In spite of all efforts, only around 15,000 immigrants could be accommodated in private buildings. For those who remained homeless, simple, shed-like structures were erected. In order to accommodate the rest, plots and farming lands in the regions of Çivizade, Mevlevihane Kapısı and Mimar Acem were opened to settlement. Approximately 10,000 immigrants were sent to the farmsteads of Korugalı, Hekimbaşı, Alemdağ, Kurbağalıdere, Mihaliç and Bosnaköyü, which were located on the area that stretched towards İzmir; these lands were under the control of the state treasury. The immigrants started to be employed in agricultural activities as manual laborers.

Table 2- Distribution of Immigrants by District (1882)








































Source: Kemal H. Karpat, Osmanlı Nüfusu (1830-1914): Demografik ve Sosyal Özellikleri, tr. Bahar Tırnakçı, Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 2003, p. 239.

The needs of housing, food and coal had to be met for the immigrants while they were in Istanbul. In addition to the allowances allocated from the budget to meet the mentioned expenses, public support was also solicited. To this end, committees were established under the leadership of governmental and non-governmental persons; these were known as Muhacirîne Muavenet Cemiyeti (Immigrants’ Assistance Society), Muhacirîn İane Komisyonu (Immigrants’ Aid Commission), and Milletlerarası Muhacirlere Yardım Komitesi (International Immigrants Aid Committee). Aid in cash or in kind, collected by means of these commissions, were distributed to immigrants via the Muhacirîn İdaresi (Immigration Administration). Since the needs of immigrants could not be met completely by such aid, the salaries of public officers were reduced; theaters and concerts were also organized to raise funds for the immigrants. In addition, the income from Karaköy Bridge, the revenue taken from the skins of sacrificial animals were donated to this cause and it was decided that the savings made by the Evkaf Hazinesi (Waqf Treasury) and the income of the İane-i Şehriye Komisyonu (City Aid Commission) would be transferred to the Muhacirîn İdaresi to cover the expenses of the immigrants. These measures were certainly temporary. The authorities had to come up with new sources of income. To this end, income raised by an increase in the toll for the Karaköy Bridge was dedicated to the needs of immigrants. Moreover, it was decided that an amount of 1 to 5 kuruş per head was to be collected in the name of a compulsory saving fund and that this would be given to the Şehremaneti to cover the expenses of the immigrants. Additionally, a 25% tax increase was planned for customs procedures to raise money to meet these expenses. But, taking this as being paramount to the abolishment of capitulations, foreign embassies rejected this application. Thus, the plan could not be fulfilled.

Until the war ended, officials tried to come up the equivalent of two kuruş per immigrants per day to meet their needs; this money was raised both from donations and funds taken from the state treasury. After the war, daily wages were reduced to 40 para. In order to reduce food expenses after the war, immigrants who were between the ages of 15 and 45 were employed in any available job. Meanwhile, in order to prevent food shortages, new sources of provisions were looked for; it was decided that some military provisions should be transferred to Istanbul. In addition, the transportation of grain outside Istanbul was banned.

The aim was to provide a certain amount of coal for all the immigrant families that were settled in various parts of Istanbul. Indeed, until 1879 coal was distributed to immigrant families. The fact that the aid was done in kind caused more cost than had been anticipated, and for this reason it was decided that an amount of two kuruş per family would be given in order to cover their needs for coal. In spite of this ordinance, in 1879, the Evkaf Hazinesi provided 4,500 immigrants with coal in the districts of Ayasofya, Beyazıt, Sultan Mehmet, Cerrahpaşa, Eyüp, Üsküdar, Kılıçalipaşa, Dolmabahçe and Kasımpaşa.

Tablo 3- Number of Immigrants Leaving Istanbul

Place of Arrival

Number of Immigrants

Place of Arrival

Number of Immigrants





























Source: Nedim İpek, Rumeli’den Anadolu’ya Türk Göçleri (1877- 1890), Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 1999, p. 109.

