Muhacirs arriving in Istanbul crossing the Galata Bridge, Ottoman Empire, in 1912, with the New Mosque in the background

Muhacir or Muhajir (Arabic: مهاجر, romanizedmuhājir, lit.'migrant') refers to Muslim migrants who emigrated to the Ottoman Empire from different parts of the world during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Main reasons behind these migrations were ethnic cleansing, war, and loss of land.[1] Following its dissolution, migration to the Ottoman Empire continued during the first few decades of the Republic of Turkey, as a consequence of the Balkan Wars, World War I, and the exodus of Turks from Bulgaria.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Ottoman Empire welcomed a large number of Crimean and Caucasian Muslim muhacirs. Later, in the aftermath of the Crimean War and Balkan Wars, many Muslim muhacirs from former Ottoman territories also emigrated to the Ottoman Empire. In the twentieth century, more muhacirs came from Libya, Tunisia, Bosnia, and Cyprus to the Ottoman Empire as a result of European colonization.[2]

Thereafter, with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, a large influx of Turks, as well as other Muslims, from the Balkans, the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Aegean islands, the island of Cyprus, the Sanjak of Alexandretta (İskenderun), the Middle East, and the Soviet Union continued to arrive in the region, most of which settled in urban north-western Anatolia.[3][4]

Today, many Turkish speakers incorrectly use the term muhacir interchangeably with the term mübadil, people who have been displaced as part of an international treaty, such as the Treaty of Lausanne.[5]

The Refugee Commission (Muhacirin Komisyonu)

The Refugee Commission, or Muhacirin Komisyonu in Ottoman Turkish, was an Ottoman governmental body in charge of dealing with the influx of Muslim refugees coming from the Caucasus and Russia in the aftermath of the Crimean War and the Russo-Circassian War.[1] The Commission was founded in 1860 with the aim of overseeing the resettlement and well-being of the muhacirs in the Empire.[6]

Hafız Pasha, Remzi Effendi, Refik Bey, Ismail the Georgian, and Haci Pir Effendi were the first chairmen of the Commission.[7] Throughout history, the ethnic background of the officials in the Commission were often of Caucasian or Tatar ancestry.[7]

Initially, the Commission functioned as a part of the Ministry of Trade. However, in 1861, the Commission was recognized as an independent governmental body. This lasted until 1865, when the different functions of the Commission were distributed amongst various ministries.[7]

In 1897, the Commission's name was changed to the Islamic Refugee Commission (Muhacirin-i Islamiye Komisyonu).[2]


See also: Turks in Algeria

Initially, the first wave of migration occurred in 1830 when many Algerian Turks were forced to leave the region once the French took control over Algeria; approximately 10,000 Turks were shipped off to İzmir, in Turkey, whilst many others also migrated to Palestine, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt.[8]


See also: Turks of Bulgaria and Revival Process

Distribution of clothing to Turkish refugees at Shumla, 1877
Turkish immigrants from Bulgaria arriving in Anatolia in 1912
Turkish migrations from Bulgaria, 1878-1992[9]
Years Number
1878-1912 350,000
1923-33 101,507
1934-39 97,181
1940-49 21,353
1950-51 154,198
1952-68 24
1969-78 114,356
1979-88 0
1989-92 321,800
Total 1,160,614

The first wave of emigration from Bulgaria occurred during the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829) when around 30,000 Bulgarian Turks arrived in Turkey.[10] The second wave of about 750,000 emigrants left Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, but approximately one-fourth of them died on the way.[10] More than 200,000 of the rest remained inside the present borders of Turkey whilst the others were sent to other parts of the Ottoman Empire.[10] The aftermath of the war led to major demographic restructuring of the ethnic and religious make-up of Bulgaria.[11] As a result of these migrations, the percentage of Turks in Bulgaria was reduced from more than one-third of the population immediately after the Russo-Turkish War to 14.2% in 1900.[12] Substantial numbers of Turks continued to emigrate to Turkey during, and following, the Balkan Wars and the First World War, in accordance with compulsory exchange of population agreements between Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. By 1934 the Turkish community had been reduced to 9.7% of Bulgaria's total population and continued to fall during the subsequent decades.[11]

