Ottoman Anatolia
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Demographic History of Anatolia (1071-1918)

Cities in Ottoman Anatolia

The Seljuks originally were warlike pastoral nomads; they, and their Ottoman descendants, conquered Anatolia and settled in the countryside. They found a network of historic cities, which were, at the beginning, Byzantinian in character, but underwent a transformation. Many of these historic cities became seat of Ottoman governors and garrisons, drawn from the Janissary class - renegades who, as boys, had been taken from their Christian families, then raised in Muslim faith and educated in Turkish language. At the time of conquest, in some cases the most important churches in town were rededicated as mosques; in most cases, mosques were newly built. The cities were centers of (official) Hanefitic Sunna. However, non-Muslim communities continued to exist. The list of Anatolian historic cities includes Izmit, Bursa, Bilecik, Eskisehir, Kütahya, Balikesir, Çanakkale, Manisa, Izmir, Aydin, Mugla, Denizli, Usak, Burdur, Isparta, Antalya, Konya, Adana, Nigde, Nevsehir, Kayseri, Kirsehir, Afyon, Bolu, Ankara, Cankiri, Karabük, Sinop, Çorum, Samsun, Amasya, Toket, Sivas, Maras, Gaziantep, Urfa, Adyaman, Malatya, Elazig, Erzurum, Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, Rize, Artvin, Kars, Erzinçan, Van, Bitlis, Siirt, Mus, Diyarbakr, Mardin.
These cities were surrounded by city walls; the individual city quarters were administrated by city quarter mayors who had to report to the provincial governor. Pre-Tanzimat Ottoman cities lacked the autonomy contemporary European cities had. The urban economy mainly produced for a regional market, as the poor condition of Ottoman roads made export and import difficult. The population of most of these cities, in 1800, did not exceed 20,000 inhabitants.

The Tanzimat Era (1839-1876) initiated significant change, continuing into the Hamidian period and beyond. The improvement of the road system, the construction of railroads exposed hitherto remote regions to world trade, facilitated the export of local produce, the import of foreign products, the emergence of industries, albeit at a modest scale, in cities, urban population growth due to a combination of natural growth, improved health care and migration into the cities. Adana grew from an estimated population of 6,000 in 1815 to c.50,000 in 1910, Konya from an estimated 15,000 in 1815 to c.45,000 in 1910. City walls were no longer maintained and decayed or, in many cases, were torn down to facilitate the expansion of cities. Administrative reforms elevated a number of places to the rank of administrative centers - Mersin, Bingol, Tunceli, Agri.


The Seljuks introduced a new element into Anatolia - pastoral nomadism. The geographic and climatic conditions Anatolia offered were more favourable than those in Central Asia and Iran, allowing the newcomers to expand their herds of livestock and increase in strength. Nomadic groups immigrated into Anatolia from the 11th to the 14th century, adapting a seminomadic lifestyle, engaging partially in agriculture. Pastoral nomadism concentrated on the Anatolian highlands, later extending into the southern coastal areas (Hütteroth p.202f).
Traditionally, groups of pastoral nomads (as Muslims, they were allowed to carry arms) were independent-minded; most of them followed Alawite Shi'ism of Shafiite Sunna, in contrast to official Hanefite Sunna. Peasant villages, aware that they could not defend themselves against attacks by the nomads, often agreed to lodge the nomads during winter time, a relation more beneficial to the nomads than to their hosts. The nomads of eastern Anatolia were more likely to engage in occasional raids than their counterparts in western and central Anatolia.

The 19th century brought fundamental change, as the Ottoman Empire increased their control over the population. Military reforms required the recruitment of soldiers, which naturally was resented by the nomadic population and had to be enforced. Actually, in many cases, the Ottoman authorities enduced the nomadic groups to settle down, often in military campaigns, for instance in the Çukurova in 1865. A Tanzimat law required all land to be registered as the property of individuals, thus terminating the nomadic tradition of clan property. The laws, enforced by state authorities, freed peasants from their obligation toward their nomadic "guests", but were regarded as an infringement on their rights by the latter.


Due to the nature of the Ottoman conquest, in most regions of Anatiolia the pre-Turkish peasant population had been killed or driven off. So, the countryside was largely Turkish, except for Eastern Anatolia, were non-Turkish (Armenian, Kurdish) villages continued to exist. In the 16th century, the peasant population was subject to excessive taxation, causing, in some regions, entire villages to be deserted.
The Tanzimat reforms brought change into the lives of the peasants; they were subject of recruitment; their lands were registered as the property of individuals; as state authority was more manifest than before, they enjoyed greater security, some villages were freed of the obligation to lodge nomads during the winter. The gradual improvement of roads, the construction of railroads ment that some vlllages gained access to distant markets; along the railway lines and main roads, new vlllages emerged. As stated above, the peasant population expanded due to the induced settlement of pastoral nomads.


