Population Exchange

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From the end of the 18th century to 1925, Muslim civilians from territorities that were breaking free from Ottoman rule, were forced to flee from their homes in masses, trying to survive the wars. The mass migrations resulting from the Crimean War (1856), the Caucasian War (1864), the ’93 War (1878), the Cretan Revolts (1896-1897), the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), World War 1 (1914-1918), the Greco-Turkish war (1919-1922), have left deep imprints in the memories of those involved.

One of the most important mass migrations was, no doubt, the compulsory immigration which was realized as a result of the "Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations", signed in Lausanne on January 30, 1923, by the Turkish and Greek governments.

It is impossible to grasp the reasons, dimensions and consequences of the population exchange without examining the historical processes of the relations between Turkey and Greece.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, revolts against the Ottoman rule had started in the Balkans. The Mora (Pelaponnesus) Revolt of 1821 caused the birth of an independent state called “The Küngdom of Greece ” in 1830. Thousands of Ottoman Muslims and Greek Orthodox were massacred during this process.



On April 6, 1826, the Third Greek Parliament offered peace to the Ottoman Government and declared that the Turks may not reside in Greece. The mutual migration of the Muslim community in Greece and the Greek Orthodox community in Ottoman Empire was designed through a protocol that was signed in London on March 22, 1829 by England, France and Russia. This protocol that mentioned the subject of population exchange for the first time was also approved by Babıali ( The Ottoman Parliament) through the Convention of Edirne on September 14, 1829.

About 90 000 Muslims were living on the lands within the borders of the New Greek Kingdom. After the battles, a part of the surviving Muslims migrated to Anatolia, another part to Thessaloniki and its surroundings which was at that time under the rule of Ottoman Empire. The first mass migration from Greece was experienced within this period.

The second wave of mass migration was after the joining of the Teselia region to Greece after the Ottoman-Russian War of 1877-1878. After Greece took the rule of this region, most of the Muslims living in Teselia region had to migrate to the territories that remained within the Empire.

Another important wave of mass migration happened during the Cretan Rebellions in 1896-1897. 40 000 Cretan Muslims migrated to the Twelve Islands, Rhodes primarily, which were under Ottoman rule at the time, to Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Libya, and to Anatolia. One of the biggest mass movements of migration was during the Balkan Wars which was called “the Balkan Defeat” by the people. After the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the Rumelian lands of the Ottoman Empire (except Eastern Thrace) were divided up among governments of Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. The Aegean Macedonia, Crete, Lesbos, Limni and Chios were joined to Greece.

Over a million Muslim civilians left their homes and migrated in order to take refuge in the territories that were still within the borders of the Empire. Half of them died on the way due to massacre, hunger and disease. 200 000 of the survivers who took refuge in Turkey were the ones who left the lands which joined the Greek Kingdom.

Due to the nationalist ideologies of the time, states that were newly founded in the Balkans forced the Muslims to migrate in order to create a homogenous nation with a single religion and a single ethnicity. The same policy was implemented by the Committee of Union and Progress on the territory that remained within the Ottoman State. A treaty of population exchange was signed with the Bulgarian state in 1913 concerning the population living at the borders. Afterwards, Greeks living in Aegean coasts and Thrace were forced to migrate in 1914. 100.000 Greeks from Eastern Thrace and 200.000 Greeks from the Aegean coasts left the country.

Solutions were sought through diplomacy in order to stop these exile policies implemented by both states to civilian populations. Finally, pre-negotiations began between the Greek state and the Committee of Union and Progress for a population exchange of Muslims in Rumelia and the Greek Orthodox in the Aegean Region. But the negotiations were interrupted because of the First World War.

The Committee of Union and Progress was on the side of Germany during the First World War (1914-1918) and they were defeated. Based on the Treaty of Sevres and under the decision and cover of the Allies, the Greek army landed in Smyrna on May 15, 1919. Starting from Smyrna, it invaded the whole Aegean region. It recruited all Ottoman Greeks living in the territory. Some of the Muslim civilians left their houses and villages and took refuge in other regions of Anatolia which weren’t invaded. Armed local resistance groups began to emerge within the Aegean region. The militia forces started a kind of a guerrilla war. The national forces organized under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal announced that they do not acknowledge the Treaty of Sevres which prescribed the dividing up of Turkey and decided to resist.

So the Greco-Turkish War began and lasted until September 1922. The defeated Greek army left Anatolia while burning the villages and capturing the leading people of the region during their retreat.