Communist rule after the Second World War ended most emigration from Bulgaria, but further bilateral agreements were negotiated in the early 1950s and late 1960s to regulate the outflow of Bulgarian Turks.[13] The heavy taxation, nationalisation of private minority schools, and measures against the Turkish culture in the name of the modernisation of Bulgaria, built up great pressure for the Turkish minority to emigrate and, when exit restrictions were relaxed in 1950, many ethnic Turks applied to leave. In August 1950 the Bulgarian government announced that 250,000 ethnic Turks had made applications to emigrate and pressured Turkey to accept them within three months.[13] However, the Turkish authorities declared that the country could not accept these numbers in such a short time and closed its borders over the following year. In what was tantamount to an expulsion, pressure for ethnic Turks to leave continued, and by late 1951 some 155,000 Turks left Bulgaria. Most had abandoned their property or sold it at well below its value; most of these emigrants settled successfully primarily in the Marmara and Aegean regions, helped by the distribution of land and the provision of housing.[13][14] In 1968 another agreement was reached between the two countries, which allowed the departure of relatives of those who had left up to 1951 to unite with their divided families, and another 115,000 people left Bulgaria for Turkey between 1968 and 1978.[13][15]

The latest wave of Turkish emigration began with an exodus in 1989, known as the "big excursion", when the Bulgarian Turks fled to Turkey in order to escape a campaign of forced assimilation.[15][11] This marked a dramatic culmination of years of tension among the Turkish community, which intensified with the Bulgarian government's assimilation campaign in the winter of 1985 that attempted to make ethnic Turks change their names to Bulgarian Slavic names. The campaign began with a ban on wearing traditional Turkish dress, and speaking the Turkish language in public places, followed by the forced name-changing campaign.[15] By May 1989, the Bulgarian authorities began to expel the Turks; when the Turkish government's efforts to negotiate with Bulgaria for an orderly migration failed, Turkey opened its borders to Bulgaria on 2 June 1989. However, on 21 August 1989, Turkey reintroduced immigration visa requirements for Bulgarian Turks. It was estimated that about 360,000 ethnic Turks had left for Turkey, though more than a third subsequently returned to Bulgaria once the ban on Turkish names had been revoked in December 1989.[15] Nonetheless, once the Bulgarian communist regime fell, and Bulgarian citizens were allowed freedom of travel again, some 218,000 Bulgarians left the country for Turkey. The subsequent emigration wave was prompted by continuously deteriorating economic conditions; furthermore, the first democratic elections in 1990 won by the renamed communist party resulted in 88,000 people leaving the country, once again, most of them being Bulgarian Turks.[16] By 1992, emigration to Turkey resumed at a greater rate. However, this time they were pushed by economic reasons since the country's economic decline affected especially ethnically mixed regions.[17] The Bulgarian Turks were left without state subsidies or other forms of state assistance and experienced deep recession.[17] According to the 1992 census, some 344,849 Bulgarians of Turkish origin had migrated to Turkey between 1989 and 1992, which resulted in significant demographic decline in southern Bulgaria.[17]


In 1862 more than 10,000 Muslims, including Turks were expelled from Serbia to Ottoman Bulgaria and Ottoman Bosnia.[18]


See also: Circassians in Turkey, Abkhazians in Turkey, and Chechens in Turkey

The muhacir groups from the Caucaus were mainly the Circassians, Abkhazians, Ingush, Ossetians, Avars, Karachays, Lezgins, and Chechens.[1]

The Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29 and the Russian expansion to the Caucasus between 1830 and 1860s resulted in the first wave of North Caucasus people migrating to the Ottoman Empire.[19]

In 1860s, during the events of the Circassian Genocide, namely the ethnic cleansing, killing, forced migration, and expulsion of the majority of the Circassians, a large number of Circassians fled their homeland on boats.[19] A majority of them arrived at the ports in Trabzon, Samsun, Sinop, Istanbul,Varna, and Costanta.[20]


