Relocation, Resettlement, and Conscription: Refugee Policies during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78

By Fredrick Walter Lorenz
Submitted to Session P5007 (Genocide and the Unmixing of Peoples: the Ottoman Empire and Its Aftermath, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East; Anatolia; Balkans; Ottoman Empire; Turkey;
19th-21st Centuries; Balkan Studies; Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Mediterranean Studies; Ottoman Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
During the Eastern Crisis of 1876-1878, Ottoman authorities witnessed large-scale movements of refugees who fled from the Balkans to Istanbul. War-torn, impoverished, and in need of shelter and supplies these Ottoman refugees sought protection from the violence of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Although the Treaty of San Stefano ended the war and the Treaty of Berlin engendered new Balkan states, these agreements did little to address the refugee crisis in the Ottoman Empire. Much secondary scholarship has effectively covered the stakes involved in the Treaty of Berlin and referred to the demographics of the refugee movements and their resettlement into Ottoman lands. However, little attention has been paid to how Ottoman authorities managed to address the refugee crisis in Istanbul particularly during Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. This paper seeks to shed light on how Ottoman authorities responded to the crisis of overpopulation, poverty, and the anticipation of a severe winter in Istanbul during 1877-78. Through investigating official Ottoman documents from the Prime Ministry State Archives (Ba?bakanl?k Devlet Ar?ivleri), this paper argues that the Ottoman authorities in the General Administrative Commission for Migrants (?dare-i Umumiye-i Muhacirin Komisyonu), the Grand Vizierate, and the Ministry of Finance established policies to decrease the number of incoming refugees to Istanbul and to relocate those who had already settled in the city. Although Ottoman policy-makers attempted to alleviate the refugee crisis in Istanbul by providing services and extending privileged status to refugees, they ultimately resorted to measures of forced conscription and resettlement to remove the refugee presence from the city. As a microhistory, this paper offers a critical look at the changing strategies Ottoman officials adopted to manage the majorĀ refugee crisis of 1877-78. Moreover, it suggests that cities targeted for the resettlement of refugees gained enormous importance in terms of the future goals to restructure the demographics of the Ottoman State.