Friday 22 September 2017 Last Update: 06:44 PM

The End of the Muslim Land and Cataclysm

Published: 08-26-2017



After the wars ended, Muslim communities in an area as large as all of western Europe [1] had been diminished or destroyed. The great Turkish communities of the Balkans had shrunk to a fraction of their former numbers. In the Caucasus, Circassians, Laz, Abhazians, Turks, and many from smaller Muslim groups had been forced out. Anatolia, the one region where the Turks had triumphed, was completely changed, its Christian minorities gone, western and eastern Anatolia in near ruins. One of history’s great tragedies had been acted out.




As might be expected, but is seldom acknowledged in textbooks, the deaths and migration of millions of Muslims greatly affected the political, economic, and social systems of the Ottoman Empire and its successors. The main effects are obvious. The ethnic and religious homogeneity of regions from Serbia to the Caucasus was a result of the expulsion of Muslims. The size and power of Russia (later the U.S.S.R.) were also directly related to Russian expansion at the expense of Muslims in southern Russia, the Crimea, and the Caucasus. However, other effects, not quite so obvious, may need clarification. Among them are the effects of the Turkish national disaster on the policies of the Ottoman and Turkish Republican governments and on the makeup of the Turkish population.




The Eastern Question has been a part of European diplomatic history for generations. Presented in calm and scholarly prose and accompanied by maps showing progressive loss of Ottoman territory, numerous volumes have detailed the wars and diplomatic machinations that resulted in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. The human losses that accompanied the resolution of the Eastern Question are unmentioned. But for the Turks and other Muslims, the Eastern Question was more than a loss of territory, more than damage to the imperial prestige of the “Sick Man of Europe”; it represented massive loss of human lives, Judged by the proportion of deaths and refugees to the total population, no other European country had suffered such a loss since the Thirty Years’ War.


Prof. Justin McCarthy

Historians may have ignored the effects of demographic events on political decisions, but governments of the time could not. When the Ottomans battled the revolutionaries in Greece, they were attempting to avenge the murder of thousands of their Turkish compatriots and forestall a similar fate overtaking the other Turks of Europe, not simply trying to prop up a dying empire. After 1878, the danger to the Turks and other Muslims of Europe was brought home to the Ottomans by the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees at their door. Therefore, when the Ottomans attempted to hold Macedonia or eastern Anatolia, they were protecting their people from what they could only expect to be exile and slaughter. It was not merely a political problem of the sort that might worry any other country. When France lost Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, it did not expect that the French in those provinces would be massacred and expelled. Austria did not expect such a fate would overcome the Germans of the Tyrol after Italian occupation. Yet that was precisely what the Turks could expect of the conquest of their territories. The effect of such rational expectations on Ottoman policy has seldom been considered or analyzed. Indeed, the Ottoman defense of territory is often made to appear as the act of a declining empire trying illegitimately to hold on to its lands, despite the wishes of the Christian inhabitants and in the face of inevitable defeat. The impression is of an empire either cruel or stupid, not of an empire trying vainly to defend the lives of its people. Viewing late Ottoman history solely as a noble defense of Ottoman subjects would be an indefensible obfuscation of the many other factors that affected Ottoman political decisions. Ignoring the empire’s attempted defense of its people is equally indefensible.


The best example of historical obfuscation may be the traditional treatment that World War I in the Ottoman East has received in contemporary histories. Most histories only mention the Ottoman deportation of Armenians. Devoid of its historical context, the Ottoman decision to deport the Armenians appears to have been irrational, motivated primarily by hatred of a minority. In fact, from the history of events in the Balkans and the Caucasus, the Ottomans knew what to expect from nationalist revolution and Russian invasion of eastern Anatolia. In Bulgaria, Greece, and Macedonia, the same processes had led to the slaughter of Turks. Could the Ottomans expect any difference in Anatolia? For 100 years, the Russians had expanded by pushing out Muslims. They had forced out the Crimean Tatars and the Circassians. In the southern Caucasus, they had replaced Turks with Armenians. In 1915, the Russians were poised to advance once again. Armenian revolutionary groups had already begun their rebellion all over eastern Anatolia, killing Muslim villagers and even seizing the city of Van. What fate could the Muslims of the east expect when the Russians invaded? The same fate that befell the Turks of Bulgaria or Macedonia.


