Migrations | Migrations within the Ottoman Empire | Refugee victims of the break-up of the Ottoman Empire

In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire increasingly became a land of mass migration following a series of devastating wars.

The 19th century witnessed the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Its constantly redrawn borders ended up dividing former territories in Serbia, Montenegro and Albania in the Balkans, the Crimea on the Russian border and the Kurdish zones on the Ukrainian border and elsewhere, causing communities and even villages to be split and dispersed. Millions of refugees were displaced, and 2 million Muslim refugees from the Russian Empire and Eastern Europe settled in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in Anatolia. Cities such as Aleppo, Izmir, Alexandria, Cairo and Damascus began to grow dramatically as a result, in some cases doubling their population. After World War I, the creation of the modern Republic of Turkey resulted in movements of millions of people as large-scale population exchanges took place on either side of the new international borders.

Working NumberNameHolding MuseumDateMaterialsCurator Justification
TR2 115Balkan immigrants village at SivrihisarIstanbul University, Nadir Eserler Kütüphanesi (Rare Books Library)19th centuryPhotographA series of crises redrew the map of the Balkans under Ottoman control in the 19th century. The arbitrary division of the area and the power games played took no account of populations or nationalities.

RS 007Fugitives Of HerzegovinaThe National Museum1889Oil on canvasThis realistic and heart-wrenching painting charts the tribulations and agony of refugees on the roads of Herzegovina, fleeing the Turco–Serbian war (1875–78).

MC 042Gjorgij PulevskiMuseum of Macedonia1880sPaperGjorgji Pulevski was the founder of the Macedonian Literary Society established in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1888. It was one of the independent associations established by Macedonian immigrants in the Balkans, aimed at making a contribution to the awakening of the Macedonian national spirit.

MC 033Constitution of the Slav-Macedonian Scientific and Literary Society in Saint PetersburgUniversity of St. Cyril and Methodius - Publisher16th December 1903The Slav-Macedonian Scientific and Literary Society, also known as the St Petersburg Colony, played an important role in the national awakening of Macedonians and bringing forth the issue of the independence of Macedonia in the international community.

JO 085SamovarJordan Folklore Museum, Department of Antiquities1899Polished brassAway from the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire had to face continuing conflict with its northern neighbour Russia. In its wake, whole Circassian and Chechen villages chose voluntary exile in Ottoman lands, most notably Syria, the Levant and areas that are today part of modern Jordan. This samovar symbolises their physical and cultural presence.

JO 086Drinking cupJordan Folklore Museum, Department of Antiquities1896Polished brassAway from the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire had to face continuing conflict with its northern neighbour Russia. In its wake, whole Circassian and Chechen villages chose voluntary exile in Ottoman lands, most notably Syria, the Levant and areas that are today part of modern Jordan. This cup symbolises their physical and cultural presence.

FR 038Balkans, exiled civilians on the move National Library of France 1912The first Balkan War (1912–13) pitted Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece against the Ottoman Empire. The violence of the battles resulted in the significant movement and permanent dislocation of people, including Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks and Turks.

GR 021The arrival of the refugeesBenaki Museum1922PhotographThe Treaty of Lausanne, signed on 24 July 1923, ended the bloody war the Ottoman Empire had been fighting against Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece and the Balkan states in the wake of World War I. As a result of this treaty, 2 million people (around 1.5 million Anatolians and 500,000 Greek Muslims) became refugees.

GR 022The arrival of the refugeesBenaki Museum1922PhotographThe Treaty of Lausanne, signed on 24 July 1923, ended the bloody war the Ottoman Empire had been fighting against Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece and the Balkan states in the wake of World War I. As a result of this treaty, 2 million people (around 1.5 million Anatolians and 500,000 Greek Muslims) became refugees.

TR2 077Migration preparations from Lemnos island to TurkeyPopulation Exchange Museum (The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants)1924PhotographAs a result of the peace treaty signed by the Turkish and Greek governments in Lausanne in July 1923, mandatory exchanges of populations based on their religious beliefs were undertaken. Muslim Greeks of Turkish descent left for Anatolia while Christian Anatolians of Greek descent headed for the Greek mainland and islands.

TR2 078Migration preparations of Muslim families to TurkeyPopulation Exchange Museum (The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants)1924PhotographMuslim families were forced to emigrate from Greece to Turkey as a result of the Treaty of Lausanne, July 1923. According to official records, around 200,000 Orthodox Greeks left Anatolia, while around 400,000 Muslim Turks left Greece. The overall numbers of refugees and migrants are estimated to be much larger.

TR2 079Refugees' documents for refuge house after the population exchangePopulation Exchange Museum (The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants)1923–1924DocumentThe 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. This document relates to accommodation for the Greek Papoukidis family following their move.

TR2 076Migration preparations from Lemnos island to TurkeyPopulation Exchange Museum (The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants)1924PhotographThis photograph captures the preparations of Muslims settled on the Greek island of Lemnos and obliged to leave for Turkey in the wake of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.

TR2 081Emigrant familyPopulation Exchange Museum (The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants)1925PhotographThis photograph shows members of a Turkish Muslim family forced to leave their home on the Greek island of Crete for Turkey in 1925.