The fact that the number of immigrants could not be reduced and that hygienic rules were not followed caused the spread of diseases like typhoid, smallpox and typhus throughout the city. With the effect of diseases there were 300 to 500 deaths per day in the city. Within a short time, the death rate increased to 3% of the population. For the treatment of ill immigrants, doctors were assigned to take care of them and 24 hospitals were put into service in various locations of the city.

At this time, there were approximately 80,000 soldiers and 150,000-200,000 immigrants in the city. This situation threatened the security and order in the city. In order to protect public health and to maintain safety, it was decided that some of the immigrants should be sent to İzmir, Thessaloniki or Bursa. At the beginning of March, 1878, 50,000 of 200,000 immigrants were sent to Anatolia. Until September 1879, 387,804 immigrants came from Rumelia to Istanbul; of these, 274,875 were sent to Konya, Syria, Ankara, Bursa, Aleppo, Kastamonu, Aydın, Adana, Salonika, Sivas, İzmit, Canik and Biga.

Though not on a large scale, migration to Istanbul continued from the territory that had been taken from Ottoman control after the ’93 War, in groups or on the individual level. Between 1881 and 1907, 58,950 people migrated to Istanbul and within the same dates, authorities settled these immigrants in the Balkans and in Istanbul. During this period, the Jewish population from the Balkans and Crimea also participated in this wave of migration. In 1891, the migration of Russian Jews was banned. After this date, the Sublime Porte allowed Ottoman Jews to migrate and settle in Turkish lands. As a result of these migrations, the total number of Jews in the Balkans between 1860 and 1878 changed. More specifically, before the ’93 War, there were 180,000 Jews in the Ottoman lands in the Balkans. At least half of this number migrated after the war. One of the places to which the Jewish population migrated was Istanbul. The Jewish population in Istanbul was approximately 25,000 in 1865. The Jewish population exceeded 57,000 between 1906 and 1907. Eisenberg brought a proposal to the Sublime Porte that he establish Jewish immigrant colonies in Anatolia. These colonies would be a base for Jewish immigrants who were intending to settle in Palestine.14

Immigrants from Tripoli and Benghazi

Italy had ambitions on Tripoli and Benghazi as part of its colonialist agenda. Upon the Italian invasion, people in these places withdrew inland and resisted occupation forces. When the resistance failed, occupation forces exiled some of the population in the region. The immigrants of Tripoli and Benghazi were mostly sent by the Italians to cities like Rijeka and Marseilles. To reach these places, they were transported to ports in Istanbul, İzmir, Alexandria and Beirut by European steamship companies. Another route that the Tripoli immigrants followed was the Alexandria-Beirut-Istanbul line. Those who came to Istanbul were usually the families of officers and civil servants.

Those who had relatives in Istanbul were quartered in their houses. Widows and disabled children were sent to poorhouses; orphaned girls were settled in the homes of families that were trustworthy and well-situated. Homes for those who did not have relatives or friends in the city were looked for in available hotels and other lodgings. Those in need were sustained by a special commission. There were Tripoli immigrants who settled in various hotels and lodgings thanks to their own efforts. Those who could not adapt to Istanbul’s climate were sent to Sivas, Adana, Aleppo or Syria.

The Balkan Wars and Migration

Having the diplomatic support of European states and taking advantage of the Tripolitanian War, the Balkan states declared mobilization on September 30, 1912. One week later, Montenegro declared war against the Ottoman State. Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria took part in the war as allies of Montenegro on October 17 and 18, 1912. The Ottoman State lost lands that harbored a population of more than 2,300,000. After the war, 62% of this population was either massacred or obliged to migrate. In addition to the people living in the invaded lands, Muslims who were the citizens of Balkan states also emigrated. The total number of Balkan immigrants was 413,922.15

During the war, many immigrants came to Istanbul by land from the Marmara coast, especially from Tekirdağ. The number of immigrants that came from just Lüleburgaz-Çatalca, Tekirdağ, Ahtapolu and Midye to Istanbul reached 100,000. Furthermore, 20,000 additional immigrants were on the way. Finally, the people of Küçükçekmece also participated in these migrations.16 The immigrants who came by sea were transferred to the city after undergoing a medical exam and being vaccinated.