The Ottoman government could not ignore the lessons of Ottoman history. In its historical context, the deportation of Ottoman Armenians is logical. This is not to pass moral judgment on deportations—the actions of all groups in the World War I period were so filled with inhumanity that no group should cast the first stone. However, if one examines the history of forced migration and mortality that Turks and other Muslims underwent, one finds an explanation for the Armenian deportations as part of a historical process. That is in every way preferable to theories that explain historical events simply as a series of irrational actions.



The migrations of the nineteenth century greatly increased the number of Muslims in the Ottoman Empire. Because it is presently impossible to estimate accurately the population of much of Ottoman Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century, only eastern Thrace, Istanbul, and Anatolia can be used for purposes of comparison. In that area, approximately within the boundaries of modern Turkey, the Muslim percentage of the population increased through migration from roughly 70 percent to 80 percent of the total from 1800 to 1912, immediately before the Balkan Wars. The Armenian and Greek population, even though it greatly increased in size from natural increase, fell from 21 percent to 17 percent of the total. The in-migration of more than 400,000 Turks during and after the Balkan Wars further increased the Muslim majority, but these population changes, which took place in 1912-13, were dwarfed by the changes during and immediately after World War I, which resulted in a demographically Muslim and Turkish republic. After the wars, the new Turkish Republic was a nation greatly affected by the in-migration of the past hundred years. Most histories recognize the great effect that out-migration of Christian minorities had on Turkey, but do not discuss the effect of the millions of Muslim immigrants and their descendants. There is no way to trace exactly the demographic impact of Muslim refugees on the population of Turkey. However, one can make a rough model of the place of the refugees and their descendants in the population of the Republic. If the refugees went through the same demographic conditions as the rest of the Muslim population of Anatolia and Thrace, they and their descendants would have been close to three million by 1923, or nearly one-fifth of the total Muslim population of Turkey. The refugees settled primarily in western Anatolia, Istanbul, eastern Thrace, and parts of northeastern and southern Anatolia. The descendants of the refugees would have made up almost one-third of the population of those “target” areas.[2]


After the defeat of the Greeks in Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his fellow Turkish Nationalists set upon the radical restructuring of the Ottoman government, economy, and society and the creation of the Turkish Republic. One of the social and political bases of the new republic was the disastrous history of the past 100 years, particularly the losses of the 1912-22 wars. The effects of the great Muslim and Turkish losses continued in the postwar years, affecting both foreign and domestic policy in the new republic of Turkey.

The foreign policy of the Turkish Republic was one of pacific neutrality. Even in the1930s, when nationalism and irredentism took on renewed strength throughout much of Europe, Turkey remained officially content with the territories that remained in Anatolia and eastern Thrace. To understand Turkish foreign policy one must consider Turkey as a land of recent refugee in-migration and massive mortality. Atatürk and his followers could never afford to forget that a large portion of the Turks had been forced out of the Balkans. Nor could they ignore the hatred created by the Greek invasion of Anatolia. Indeed, it would have been easy to fan the flames of irredentism and heed cries of “On to Salonica” in the period after the Anatolian War. To do so would have meant the survival of the old ideal of a military state. It may, or may not, have resulted in the expansion of Turkey, but it would surely have meant an outward-looking, expansionist state, not the inward-looking, reformist state envisioned by Atatürk. By denying any expression of irredentism, Atatürk turned the energy of citizenry and government to reform. In other words, the history of refugee migration and mortality forced the Turkish government into a quiescent foreign policy. Any other policy would have meant disaster for much-needed reform of the economy and society. This is no way diminishes the wisdom of the leaders who chose Turkish foreign policy. Lesser men would have chosen “glory” over the hard task of remaking society.

