Large refugee waves to Anatolia in recent centuries

There were waves upon waves of migrations into and out of Anatolia going back to the prehistoric times. As a result, Anatolia has been a melting pot for thousands of years. Each tribe, nation, and culture left an imprint. There is an Anatolian synthesis.

So, you might think it is normal for Anatolia to absorb large numbers of refugees but the process has been very painful in every century. The most recent wave – 3.6 million Syrian refuges in Turkey – has been particularly difficult to absorb. This is becoming a major societal challenge.

Civilizations in Anatolia

Gobekli Tepe

Catal Hoyuk

3000 BC – 700 BC :  Troy
2500 BC – 2000 BC : Hattians
2400 BC – 2150 BC  : Akkadian Empire
2000 BC – 1750 BC : Assyrian trade colonies
1680 BC – 800 BC :  Hittites
685 BC – 547 BC : Lydian Kingdom
559 BC – 331 BC : Achaemenid Empire of Persia
334 BC – 301 BC : Kingdom of Alexander the Great
305 BC – 64 BC : Seleucid Empire
302 BC – 64 BC : Kingdom of Pontus
282 BC – 129 BC : Attalids of Pergamon
190 BC – 428 AD : Kingdom of Armenia
133 BC – 27 BC : Roman Republic
27 BC – 330 AD BC : Roman Empire
330 – 1453 : East Roman (Byzantine) Empire
1071 – 1300 : Seljuk Sultanate of Anatolia
1300 – 1923 : Ottoman Empire
1923 – Present: Turkish Republic

500 thousand Sephardic Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal

Ottoman Empire granted protection to Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. Later, Sephardic Jews from Portugal sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire in 1540 and 1560. More than 500,000 Jewish people immigrated to the major cities of the Ottoman Empire (Salonika, Edirne, Izmir and Istanbul) after these expulsions.

The Jewish refugees brought the printing press with them. Note that the printing press was used only by the non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire until 1726. I wrote about this 290 year delay .

1 million Tatar refugees from Crimea

Between 1860 and 1922, more than 1 million Tatars from Crimea migrated to Turkey.

2 million Circassian and Chechen refugees

Between 1859 and 1879, 2 million Circassian and Chechen immigrated from the Caucasus.

1.5 million refugees after the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-78

During the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-78, more than 1.5 million people from the Balkans sought refuge in Turkey.

640 thousand refugees after the 1912-13 Balkan wars

During the 1912-13 Balkan Wars an additional 640,000 refugees arrived. Many of those coming from the Balkans were the grandchildren of those have who migrated to Europe centuries ago.

Forced migrations of 1924 between Greece and Turkey: 2 million people

With the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and a population exchange between Greece and Turkey the same year, 2 million people emigrated from one side to the other.

The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey was based on religious identity, and involved the Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey and the Muslim citizens of Greece. Some islands were exempted from the exchange. It was the first compulsory large-scale population exchange of the 20th century. In total about 500,000 Muslims from Greece and about 1,500,000 Christians from Anatolia had to leave their homelands.

350 thousand refugees from Yugoslavia and Macedonia in the 1950’s

In the 1950s another 350,000 people reached Turkey’s shores from Yugoslavia and Macedonia.

1.6 million refugees from Bulgaria

Between 1953 and 1975 some 300,000 emigrated from Bulgaria to Turkey. By the 1970s the number of Bulgarian migrants topped 1.6 million.

1.5 million refugees from Iran

The first influx was the Iranians fleeing from the Iranian Revolution, arrived beginning 1980. The Iran–Iraq War began on 22 September of the same year. As a result a total of 1.5 million Iranians became refugees in Turkey. These refugees weren’t recognized as asylum seekers under the terms of the Geneva Convention, because they entered and stayed as tourists; making them Iranian diaspora.

500 thousand Kurdish refugees from Iraq after the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars

In 1988, more than 500,000 Iraqi Kurds fled Saddam Hussain’s oppressive regime and sought refuge in Turkey.

3.6 million Syrian refugees after 2011

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world. Turkey is currently hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees alongside 330,000 others of different nationalities.

This BBC News (Turkish) article explains the statistics of Syrian refugees in Turkey in great detail.

Global refugee population trend

image credit


Suheyla Balci Akova, “Immigrations from the Balkans to Turkey and Immigrant Settlements in Western Anatolia


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