Cemil Topuzlu, the Şehremin (mayor) of Istanbul, depicted the arrival of Balkan immigrants in the city as follows:

A few days after the declaration of war, immigrants started to arrive in our city. And what an arrival… All in misery and in wretchedness… These miserable people, packed into sailboats and trains, disembarked in Sirkeci, hungry and unclothed; and those who trekked from their towns and villages… Although the Istanbul Directorate of Immigrants was sending Balkan immigrants to Anatolia a few at a time, the constant presence of 40,000 to 50,000 sick and neglected immigrants in our city could not be prevented.17

By means of special commissions, the immigrants who came to Istanbul were housed in lodgings, hotels, madrasas, schools, tekkes, mosques, dergah, brickyards, public baths, police stations, immigrant clubs, rental lodgings and empty lodgings located in neighborhoods such as Zincirlikuyu, Atikalipaşa, Fetvaemini, Edirnekapı and Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa. Those who could not be settled in this way were accommodated as much as possible in the sheds built around Yedikule and Sultanahmet. When the situation permitted, orphaned immigrant girls were accommodated in the Darüşşafaka. At the outset, 14,856 people, making up 3,709 households, were settled in the aforementioned places. After these immigrants were sent to permanent settlements, their places were taken by others. Relief foundations, especially the Hilal-i Ahmer Cemiyeti (Red Crescent), the Muhacirîn İdaresi (Immigration Administration) and the local community tried to provide food for the immigrants.18

In the city, cholera and smallpox were encountered among immigrants. Ninety buildings were transformed into hospitals in order to treat those immigrants who had fallen ill.19 The transmission of immigrants into Anatolia was accelerated in order to preserve public health and to prevent outbreaks.

The immigrant rush to Istanbul continued after the war. 9,296 people, members of families of officers and soldiers who were working in the lands lost after the Balkan War came to Istanbul. Additionally, after the war, 3,602 civilians of immigrant status were settled in Istanbul.20 Within Istanbul, the number of immigrants settled in 1920 increased to 6,609.

The First World War and Migration

During and after the First World War, Istanbul witnessed a multi-dimensional migration. While 800,000 Turkish people in Eastern Anatolia and the Black Sea, which had been invaded by Russia, were suffering from hunger and the war, 800,000 people from this population tried to withdraw to Middle and Western Anatolia, in order to avoid suffering a similar fate. Approximately 2,000 of these immigrants, who were identified as Eastern immigrants by the Ottoman authorities, had sought refuge in Istanbul. At the same time, there were approximately 4,000 Rumelian immigrants waiting for permanent settlement.

Nearly 30,000 of the Turks who left Thrace during the period of Greek occupation between 1918 and 1923 looked for shelter in Istanbul. The lands evacuated by Turks were filled by the Greeks. Retreating constantly to the north after the Greek occupation on May 15, 1919, Muslim immigrants gathered on the coasts of the Marmara and migrated to Istanbul from Gemlik by sea. The number of Turkish immigrants in Istanbul exceeded 40,000 in 1920 and 50,000 in 1921.21 A circular letter was issued by the government saying that one percent of the salaries of officers was to be cut in order to help the immigrants in the city. Some tradesmen gave their income on certain days to the immigrants from İzmir, and university students organized aid campaigns for the sake of immigrants22.

There were also non-Muslim immigrants in the city. It was estimated that the number of Armenians who escaped from Anatolia during the war and took up shelter with their relatives in Istanbul was approximately 15,000. In 1920, the number of Armenians who were trying to find accommodation within the city was approximately 2,800. Their need for food and other things were met either by themselves or by the Armenian community in Istanbul. 716 Greek immigrants were accommodated in Beşiktaş; nearly 10,000 Jewish immigrants were accommodated in Ortaköy, Balat and Üsküdar.23

After the First World War, Belarusians also came to Istanbul. It is estimated that the total number of Russians who came to Istanbul between 1919 and 1920 ranged from 250,000 to 300,000. Most of those who came in the first wave in 1919 were wealthy Russians. The Russian immigrants who were soldiers were lodged within camps in Limni, Çatalca, Tuzla and Gelibolu, while the civilians were accommodated in camps established in Beyoğlu and the Marmara islands or in camps, pensions, hotels, tents or sheds that were suitable for habitation. Also, citizens from Belgium and Switzerland who had been staying in Russia for trade sought shelter in Istanbul. They were settled in hotels and pensions in the Cağaloğlu neighborhood. Some of the Russian immigrants returned to their places of origin in the following days, while some of them went to Europe and America. As a result, in 1922 the number of immigrants in Istanbul dropped below 30,000.