Can anyone believe that radical reforms of the type initiated by Atatürk would have been successful in the nineteenth century? Atatürk altered language, the place of religion, the form of government, education, clothing, even the self-identification of the people (from “Muslim” to “Turk”). No other Middle Eastern leader so succeeded in radical reform, though others tried. Would a people firmly embedded in the “old ways” and convinced of the righteousness of their conservative life-styles have accepted such reforms? Almost surely not. But the Turks of 1923 were not such a people. They had seen, in the most awful and impressive fashion, that the old ways did not work. Almost one-fourth of their fellow countrymen were dead. Hundreds of thousands who had depended on the sultan were displaced, living a precarious existence in a new land. A leader of exceptional force and vision was needed to guide reform, but their own history must have convinced the Turks themselves that reform was needed.



Statistics are inadequate indicators of horrifying loss. ‘I’hey can but outline the enormity of human suffering. Numbers of dead enumerated in the millions stupefy one’s senses. Strangely enough, considering the details of one person’s death affects us emotionally more than the knowledge that millions died. Nevertheless, the statistics must be seen to gauge the scope of Muslim losses.


The numbers in Table 30 are low estimates of Muslim mortality. Many Muslim dead were never recorded or even estimated. Moreover, in calculating the figures in the table, low estimates have always been chosen. Had high estimates been taken, the final figures of both mortality and migration would have increased by millions. (For example, Kemal Karpat has estimated that 2 million Caucasian Muslims were driven out, of whom 1.5 million survived.) [3] Deaths of Muslim soldiers and deaths of civilians who were not in war zones (from war-caused famine, disease, etc.) have not been included, even though they can justifiably be called the results of the same factors that killed those recorded in the table. (For example, Muslim population losses in Anatolia from 1914 to 1922 were actually almost three million; only 2.4 million are listed in the table because central and northern areas of Anatolia that were not in the war zone have been excluded.) With the exception of the figures for the period from 1914 to 1922, most of the Turkish soldiers who died in the wars are also not included. Soldiers from Anatolia, in particular, fought in all the Ottoman-Russian wars and died in great numbers.


If estimates for the “unknowns” are factored in, approximately five and one-half million Muslim dead are the result. More than five million4 refugees had been driven from their homes, many ultimately to be figured among the dead.

TABLE 30. MORTALITY AND MIGRATION OF MUSLIMS. Greek Revolution —Deaths: 25,000* —Refugees: 10,000*; Caucasian Wars, 1827—29—Deaths: unknown —Refugees: 26,000; Crimean Expulsion —Deaths: 75,000  —Refugees: 300,000; Caucasian Expulsion —Deaths: 400,000* —Refugees: 1,200,000; Bulgaria, 1877-78 —Deaths: 260,000 —Refugees: 515,000; Eastern War, 1877-78 —Deaths: unknown —Refugees: 70,000; Balkan Wars —Deaths: 1,450,000 —Refugees: 410,000;  Caucasus, 1905 —Deaths: unknown —Refugees: —; E. Anatolia, 1914-21 —Deaths: 1,190,000 —Refugees: 900,000; Caucasus, 1914-21 —Deaths: 410,000  —Refugees: 270,000; W. Anatolia, 1914-22 —Deaths: 1,250,000 —Refugees: 480,000~ ; 1,200,000 (internal refugees) TOTALS —Deaths: 5,060,000  —Refugees: 5,381,000; * Rough estimates. ~ Greco-Turkish Population Exchange. NOTE:	Most military mortality and some civilian mortality not included.

When the analyses are completed, the numbers of refugees and the dead tallied, and the blame apportioned, what remains is grief for all those who died, unwilling actors in the tragedy. The quantification of the demographer and the categorizing of the historian :an too easily relegate the horror to abstract ideas. Concepts such is “imperialism” and “nationalism” provide necessary and valuable explanations of historical phenomena, hut they are not sufficient into themselves. Although sympathy and empathy are seldom called upon in history books, they are necessary if one is to comprehend Muslim losses in the Balkans, the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Anatolia. One must try to comprehend the deaths of more than five million individual human beings and the destruction of the ordinary lives of millions of other individuals, millions of stories of individual horror. The task is impossible. Instead we are forced to analyze statistics and consider mass movements of peoples, analyses by nature removed from the suffering that make up the data.