Being afraid that the Turks might persecute them, the Greek Orthodox civilians went after the army and crowded together in port cities like Smyrna and Istanbul. They took refuge in the islands and in the opposite shore by the ships they could find. About 800.000 people left the country between September 9, 1922 and October 11, 1922, when the Armistice of Mudanya was signed. After the Greek Army evacuated Eastern Thrace due to the provisions of the Armistice of Mudanya, about 200.000 Greek Orthodox civilians migrated from Eastern Thrace to Greece. The Greek Orthodox refugees coming from Turkey caused the population of Greece to increase by one fifth.

The “Asia Minor” adventure of the Greek Army ended up in a huge disaster. This defeat caused demoralization and internal disorder. It has left deep imprints in the social memory as the “Asia Minor Disaster”.

When the Peace Conference started in the city of Laussanne, Switzerland, in November 22, 1922, all cities of Greece were in miserable conditions. The problems of health, food and shelter of the refugees needed urgent solutions. Furthermore, both states had war prisoners. The Greek Army had taken away the leading people among the civilians as it left Anatolia. And Turkey had the Greek Orthodox civilians who were kept in the interior regions of Anatolia.

The primary issue of the conference was the exchange of prisoners and the subject of refugees. In the session dated December 1st, 1922, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen who was assigned by the League of Nations to deal with the problems of refugees gave a presentation. Dr. Nansen stated that “he was sent to Istanbul in the beginning of October by the Parliament of League of Nations in order to deal with the conditions of hundred of thousands of refugees and to support them financially; that he received a call from the Istanbul ambassadors of four great states asking for him to try to open up a space of negotiation between the Turkish and Greek governments, with the aim of making an agreement to assure the population exchange of minorities; that they mentioned their opinion that it is necessary to implement such a population exchange immediately without waiting for a definitive treaty of peace; that he thereupon received the consent of the Greek government and achieved progress with the Turkish government” and in continuation, he expressed that “if a work was going to be done, it had to be done immediately and put into implementation as soon as possible.”

After the issue of population exchange was discussed in detail by a subcommission, it was decided upon a forced population exchange between the settled Muslims in Greece and the settled Greek Orthodox in Turkey. On January 30, 1923, the “Convention and Protocol Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations” was signed by the Government of Greece and the Grand National Assembly Government of Turkey.

The population exchange was beneficial for both sides. Through the exchange, the two countries were both getting rid of their minorities and gained the fresh labour power to cultivate the lands that were and to be deserted.



With the first article of this convention it was decided that “the compulsory population exchange of Greek Orthodox with Turkish identity settled in Turkish lands and of Muslims with Greek identity settled in Greek lands will be proceeded starting from May 1, 1923.” The second article of the convention left out the Greeks that were settled in Istanbul and the Muslims settled in Western Thrace.

After the Convention of Population Exchange had been signed, the number of Orthodox Greeks who migrated to Greece as per article 1 was about 190.000, and the number of Muslims who came from Greece to Turkey was about 490.000.

With the third article of the convention it was decided that “the Greeks and Muslims who have left the lands which are to be migrated mutually by the Greek and Turkish populations after October 18, 1912, are to be considered within the scope of the population exchange that is envisaged by the first article.” October 18, 1922, is the date when Greece joined the Balkan War against the Ottoman State. The third article of the convention included the Muslims who left Greece after the Balkan War and the Greeks who left Turkey after the Balkan War and the War of Independence. The issue of refugees was thus solved with this article.

Being “in the scope of population Exchange” means that the related governments undertake the obligation to give the migrants a certain amount of property equivalent to the immovable possessions they left behind. Unfortunately, both the ones who went and the ones who came were victimized in this regard. A huge majority of people could not receive the equivalent of what they had left behind. The migrants in both countries suffered hardships of adaptation due to the facts that although they belonged to the same religion, they came from a different culture; that some of them could not speak the language of the country they newly settled in; and also they suffered due to reasons such as climate conditions or the change in their social and economic positions.

The drama experienced by Greek Orthodox migrants was studied by historians, social scientists, art historians, architects, writers, painters, sculptors and musicologists, both in and out of Greece, and innumerable works have been produced in this respect. In Greece, institutes doing research on the subject were opened, museums where objects and documents of the period are exhibited were founded, and monuments were built. Whereas in Turkey, only e few historians and social scientists were interested in the subject of population exchange until recently.