At first, Turkish authorities did not look favorably refugees. This stemmed from the anxiety that the infrastructure of Istanbul could not sustain a vast number of immigrants. The accommodation of civilian Russians within the borders of the municipality caused an increase in rent prices. However, in the same period, the immigrants who were sheltered in Istanbul as they escaped Greek occupation, as well as the Greeks and Armenians who returned to the city after being forced to leave Greece, had difficulty in finding accommodation. This stressful situation caused a reaction against Russians among Muslim immigrants and others who were in need of rented housing. On the other hand, both local and international institutions were helping the Russians. After a while, immigrants started to consider finding jobs in order to make a living. Russian immigrants influenced Istanbul culturally rather than politically. From 1921 onwards, Russian immigrants started to leave Istanbul. Among the Russian immigrants, there were some who applied for Turkish citizenship. Most of the applications were accepted.24

After the First World War, the number of immigrants in Istanbul changed constantly. According to data, in 1921 there were more than 100,000 immigrants in the city, including 3,200 Armenians, 5,000 Greeks (Rum), 27,000 Turks and 65,000 Russians.25

Mübadele (The Population Exchange)

On January 30, 1923, Turkey and Greece signed an agreement and protocol which subjected the Orthodox population in Turkey, except those in Western Trace and Istanbul, and Muslims in Greece to forced migration. Within the frame of the agreement, Turkey was separated into 10 settlement regions. The sixth region was determined as the districts of Istanbul, Çatalca and Zonguldak. Between 1923 and 1927, 36,487 refugees came to Istanbul as part of the exchange. Exchanged refugees and immigrants were settled in Çatalca, Silivri, Sarıyer, Kartal, Pendik, Tuzla, Mahmutbey, Bağcılar, and Esenler, and in the villages surrounding them. There were exchanged refugees who also came from other cities to Istanbul by means of free settlement. This increased the number of exchanged refugees. By 1933, 33,328 exchanged refugees had settled within the Istanbul district, and by 1960, the number of immigrants settled in this district exceeded 80,000.26


Migration was influential in the formation of Istanbul’s population. After being an abandoned city in 1453, within a period of 20-25 years following the conquest, Istanbul underwent a great deal of construction and development. The resoluteness of Mehmed II accelerated the development of Istanbul’s economy, as well as the increase of its population. During the reign of Mehmed II, two-thirds of the city’s population was composed of Muslims, and the rest was composed of Christians and Jews. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, safety and the hope of finding a job paved the way for household and refugee migrations. From the nineteenth century onwards, this trend was followed by the migration of the populations living in the lands that were removed from Ottoman rule. Until the ‘93 War, the Sublime Porte closed the city and its vicinities for settlement, but after migrations reached a massive scale, it became necessary to settle the craftsmen and traders among the immigrants in the city. Upon this decision, such immigrants started to be settled in the areas around the city. On the other hand, the socio-economically elite leaders of the Caucasian and Balkan immigrant groups were directed to settle in Istanbul, where they were given a salary and donned with medals.27 The Sublime Porte sent immigrants to Anatolia as soon as possible and their places were quickly taken by newcomers. Thus, between 1820 and 1920 there was always an immigrant population which numbered in the thousands. While the city’s population was 391,000 in 1844, it exceeded 900,000 after the Balkan Wars. Within a period of 70 years, the population increased by 230% and exceeded 900,000. The settlement of immigrants was certainly influential in this increase. As a matter of fact, even in 1885, 60% of the city’s population was composed of people born outside Istanbul. After 1914, the population of the city started to fall, and by 1927 it had declined to 690,000.28 350,000 of these residents were male and 340,000 were female. In Istanbul, the total number of people who belonged to a foreign nationality was 65,335. 76.37% of Turkish citizens were ethnic Turks (477,763), 10.28% were Greeks (64,338), 7.13% were Armenians (44,531) and 6.22% were Jewish (38,890).