The true face of these Muslims was only understood by those comtemporaries who saw the dead and the dying, such as the railway official in Ottoman Bulgaria in 1878 who found one small Turkish girl alive among the frozen bodies of 400 refugees, some of whom must have been her family. The fate of these Muslims was the fate of her family, driven from their homes to die. It was also the fate of the small girl, rescued by strangers. The descendants of this girl as well as of all the others who survived form much of the citizenry of the modern Turkish Republic.


1. Counting as “Western Europe”: France, Spain, Portugal, Germany. and Italy—not the British Isles.

2. These are extremely rough estimates, but can be taken to be generally true. To arrive at the totals, the refugees and their descendants were assumed to have kept a constant population until 1878, then to have increased at a rate of .013 per year until 1922. Twenty percent was subtracted for deaths in the period 1912-22. These rates were approximately true for the Muslim population of the “target” areas of in-migration. No allowance was made for intermarriage of refugees and for the original population. The actual proportion of refugee descendants was obviously a greater number than indicated here, and much more than one-fifth of the Muslim population of Turkey had at least one refugee ancestor, but the increase in the total population would have been unaffected; i.e., if the refugees had not come, the original inhabitants would have married others and had children. (The availability of n extra persons meant that n times the fertility rate extra children were born.)

3. Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Population, 1830-1914: Social and Demograph Characteristics, Madison, Wisconsin, 1985, p. 69.

4. The refugees in the table add up to slightly less than five million, but many are surviving refugees, not the greater number who set out; internal refugees, those within the Ottoman Empire, are often not included.

Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922.

By Justin McCarthy.

Princeton, N.J.: Darwin, 1995

The Cataclysm


IMPERIALISM AND NATIONALISM DESTROYED THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE. THIS WAS NOT SIMPLY A CHANGE IN POLITICAL BOUNDARIES OR THE CREATION OF new states from an old empire. The destruction of the Ottoman Empire left millions dead and millions more exiled from their homes. For the people of the Ottoman Empire, especially the Turks and other Muslims, the combination of imperialism and nationalism was one of the worst disasters in human history.

Muslims had lived in the Balkans since the first Ottoman conquests in the fourteenth century. They had lived in the regions south of the Caucasus Mountains [1] three centuries more. By no means were all the Muslims only descendants of the Turks who had first come to the region in the eleventh century. Many of the Muslims of both the Southern Caucasus and the Balkans were the descendants of those who had converted to Islam and had become Turks, as well as the descendants of the original Turks. Some of the Muslim peoples had lived in their homelands for more than 1,000 years. Others had been there as long as history recorded.

To Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian, and Armenian nationalists the Muslims would never belong. Part of the reason they opposed the Muslims was religious: For the nationalists, only their own people, defined as those belonging to their religion and speaking their language, had a place in their nation. Part of the reason they opposed the Muslims was purely practical; they felt that Muslims who remained in the new nationalist states would never be loyal citizens. Their allegiance of the Muslims, it was assumed, would always be to the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the Muslims had much good land and other property that could be expropriated. To the nationalists, the new states would have no place for Muslims. The Turks and other Muslims would have to go.

The table includes only the largest incidents of mortality and forced migration. Many smaller expulsions, such as that of the Muslims of Central Greece or Serbia, are not included.


The expulsions of the Muslims of the Balkans followed a set procedure. At first, many were killed in what is called “exemplary violence:’ Those whose villages had not yet been reached by the Russian invaders or Balkan nationalists saw what they could expect, so they fled, taking only what they could carry. Once on the road they became prey to starvation and disease. Columns of refugees were attacked by their enemies.


Those who survived were never allowed to return to their homes. The same history was repeated in Greece, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, and elsewhere. In Southern and Central Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro, all the Muslims were expelled or died. In Bulgaria, less than half the Muslim community remained. Bosnia fared better, because it was taken by the Austrians, who were more humane. But Bosnia would suffer later when Serbian nationalists attempted once again to use the old tactics.