From 1771 until the beginning of the 19th century approximately 500,000 Crimean Tatars arrived in Anatolia.[21]

Russian officials usually posited a shared religious identity between Turks and Tatars as the primary driving force behind the Tatar migrations. They reasoned that Muslim Tatars would not want to live in Orthodox Russia which had annexed Crimea before the 1792 Treaty of Jassy. With this treaty began an exodus of Nogai Tatars to the Ottoman Empire.[22]

Prior to the annexation, the Tatar nobility (mizra) could not make the peasants a serf class, a fact that had allowed the Tatar peasants relative freedom compared to other parts of Eastern Europe, and they were permitted use of all "wild and untilled" lands for cultivation. Under the "wild lands" rules Crimea had expanded its agricultural lands as farmers cultivated previously untilled lands. Many aspects of land ownership and the relationship between the mizra and peasants was government were governed under Islamic law. After the annexation many of the communal lands of the Crimean Tatars were confiscated by Russians.[23] The migrations to the Ottoman Empire began when their hopes of Ottoman victory were dashed at the close of the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792.[22]


See also: Turkish Cypriots

A Turkish Cypriot family who migrated to Turkey in 1935

The first wave of immigration from Cyprus occurred in 1878 when the Ottomans were obliged to lease the island to Great Britain; at that time, 15,000 Turkish Cypriots moved to Anatolia.[10] The flow of Turkish Cypriot emigration to Turkey continued in the aftermath of the First World War, and gained its greatest velocity in the mid-1920s, and continued, at fluctuating speeds during the Second World War.[24] Turkish Cypriot migration has continued since the Cyprus conflict.

Economic motives played an important part in the Turkish Cypriot migration wave as conditions for the poor in Cyprus during the 1920s were especially harsh. Enthusiasm to emigrate to Turkey was inflated by the euphoria that greeted the birth of the newly established Republic of Turkey and later of promises of assistance to Turks who emigrated. A decision taken by the Turkish Government at the end of 1925, for instance, noted that the Turks of Cyprus had, according to the Treaty of Lausanne, the right to emigrate to the republic, and therefore, families that so emigrated would be given a house and sufficient land.[24] The precise number of those who emigrated to Turkey is a matter that remains unknown.[25] The press in Turkey reported in mid-1927 that of those who had opted for Turkish nationality, 5,000–6,000 Turkish Cypriots had already settled in Turkey. However, many Turkish Cypriots had already emigrated even before the rights accorded to them under the Treaty of Lausanne had come into force.[26]

St. John-Jones tried to accurately estimate the true demographic impact of Turkish Cypriot emigration to Turkey between 1881 and 1931. He supposed that:

"[I]f the Turkish-Cypriot community had, like the Greek-Cypriots, increased by 101 per cent between 1881 and 1931, it would have totalled 91,300 in 1931 – 27,000 more than the number enumerated. Is it possible that so many Turkish-Cypriots emigrated in the fifty-year period? Taken together, the considerations just mentioned suggest that it probably was. From a base of 45,000 in 1881, emigration of anything like 27,000 persons seems huge, but after subtracting the known 5,000 of the 1920s, the balance represents an average annual outflow of some 500 – not enough, probably, to concern the community’s leaders, evoke official comment, or be documented in any way which survives today".[27]

According to Ali Suat Bilge, taking into consideration the mass migrations of 1878, the First World War, the 1920s early Turkish Republican era, and the Second World War, overall, a total of approximately 100,000 Turkish Cypriots had left the island for Turkey between 1878 and 1945.[28] By August 31, 1955, a statement by Turkey's Minister of State and Acting Foreign Minister, Fatin Rüştü Zorlu, at the London Conference on Cyprus, stated that:

Consequently, today [1955] as well, when we take into account the state of the population in Cyprus, it is not sufficient to say, for instance, that 100,000 Turks live there. One should rather say that 100,000 out of 24,000,000 Turks live there and that 300,000 Turkish Cypriots live in various parts of Turkey.[29]

By 2001 the TRNC Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated that 500,000 Turkish Cypriots were living in Turkey.[30]