Some of the families who settled in the city were wealthy. Since those who came during war could not sell their properties in their homeland, they spent all their liquid assets on migration costs and fell into dire straits. Those who could sell their properties during the peace time could bring capital with them. They made various investments. Middle class and poor immigrants were employed in hawking, carriage driving, and as coach drivers and porters; they were also employed as servants in mansions and manor houses, workers in sweatshops and laborers in farms and road construction sites. There were also those who were involved in shoe-making and carpentry. Some immigrants who had the necessary qualifications were employed as jailors and janitors. Between 1820 and 1920, being disconnected from the Balkans, Caucasians and Anatolia meant that the business volume and finance of Istanbul had shrunk, which in turn caused the available business circle to tighten.

With the increase in population, the municipal borders of the city were frequently widened. Population growth and massive migration caused difficulties and problems in maintaining the security and order of the city. Especially during the Balkan Wars, the attitude of the non-Muslim population in Istanbul affected the Muslim public negatively. There were rumors that there was a real possibility that the Bulgarian forces would come to Istanbul: “While the Bulgarian army was marching towards Çatalca, it created unrest among families in Istanbul. Bulgarians had broken through the Hadımköy line and they were coming to Istanbul. They had defeated the Ottoman army, which was withdrawing to Istanbul.”29 Since males were at war, the Muslim Turkish population was composed of children, women and the elderly, and they were not capable of protecting themselves.30 Some families proposed migrating to Anatolia, saying that “If the Bulgarians come to Istanbul, they will massacre us; let’s go to Anatolia”.31 Although these problems, which occurred particularly during the period between 1878 and 1923, formed the basis for the idea of retreating to Anatolia among the residents of Istanbul, it did not give rise to a Muslim versus non-Muslim conflict.

The entertainment and music cultures of the regions where the immigrants had lived were transmitted to Istanbul. Hungarian and Polish immigrants who sought refuge in Ottoman lands in 1848 and some of the Belarusians who came in 1919-1920 acquired Turkish citizenship. This gave rise to a new manner of entertainment in daily life, including Bosphorus tours and country trips, where both men and women gathered together, and the organization of theaters and musical amusements. Moreover, immigrants and refugees such as Mahmud Celaleddin Pasha, Ahmed Vefik Pasha, Şemseddin Sami, Yusuf Akçura, Ahmed Ağaoğlu, and Mehmed Emin Resulzade affected the birth and development of Turkish nationalism.


1 See: Kemal H. Karpat, Osmanlı’dan Günümüze Etnik Yapılanma ve Göçler, tr. Bahar Tırnakçı, Istanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2010, pp. 71-118.

2 For the construction of the city during Turkish rule, see: Karoly Kos, İstanbul Şehir Tarihi ve Mimarisi, tr. Naciye Güngörmüş, Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı, 1995.

3 Cengiz Şeker, “İstanbul Ahkâm ve Atik Şikayet Defterlerine Göre XVIII. Yüzyılda İstanbul’a Yönelik Göçlerin Tasvir ve Tahlili” (Ph.D. dissertation), Marmara University, 2007; for interior migration in the 18th century, also see: Yücel Özkaya, “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda XVIII. Yüzyılda Göç Sorunu”, TAD, 1981, vol. 14, no. 25, pp. 171-203.

4 Nedim İpek, İmparatorluktan Ulus-Devlete Göçler, Trabzon: Serander Yayınları, 2006, pp. 79-94; Ali Fuat Örenç, Mora Türkleri ve Eyaletten Bağımsızlığa Yunanistan, Istanbul: Babıali Kültür Yayıncılığı, 2009.