The Caucasian Muslims, the Circassians and Abhazians, lived on or near the Black Sea Coast. They died in great number because the Russians wanted their land. (It must also be said that the Circassians had for centuries been involved in guerilla wars with the Russians and Ukrainians and in banditry.) The methods used by the Russians to dislodge the Caucasian Muslims are too gruesome to be described here. Those interested could do no better than to read Tolstoy, who saw the carnage, reported it, and became a pacifist himself. The Eastern Black Sea Region that had been the home of the Abhazians and Circassians was denuded of those Muslims by the Russians. After the Russians had murdered or expelled most of the Muslim population the land was left almost empty, waiting for settlement by Russians and their allies.


The migration of millions of Muslims had a negative effect on the security and the economy of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans felt that they were bound by religion and common humanity to take in the refugees. If they had not, those who were exiled would surely have died. As an example, the Russians expelled the Circassians and Abhazians of the Caucasus by forcing them from their villages to the Black Sea Coast. They were left there under the guard of the Russian Army, with little food and water. The Ottomans chartered every boat they could find to bring them to safety. They provided whatever food and medicine they could afford and gave land to the refugees. Where did the money for the rescue missions come from? It was taken from government funds that were sorely needed to develop a poor empire. It was also taken from funds that were needed by the military to defend against those same Russians, which must have been part of the Russian plan.


The Russians were also ultimately responsible for conflict between the Muslims and Armenians of the Southern Caucasus (today’s Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) and Eastern Anatolia.[2] Until Russian armies arrived in the Southern Caucasus in the 1790s, Muslims and Armenians had lived together in the Southern Caucasus and Anatolia for 700 years. The lives of neither group were completely happy. Nevertheless, one fact indicates that the Christian Armenians could not have been badly oppressed — they were still there 700


[1] This region is sometimes called the southern Caucasus. The Russians called it Trans-Caucasia, because it was across (trans) the Caucasus Mountains from Russia.


[2] Anatolia is the part of today’s Turkey that lies in Asia. The small portion of Turkey that lies in Europe is Eastern Thrace.


years later. The Turks and other Muslims had political and military control of the region. They were the majority of the population. If they had wished to eradicate the Armenians or force their conversion to Islam, they would have been able do so easily in 700 years.

Although it is seldom reported accurately, the conflict between Armenians and Muslims began not in the Ottoman Empire but in areas of Russian conquest south of the Caucasus Mountains. The Russians needed a local population upon whom they could depend. Although their real preference would been to rule themselves, the Armenians were a minority who could never hope that the Muslim majority would let them rule. Given no other choice, many Armenians preferred Christian rulers, the Russians, to Muslim rulers. In addition, and perhaps more of an incentive, the Russians gave free land to Armenians and sometimes remitted Armenians’ taxes.

When the Russians invaded what is now Azerbaijan in the early 1800s they enlisted Armenians in their cause. In wars Russia fought against the Ottomans and Persians from 1827 were expelled from their lands in what today is Armenia, which then had a Turkish majority, and Armenians were brought in and given the old Muslim lands. The Russians felt the Christian Armenians would be reliable subjects of the tsar, something the Turks never would be.

The lines of battle were drawn. As the years went on and the wars became more deadly, Armenians increasingly felt they had to take the side of The Russians. Muslims knew they had to take the side of their government, the Ottomans. Both sides feared the other side would kill them if war broke out. Of such is built intercommunal war without quarter. The conflict was to last more than 100 years. It was surely not desired by the majority of either the Muslims or the Armenians, hut imperialism and nationalism drew all into the catastrophe that followed.

In Anatolia, Armenian nationalists attempted to create an Armenian state during the last quarter of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, a task made difficult by the fact that the land claimed by the Armenian nationalists was three-fourths Muslim in population. They were opposed by local Muslims and the Ottoman state. Tens of thousands died, and the division between the two communities grew. The conflict came to a head during World War I, when both communities suffered terrible losses.