See also: Cretan Turks, Vallahades, Turks of the Dodecanese, Turks of Western Thrace, and Population exchange between Greece and Turkey

A Muslim family from Crete who settled in Smyrna (İzmir), 1923

The immigration of the Turks from Greece started in the early 1820s upon the establishment of an independent Greece in 1829. By the end of World War I approximately 800,000 Turks had immigrated to Turkey from Greece.[10] Then, in accordance with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, under the 1923 Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations, Greece and Turkey agreed to the compulsory exchange of ethnic populations. The term "Mübadil" was used to refer specifically to this migration. Between 350,000 and 500,000 Muslim Turks emigrated from Greece to Turkey, and about 1.3 million Orthodox Christian "Greeks" from Turkey moved to Greece.[31] "Greek" and "Turkish" was defined by religion rather than linguistically or culturally.[32] According to Article 1 of the Convention "…There shall take place a compulsory exchange of Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion established in Turkish territory, and of Greek nationals of the Muslim religion established in Greek territory. These persons shall not return to live in Turkey or Greece without the authorization of the Turkish government or of the Greek government".[33]

An article published in The Times on December 5, 1923, stated that:

"…This transfer of populations is made especially difficult by the fact that few if any of the Turks in Greece desire to leave and most of them will resort to every possible expedient to avoid being sent away. A thousand Turks who voluntarily emigrated from Crete to Smyrna have sent several deputations to the Greek government asking to be allowed to return. Groups of Turks from all parts of Greece have submitted petitions for exemption. A few weeks ago, a group of Turks from Crete came to Athens with a request that they be baptized into the Greek church and thus be entitled to consideration as Greeks. The government however declined to permit this evasion."[34][full citation needed]

The only exclusions from the forced transfer were the Christians living in Constantinople (Istanbul) and the Western Thrace Turks.[32] The remaining Turks living in Greece have since continuously emigrated to Turkey, a process which has been facilitated by Article 19 of the Greek Nationality Law which the Greek state has used to deny re-entry of Turks who leave the country, even for temporary periods, and deprived them of their citizenship.[35] Since 1923, between 300,000 and 400,000 Turks of Western Thrace left the region, most of them went to Turkey.[36]


Once a Turkish exclave, the island of Ada Kaleh was flooded by the building of the Iron Gates dam in 1971, forcing its inhabitants to migrate to different parts of Romania as well as Turkey.

See also: Turks of Romania and Romanians in Turkey

Immigration from Romania to Anatolia dates back to the early 1800s when the Russian armies made advances into the region. During the Ottoman period, the greatest waves of immigration took place in 1826 when approximately 200,000 people arrived in Turkey and then in 1878–1880 with 90,000 arrivals.[10] Following the Republican period, an agreement made, on September 4, 1936, between Romania and Turkey allowed 70,000 Romanian Turks to leave the Dobruja region for Turkey.[37] By the 1960s, inhabitants living in the Turkish exclave of Ada Kaleh were forced to leave the island when it was destroyed in order to build the Iron Gate I Hydroelectric Power Station, which caused the extinction of the local community through the migration of all individuals to different parts of Romania and Turkey.[38]


See also: Turks in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turks in Serbia, Turks in Croatia, Turks in Kosovo, Turks in North Macedonia, and Turks in Montenegro