Following the defeat in the Battle of Kahlenberg in 1683, the Ottoman Empire entered a long period of contraction. The loss of territory brought with it the voluntary emigration of part or all of the Muslim population of these areas, which would resettle elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire. Part of the remaining Muslim population often emigrated into the Ottoman Empire at a later date, in response to government policies or for other reasons.
Anatolian cities (Bursa, Izmir) received part of the Sephardic Jews which fled Spain in 1492. Anatolia received Criman Tatar immigrants after the Crimea was annexed by Russia in 1783, and in subsequent decades. In 1864, fllowing their defeat at the hands of the Russians, most Circassians emigrated into the Ottoman Empire. The loss of Ottoman territory on the Balkans peninsula and in the Aegaean Archipelago caused further waves of immigrants (Greek independence 1830/1832, Bulgarian autonomy 1878, Cretan autonomy 1897, Balkan Wars 1912/1913); the immigrants were often Muslim Greeks, Bulgarians etc. who would later assimilate into the Turkish cmmunity.
The 19th and early 20th centuries were dominated by the ideology of nationalism; the Ottoman Empire, an ethnic caleidoscope, did not recognize nations and was based on religious communities (millets). Most regions within the Ottoman Empire had a heterogeneous population; before Greek independence, Athens had a majority of ethnic Albanians; before 1912 Greeks made up only 4 % of the popltion of Salonica, but Smyrna (= Izmir) had a Greek poplation majority. Anatolia was the home to sizeable ethnic minorities, Muslim Kurds, Christian Armenians and Greeks. Their existence posed a threat to the Ottoman Empire (which since 1908 was taking on the characteristics of a Turkish nation state), as it was challenged both by Greek and Armenian organizations aiming for their area being included in a Greek respectively Armenian nation state, and by foreign powers using the ethnic situation as an excuse to establish protectorates over part of the Ottoman Empire. World War I, therefore, was not only fought at the frontlines, but had another component, widely known as the Armenian Genocide (it should be noted that Turks were not only perpetrators of atrocities, but, in a number of cases, also victims).
The years 1918 to 1923 saw a continuation of fighting; it resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the expulsion of Anatolia's Greek and Armenian population, and another influx of Balkan Muslims.


Pandemics had an effect on the population of Anatolia. The coastal regions were affected more severely than the highland plateau.

Population Growth

For the Ottoman period, population data are problemtic because for some areas we have census data, for others merely estimates. Sometimes, households were counted, in others, persons.
Population figures for Ottoman Anatolia are estimated at c. 6.5 million in 1810, c. 9 million in 1880, c.13.5 million in 1910 (Population Statitics). Until into the 19th century, the population, more or less, stagnated; the changes of the 19th century, Stimulated by the Tanzimat Reforms, triggered a sustained population growth further amplified by the influx of immigrants.

Category : Ethnic Groups in Turkey, from Wikipedia
Article : Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey, from Wikipedia
Article Sultanate of Rum, from Natiomaster
Hikmet Oksüz, Ülkü Köksal, Emigration from Yugoslavia to Turkey (1923-1960), Turkish Review of Balkan Studies 2004 pp.145-176
Hikmet Öksüz, The Reasons for Immigration from Western Thrace to Turkey (1923-1950), in : Turkish Review of Balkan Studies 2004 pp.250-278
Ayhan Kaya, Circassian Diaspora in Turkey : Stereotypes, Prejudices and Ethnic Relations (2005)
N.S. Akdogan, The Roots of Circassian / Chechnyan Identity in Turkey (2008)
Martin van Bruinessen, Kurds, Turks and the Alevi Revival in Turkey (1996)
Country Profiles : Turkey, from Migration Information Source
Antero Leitzinger, The Circassian Genocide (2000)
Languages of Turkey (Asia), from Ethnologue
Turkish Jews - Brief History
Population Registers in Turkey, from Wiki Family Search
History of Immigration from Turkey, from Museum Victoria
DOCUMENTS Historic Population Statistics : Turkey, from Population Statistics by Jan Lahmeyer
REFERENCE Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile. The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922, Princeton, NJ : Darwin Press 1995 [G]
Wolf-Dieter Hütteroth, Wissenschaftliche Länderkunden : Türkei (Country Studies : Turkey), Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1982, in German [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on July 12th 2005, last revised on June 6th 2008

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