We want a numerous population, a satiated population, a happy and affluent population. Against the history that left Anatolia empty, poor, old and ruined, we have a grudge that is growing every day. The energy of creating a numerous, happy and affluent Anatolia is coming from the force of this growing grudge. Today’s Anatolia that we took over from the past government is in its most desolate and neglected position in its history. If we do not at least double the number of this population of fourteen million, whose entire civil capabilities have been unnoticed, whose needs are diminished, and who is almost ignored of civilization, in a rather short period of time, we would jeopardize our survival against the populous and technologically developed nations of the future. Under its perished nature that seems to be desolate, Anatolia is an untouched country that hides all the conditions of a life in heaven. This country is waiting for the Turkish nation to get crowded and numerous. Our target is a technologically developed, satiated, happy and numerous Turkish nation (Aydemir 1932, p. 35).
The founding fathers of the Turkish Republic were troubled by the recently reduced population of the country. The decrease was not only the result of the wars, but also of the towering death rates owing to general lack of health care, and to illnesses such as malaria, syphilis, trachoma, typhoid, and dysentery (Duman 2008, p. 24). Within this context, the founding fathers sought the means of generating a homogeneous sense of national identity in a fragile country that was otherwise ethnically and culturally diverse (İçduygu and Kirişci 2009). Thus, people who were either Muslim Turkish speakers or could easily melt into a Turkish identity (such as Bosnians, Circassians, Pomaks, and Tatars from the Balkans) were given exclusive priority and accepted as immigrants into the country (Kirişci 1996, 2000).Footnote 6 From the foundation of the Republic in 1923 until 1997, more than 1.6 million people migrated to Turkey, settled in the country, and were successfully assimilated.
The demographic conditions that the Republic of Turkey inherited from the Ottoman Empire are known to be the result of the Russian-Ottoman War of 1877–1878 and the subsequent wars, which caused the uprooting of many Muslim migrants from various ethnic backgrounds (Ulukan 2008, p. 47). During the years of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, many immigration flows took place—mainly from the Balkans, the Aegean Islands, Cyprus, Hatay,Footnote 7 the Middle East, and the Soviet Union (Çağaptay 2002; Ulukan 2008). The immigration of the Muslims caused drastic demographic changes in the proportion of non-Muslims within the population: before World War I, while one in every five persons was a non-Muslim within the geography consisting of the territories of the Republic, after the war this ratio had decreased to one in every 40 persons (Keyder 1989, p. 67; Table 5.1).
With such changing demographic conditions, the issues of settling the newcomers as well as homogenizing the new population became important items on the agenda of the founding fathers. Accordingly, the 1926 Law of Settlement—the first significant official text governing voluntary immigration—charged the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the tasks of admitting the immigrants and refugees to the country, and of determining their regions of settlement as well as stating who could not be admitted as an immigrant or refugee (Ulker 2007). Thus, based on Article 2 of the law:
People who do not belong to Turkish culture, who are infected with syphilis, who are subject to leprosy and their families, who are imprisoned because of committing murder except political and military reasons, anarchists, spies, gypsies, or who are exiled outside of the country cannot be admitted.
Thus, this law linked the admission of immigrants and refugees to the condition of belonging to Turkish culture. However, who was to be considered within this category was not specified in the law. Indeed, beside the Muslim-Turk population living outside the borders of the Republic, this category also referred to the non-Turk, but Muslim, ethnic and linguistic groups, especially from the Balkans. Here culture very much refers to being Muslim, which was a deviation from Ziya Gökalp’s idea of Turkish culture being based on religion, language, a common history and values. Thus, with this law, while the conditions of resettlement of Ottoman Muslims were alleviated, non-Muslim Ottoman subjects’ resettlement to the country was outlawed (Çağaptay 2002, p. 225; Ulukan 2008, p. 50). This importance given to religion was in contradiction to the secular foundations of the Republic, a major paradox of the initial years:
While seeming to reject their Ottoman and Islamic heritage, the new regime (Republic) still continued to respect the common historical heritage with those non-Turkish groups [of Bosnians, Albanians, and Macedonians]. Those groups were placed within the Muslim millet
Footnote 8 in the Ottoman Empire, and, it might be argued, there is a reflection of that millet system in the Turkish Republic in its recognition of the groups that previously were parts of the Muslim millet as Turks (İçduygu et al. 1999, pp. 195–196)
As time passed, the 1926 Law of Settlement on population problems proved to be inefficient, and it was decided that a more general settlement law was needed. Thus, the 1934 Law of Settlement came to be the most comprehensive law of its time—not merely regulating only migration or settlement, but really a tool for creating a homogeneous national identity of the ‘new Turk’ (Kirişci 2000, p. 4). The law aimed at increasing the population and production capacity, attaching the refugees and immigrants to the national culture, settling nomadic populations and providing them with land, teaching everybody the Turkish language and their citizenship rights, and thus, creating a nation to protect the unity and security of the state (Babuş 2006, p. 298; Ulukan 2008, p. 51).
According to the 1934 Law of Settlement, only those of Turkish descent and culture would be accepted as immigrants in Turkey. In practice, this excluded non-Muslim Turks (like the Gagauz Turks), but included non-Turkish Muslims (like Pomaks, Tatars, and Bosnians). However, the law did not define who was of Turkish descent and culture, but left the matter to be determined by the Council of Ministers. Looking at Table 5.2, it can easily be observed that the people from the Balkans—that is, from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia—were the largest group who migrated to Turkey.