Immigration from Yugoslavia started in the 1800s as a consequence of the Serb revolution. Approximately 150,000 Muslims immigrated to Anatolia in 1826, and then, in 1867, a similar number of Muslims moved to Anatolia.[10] In 1862–67 Muslim exiles from the Principality of Serbia settled in the Bosnia Vilayet.[39] Upon the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey, 350,000 migrants arrived in Turkey between 1923 and 1930.[10] An additional 160,000 people immigrated to Turkey after the establishment of Communist Yugoslavia from 1946 to 1961. Since 1961, immigrants from that Yugoslavia amounted to 50,000 people.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Hamed-Troyansky, Vladimir (2024-02-20), "Empire of Refugees: North Caucasian Muslims and the Late Ottoman State", Empire of Refugees, Stanford University Press, doi:10.1515/9781503637757, ISBN 978-1-5036-3775-7, retrieved 2024-03-24
  2. ^ a b Hamed-Troyansky, Vladimir. “Imperial Refuge: Resettlement of Muslims from Russia in the Ottoman Empire, 1860-1914.” PhD Dissertation, 2018.
  3. ^ Çaǧaptay 2006, 82.
  4. ^ Bosma, Lucassen & Oostindie 2012, 17.
  5. ^ Erol, Emre (13 January 2023). "You say "muhacir" and I say "mübadil"". The Lausanne Project. Retrieved 24 March 2024.
  6. ^ Paşaoğlu, Derya Derin (2013). "Muhacir komisyonu maruzatı'na göre (1877-78) 93 harbi sonrası muhacir iskânı". History Studies. 5 (2): 351.
  7. ^ a b c Cuthell Jr., David Cameron. “The Muhacirin Komisyonu: An Agent in the Transformation of Ottoman Anatolia 1860-1866.” PhD Dissertation, 2005.
  8. ^ Kateb, Kamel (2001). Européens: "Indigènes" et juifs en Algérie (1830-1962) : Représentations et Réalités des Populations [Europeans: "Natives" and Jews in Algeria (1830-1962): Representations and Realities of Populations] (in French). INED. pp. 50–53. ISBN 273320145X.
  9. ^ Eminov 1997, 79.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Heper & Criss 2009, 92.
  11. ^ a b c Eminov 1997, 78.
  12. ^ Eminov 1997, 81.
  13. ^ a b c d van He 1998, 113.
  14. ^ Markova 2010, 208.
  15. ^ a b c d Markova 2010, 209.
  16. ^ Markova 2010, 211.
  17. ^ a b c Markova 2010, 212.
  18. ^ Özkan, Ayşe. "The Expulsion of Muslims from Serbia after the International Conference in Kanlıca and Withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from Serbia (1862-1867)". Akademik Bakış.
  19. ^ a b Chatty, Dawn. “Refugees, Exiles, and Other Forced Migrants in the Late Ottoman Empire.” Refugee Survey Quarterly 32, no. 2 (2013): 35–52.
  20. ^ Besleney, Zeynel Abidin (2014). The Circassian diaspora in Turkey: a political history. Routledge studies in Middle Eastern politics. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-73046-4.
  21. ^ Heper & Criss 2009, 91.
  22. ^ a b Williams 2016, p. 10.
  23. ^ Williams 2016, p. 9.
  24. ^ a b Nevzat 2005, 276.
  25. ^ Nevzat 2005, 280.
  26. ^ Nevzat 2005, 281.
  27. ^ St. John-Jones 1983, 56.
  28. ^ Bilge, Ali Suat (1961), Le Conflit de Chypre et les Chypriotes Turcs [The Cyprus Conflict and the Turkish Cypriots] (in French), Ajans Türk, p. 5
  29. ^ "The Tripartite Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus held by the Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Greece, and Turkey". H.M. Stationery Office. 9594 (18): 22. 1955.
  30. ^ Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Briefing Notes on the Cyprus Issue". Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  31. ^ Chenoweth & Lawrence 2010, 127.
  32. ^ a b Corni & Stark 2008, 8.
  33. ^ "Greece and Turkey – Convention concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations and Protocol, signed at Lausanne, January 30, 1923 [1925] LNTSer 14; 32 LNTS 75".
  34. ^ Clark 2007, 158.
  35. ^ Poulton 1997, 19.
  36. ^ Whitman 1990, 2.
  37. ^ Corni & Stark 2008, 55.
  38. ^ Bercovici 2012, 169.
  39. ^ Bandžović, Safet. "„Iseljavanje muslimanskog stanovništva iz Kneževine Srbije u Bosanski vilajet (1862–1867)”." Znakovi vremena (2001); Šljivo, Galib. "Naseljavanje muslimanskih prognanika (muhadžira) iz Kneževine Srbije u Zvornički kajmakamluk 1863. godine." Prilozi 30 (2001): 89-116.