5 Yeorgios Kiutuçkas, “1878’e Kadar İstanbul’daki Bulgar Cemaati”, 19. Yüzyıl İstanbulu’nda Gayrimüslimler, ed. Pinelopi Stathis, tr. Foti Benlisoy & Stefo Benlisoy, Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 1999, pp. 36-37.

6 Abdullah Saydam, Kırım ve Kafkas Göçleri: 1856-1876, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 1997.

7 İpek, İmparatorluktan Ulus Devlete Göçler, pp. 42-43

8 İpek, İmparatorluktan Ulus Devlete Göçler, pp. 42-43.

9 Kemal Gurulkan et al. (eds.), Osmanlı Belgelerinde Kafkas Göçleri, II volumes, Istanbul: Başbakanlık Devlet Arşivleri Genel Müdürlüğü Osmanlı Arşivi Daire Başkanlığı, 2012.

10 Gurulkan et al. (eds.), Kafkas Göçleri, vol. 1, p. 376, 378.

11 Gurulkan et al. (eds.), Kafkas Göçleri, vol. 1, p. 378.

12 Crimean immigrants settled in the Ahmediye, Bahçayiş, İmrahor, İzzettiin, Sazlıbosna and Şamlar villages around Istanbul (Hakan Kırımlı, Türkiye’deki Kırım Tatar ve Nogay Köy Yerleşimleri, Istanbul : Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 2011, pp. 400-413).

13 Fahriye Emgili, Yeniden Kurulan Hayatlar: Boşnakların Türkiye’ye Göçleri (1878-1934), Istanbul : Bilge Kültür Sanat, 2012, p. 301.

14 Karpat, Osmanlı’dan Günümüze Etnik Yapılanma ve Göçler, pp. 275-277, 299-301.

15 Justin McCarthy, Ölüm ve Sürgün : Osmanlı Müslümanlarının Etnik Kıyımı, tr. Fatma Sarıkaya, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 2012, p. 182.

16 Ahmet Halaçoğlu, Balkan Harbi Sırasında Rumeli’den Türk Göçleri (1912-1913), Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 1994, pp. 47-65.

17 Halaçoğlu, Rumeli’den Türk Göçleri, p. 94.

18 H. Yıldırım Ağanoğlu, Osmanlıdan Cumhuriyete Balkanların Makus Talihi Göç, Istanbul : Kumsaati Yayınları, 2001, p. 187.

19 Ağanoğlu, Balkanların Makus Talihi Göç, pp. 249-250.

20 McCarthy, Ölüm ve Sürgün, p. 181.

21 İpek, İmparatorluktan Ulus Devlete Göçler.

22 İpek, İmparatorluktan Ulus Devlete Göçler.

23 C. Claflin Davis, “İstanbul’da Mültecilerin Durumu”, in İstanbul 1920, (ed. C. R. Johnson, tr. Sönmez Taner, Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 1995), pp. 175-196.

24 Bakar, Bülent, Esir Şehrin Misafirleri: Beyaz Ruslar, Istanbul: Tarihçi Kitabevi, 2012.

25 Davis, “İstanbul’da Mültecilerin Durumu”, pp. 175-196.

26 Cevat Geray, Türkiye’den ve Türkiye’ye Göçler ve Göçmenlerin İskânı (1923-1961), Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi Yayınları, 1962, p. 30.

27 Kemal H. Karpat, İslâm’ın Siyasallaşması: Osmanlı Devleti’nin Son Döneminde Kimlik, Devlet, İnanç ve Cemaatin Yeniden Yapılandırılması, tr. Şiar Yalçın, Istanbul : İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları, 2013, p. 300.

28 Stanford J. Shaw and Ezel Kural Shaw, Osmanlı İmparatorluğu ve Modern Türkiye, tr. Mehmet Harmancı, Istanbul: E Yayyınları, 1983, vol. 2, p. 296.

29 Georges Remond, Bir Fransız Gazetecinin Balkan Harbi İzlenimleri: Mağluplarla Beraber, tr. Hasan Cevdet, Istanbul: Profil Yayıncılık, 2007, p. 16, 33.

30 Halide Edip Adıvar, Mor Salkımlı Ev, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 2008.

31 Kâzım Karabekir, Hayatım, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2009.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.