Thus, immigration from the Balkans comprised an important part of the immigration history of the Republic. Some of these movements were a result of population exchange agreements signed after the War of Independence. For example, the agreement on the 1923 Turkish-Greek population exchange, which was signed in Lausanne, was an important historical document. Nearly 900,000 out of approximately 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks had already left the country following the Greek retreat in the Turkish War of Independence, and the population exchange agreement provided legitimacy for that de facto emigration (Psomiades 1968, p. 120). The agreement set out some further emigration: during the agreement’s implementation, 150,000 Greeks left behind in Anatolia were sent to Greece in return for 360,000 Muslims accepted into Turkey from Greece (Geray 1970, p. 10). The number included both ethnic Turks and the Albanian Muslims from western Greek Macedonia who were classified as Turks at the time of the exchange of populations and were forced to leave their villages for Turkey in 1924 (De Rapper 2000).Footnote 9
There is also an asymmetry that is worth noting regarding the agreement—namely, that while most of the Greek migrations were forced by circumstances, a very large proportion of the Muslims going to Turkey were obliged to do so solely by virtue of the agreement. It not only drastically changed the two countries’ demographic characteristics, but also affected their economic activities. To illustrate, with the emigration of the Greek population—historically known as the entrepreneur class of the Ottoman Empire—the newborn Turkey became deficient in trade and industry capacity; at the same time, it gained in agricultural production capacity as the newcomers brought with them important know-how concerning agriculture.
Another state-regulated—not compulsory, merely regulated—agreement was one signed with Bulgaria. The 1925 Treaty of Amity, together with a settlement contract, set rules for protection of Turkish and Bulgarian minorities in Bulgaria and Turkey, respectively, as well as provisions on citizenship and voluntary resettlement (Değerli 2009). According to the Treaty, Turkish and Bulgarian citizens could freely move and settle in each other’s countries, provided that they had the religion of the country of settlement. From 1923 until 1939, almost 200,000 people emigrated from Bulgaria to Turkey, a number that dropped considerably in the following period (see Table 5.2).
There were also migrations from Romania. The Romanian government’s land confiscation policies, imposed co-habitation with the Vlachs, lack of security for minorities, and heightening economic problems led the ethnic Turks to migrate to Turkey, which had a welcoming immigration strategy at the time. The immigration of Turks from Romania can be analysed in two stages during the early Republican period: (i) the 1923–1933 migrations, which were lesser in scale and could be characterized as immigrations of small groups of voluntary migrants; and (ii) the 1934–1938 migrations, which were larger flows—of a less voluntary nature—who were received as migrants-to-be-settled by the Turkish state (Duman 2008). This latter interwar period was characterized by the emergence of states where authoritarian regimes were introduced in Central Europe, and when anti-Semitism became an important additional factor, increasing Jewish emigration from Romania (Stola 1992). It was also the time when ethnic purification, rather than assimilation or integration of ethnic minorities, was becoming a dominant idea in Romania (Achim 2001). Accordingly,
Romanian Turks were to benefit from ‘a gradual transfer operated by the Turkish government’, a reference to a convention signed by the Romanian and Turkish governments on September 4, 1936 that mentioned the possibility of a voluntary emigration of the Moslem Turkish minority living in Dobrudja. The convention had remained in effect, and by April 15, 1941 70,000 ethnic Turks had already left. (Achim 2001, p. 605)
There were also migration flows of Turks from YugoslaviaFootnote 10 during this early Republican period, which were a result of the economic, political, social, and cultural conditions. The world economic crisis of 1929 and the Agricultural Reform Act of 1931 (along with confiscation of the properties of religious and charitable foundations) affected the Turks as the segment of society that owned the largest agricultural lands and whose income had been dependent on agricultural productivity (Öksüz and Köksal 2004). ‘The negative effects of the land reform and the confiscation of the properties of the religious and charitable foundations can be seen in a complaint made by the Turks and Albanians to the League of the Nations in 1930’ (Öksüz and Köksal 2004, p. 150).
While Turks of Yugoslavia were subjected to political pressures—which made it impossible for them to unite and take action—socially and culturally, they were also devoid of minority rights to vote and for education in their own language. Moreover, there were massacres against the Turks in various parts of YugoslaviaFootnote 11 at the time (Öksüz and Köksal 2004). Thus, based on the official statistics, between 1923 and 1949, some 5894 people within 1449 households emigrated from Yugoslavia to Turkey as permanent immigrants, that is, they were settled by the state, and 111,318 people within 27,030 households came to Turkey as free immigrants, that is, they arrived voluntarily without any state regulation of settlement (Öksüz and Köksal 2004).
It is important to note that in this period, while the importance of religion compared to language was declining in terms of defining the characteristic of these flows, immigration was still considered more in terms of religion than nationality. The Albanian case was illustrative in this sense, as many Albanians migrated to Turkey between 1918 and 1941, during the colonization of Kosovo by Yugoslavia (De Rapper 2000). Even during this incident, the categories of Albanian, Turk, and Muslim were interchangeable. As described by de Rapper (2000):Footnote 12
Especially after 1928, measures were taken to encourage the emigration of Albanians to Albania and to Turkey. An agreement was signed in July 1938 between the Yugoslav and Turkish governments, the latter agreeing to take up to 200,000 Albanians, Turks and Muslims from Kosovo and Macedonia (40,000 families). This agreement however was not ratified by the Turkish Parliament and the funds were never released to implement the movement and settlement of refugees in sparsely populated Anatolia. Between 1929 and 1941, however, Yugoslavia strove to organize the departure of Albanians on the basis of international agreements, and managed to provoke a wave of departures to Albania and Turkey.