World War I began in Eastern Anatolia with grave Ottoman losses to the Russian Army. The losses were exacerbated by Ottoman Armenians who took the side of the Russians and carried on a guerilla war behind rebels attempted to seize major Ottoman cities, cut communications lines, assassinated officials, and forced the Ottomans to withdraw whole divisions of troops from the front to fight the internal enemy. The Armenian rebels were particularly successful in the City of Van, the largest city of southeastern Anatolia. They seized Van from the Ottomans and held it until the Russians arrived. The Ottomans, fearful of continued rebellion, deported Armenians from Anatolia to Syria and Iraq, away from the Russian invaders. (It is seldom reported that the large majority of those deported survived. Indeed a much larger proportion survived than did those Muslims and Armenians who were forced to live on a battlefield.) World War I was not only fought by armies in Eastern Anatolia. It was a war of peoples. When the Armenians seized Van they killed every Muslim who could not escape. Those Muslims were mainly Kurds. The Kurds in the countryside retaliated by killing every Armenian they could find, just as Armenian bands killed all the Muslims they could. At the end of the war, retreating Armenians, who had finally lost to the Turks, killed all the Turks they could find on their line of retreat and filled the streets of the cities of northeastern Anatolia with corpses. In turn, the Turkish peasants who found Armenians killed them.


The Armenians of Anatolia, most of whom lived in war zones, lost 40% of their population. The Muslims in the war-torn provinces of the East lost almost exactly the same proportion of their population, 40%. Both Muslims and Armenians in the war zone died from war between the Ottomans and Russians, from starvation and disease, and by killing each other.


Armenian losses in World War I are often cited, but Muslim losses are seldom mentioned outside of Turkey. [3] The horrible word genocide is often used against the Turks, even though no one has ever shown any real Ottoman order to deliberately eradicate Armenians. Claims against the Turks were believed in America because of prejudice against non-Christians, but mainly because the other side’s story was never told. Even today, few know of the equal suffering of the Muslims in that terrible war. When only the deaths on one side in a war are known a mutual slaughter appears to be a genocide. It is far better to study and pity the inhumanity of those times than to lay blame on one side or the other.


Also largely unmentioned in America are the Turkish losses in the Turkish Independence War. In direct violation of the armistice that ended World War I, the victorious Allies granted Southwestern Anatolia to Greece in 1919. Western Anatolia was also more than three-fourths Muslim, almost all of them Turks. The Greeks invaded, landing in Izmir on May 14, 1919, supported by the British navy. As they advanced, the Greek forces put into effect the same “ethnic cleansing” that had been perfected during the Balkan Wars. But this time the Turks were able to fight back and win. By war’s end, 313,000 Greeks and 1,246,000 Turks (including a small number of other Muslims) in the war zones were dead. By treaty, the remaining Greeks in Turkey (excepting those in IsTurks in Greece (excluding those in Western Thrace) were exchanged.


The sufferings of the Muslim populations of the Balkans, Anatolia, Turks and others, were among the most horrific in history. Yet they are little known in North America or Europe. Sufferings of the Greek and Armenian populations in the same periods are well publicized, but Muslim suffering is largely ignored. One must ask why this is so. The only conclusion is that these people were not considered to be important, either by those who wrote in Europe at the time or by those of our own day. There are lessons to be learned from this — not only a lesson of the horrors caused by imperialism and nationalism, but a lesson of our own prejudices, as well.


[3] The issue of what transpired between the Armenians and Muslims during World War I is far too complicated and contentious to be considered at length here. Readers who are interested in the subject might wish to consult Richard Hovannisian’s Armenia on the Road to Independence (Berkeley, 1967) and Justin McCarthy’s Death and Exile (Princeton, 1995). The two books will give very different interpretations.

Who Are the Turks?


"A curriculum guide aimed at understanding the state of Turkey — its history, its evolution, its culture and its literature."


Published by The American Forum for Global Education, this book was to be made available on a wide scale basis, but budgetary limitations allowed for the publication of only a few thousand copies. Originally released in 1992, and since revised. The book may be downloaded in its entirety (45 mbs) at