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Ottoman Population Records and the Census of 1881/82–1893

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2009

Kemal H. Karpat
University of Wisconsin, Madison


Population movements have always played a dynamic role in the transformation of human society throughout history. Indeed, there is not a single phase of history anywhere in the world which has not been related in some way to low or high rates of birth and mortality, to migration and settlement and to their social, cultural, economic, and political effects. The history of the Middle East supplies excellent examples to support this contention. The Muslim calendar begins with an act of migration, that is the hejira of a.d. 622. Migrants going from the countryside to urban centers or fleeing from areas hostile to Islam have always exerted a crucial influence upon the social and political destiny of Muslim countries. The refugees from Spain to North Africa in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the forced migration of Muslims from Russia (the Caucasus and Crimea) in the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, the shift of population in India, Pakistan, and Palestine in the 1940s, to cite just a few examples, have been major factors accounting, at least in part, for the social transformation of the Muslim world in general, and of the Middle East in particular.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1978

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1 There are exceptions to this statement. In addition to O. L. Barkan's works mentioned later, see Cook, M. A., Population Pressure in Rural Anatolia: 1450–1600 (London, 1971);Google ScholarJennings, Ronald J., ‘Urban Population in Anatolia in the Sixteenth Century: A Study of Kayseri, Karaman, Amasya, Trabzon, and Erzurum’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 7, 1 (01 1976), 2157;CrossRefGoogle ScholarHütteroth, Wolf-Dieter and Abdulfattah, Kamal, Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century (Erlanger 1977).Google Scholar A survey of the bibliography on Ottoman population in the nineteenth century is in Akarli, Engin, ‘The Ottoman Population in the Nineteenth Century’, M.A. thesis, University of Wisconsin (Madison, 1970).Google Scholar See also Pinson, Marc, ‘Demographic Warfare: An Aspect of Ottoman and Russian Policy, 1854–1866’, Ph.D. diss. (Harvard, 1970).Google Scholar Source material concerning population figures in the nineteenth century can be found in special statistics published by the Ottoman government in its Yearbooks, Devleti Aliye Salnameleri, or Salname for short, 68 vols., 1847–1918. For further bibliographical information see Karpat, Kemal H., The Gecekondu, Rural Migration and Urbanization (New York, 1976),Google Scholar and idem, ‘Ottoman Immigration Policies and Settlement in Palestine’, Settler Regimes in Africa and the Arab World, Abu-Lughod, I. and Abu-Laban, B., eds. (Wilmette, Ill., 1974), pp. 5772.Google Scholar For a general survey of current population studies, see Sabagh, Georges, ‘The Demography of the Middle East’, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 4, 2 (15 05, 1970), 119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 Nicholas (Nicolas) V. Michoff (Mikhov), Naseleniento na Turtsiia i Bulgarii, prez XVIIIXIX, La Population de Ia Turquie et de Ia Bulgarie alt XVIIIe et au XIXe siècles, 5 vols. (Sofia, 1915, 1924, 1923, 1935, 1968).

3 Eton, W., A Survey of the Turkish Empire (London, 1799).Google Scholar For another effort to show the Armenian Catholics as more numerous than their actual number, see n. 49.

4 Teplov, V., Materialy Dlya Statistikii Bolgarii, Trakii i Makedonii (St. Petersburg, 1877).Google Scholar

5 Britain, Great, House of Cormmons Accounts and Papers, vol. 92 (1877), p. 14.Google Scholar

6 The service duration of the last two categories was seven and eight years respectively when the system was first introduced in 1848. See Shaw, Stanford J. and Shaw, Ezel K., History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. 11 (New York, 1977), p. 100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 These communities often paid less than their number would warrant. The number of non-Muslims once established remained unchanged for long periods for lack of proper registers to follow population changes. For instance, Rev. William Jowett mentions the fact that the population of Mount Athos consisted of about 6,000 people but ‘they pay to the Turks as for three thousands’ (Clogg, Richard, ‘Two Accounts of the Academy of Ayvalek [Kydonies] in 1818–1919’, Revue des etudes sud-est européennes, 10, 4 [1972], 652).Google Scholar

8 The correspondence referred to in this article took place between the Mabeyni Humayun (Secretariat of the Imperial Palace) and the Sadaret, the Premier's office, or Porte. Reports and regulations on population were issued by the Ṣuray-i Devlet, the Council of State, either through its Tanzimat Bureau or its General Council (Ṣuray-i Devlet Umumi Heyeti). The references to correspondence are henceforth shortened as M to S or vice versa, that is, from the Palace to the Prime Minister (Mabeyni Humayun'dan Sadarete), followed by the date of communication, the archival reference, such as Baṣvekālet Arṣvi (BA), and the latter's respective section and number. Although most of the documents used in this study have both the hijri (H) and mali or rumi (R) years (about one or two years difference between them) we shall give only the hijri data followed by the miladi, or solar calendar date (A.D.).

9 Report of Ṣuray-i Devlet, Tanzimat Dairesi, No. 438, 21 Cemaziyulevvel 1248 (21 April 1881), BA, Irade, Ṣuray-i Devlet, 3148.

10 During the reception, Ambassador S. S. Cox, who replaced General Lewis Wallace, the author of Ben Hur, mentioned that the United States had compiled new population statistics which were of great use to his country and suggested that such statistics would be useful also to the Ottoman government. He was told that an actual census (the one under discussion in this article) was being conducted. The sultan asked the ambassador to send him a statistical review found in the American Embassy. Eventually, the ambassador sent with the interpreter of the Embassy two volumes of the review for translation into Turkish. The sultan told the ambassador that he was very interested in such works and pointed out that it was his high hope to compile a complete and systematic statistical record of the entire population in his realm and that he had, issued an order to this effect (M to S, Letter by the sultan's private secretary, Sureyya, of 21 Cemaziyulevvel 1303 (Feb. 25, 1886), BA, Irade, Dahiliye, 77419).

All this is confirmed by the American Ambassador, Samuel S. Cox, who, as the Chairman of the Census Committee, was instrumental in passing the census legislation in the U.S. Congress. In his memoirs he writes: ‘In some meetings which I had with the Sultan, and in reply to his curiosity as to the miraculous growth of our own land in population and resources, I told him that the only way in which he could possibly understand our advancement would be to take the salient points out of our Census reports, and especially the Tenth Census (1880), have them suitably translated, and apply them to his own land. He would thus see what an advertisement a good census would be of the vast resources of his own empire.’

According to Cox the sultan was presented later with census data and concluded that ‘with such data for administrative policies we [Amerícans] could not be other than prosperous’. Cox continues: ‘The Sultan with intelligent grasp, comprehends their [census data] utility, and the need of their application to his own country. Then he reminds me of our conversation about a census for his own country, and said that he had directed his Grand Vizier, Kiamil Pasha, to organize a commission to begin the work. He was anxious as to its costs…. He asked me if I would aid it by my advice, when the commission was formed. To which I responded that, consistent with my duties to my country and health, I would do so, if the President did not object. The law, the instructions to superintendents, enumerators, and blanks for returns, and the modus operandi of special experts, were fully detailed by the printed papers in the envelopes which were in the box. These envelopes he sealed with his own hand, and gave them direction at once. So that probably Turkey may, if peace prevail, have a census of her own’ (Cox, S. S., Diversions of a Diplomat in Turkey [New York, 1887], pp. 37, 44).Google Scholar

11 The Ottoman censuses of population and surveys of the land in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are known from Barkan's, O. L. pioneering works: ‘Tarihi Demografi Araṣtirmalar, ve Osmanli Tarihi’, Tarih Mecmuasi, 10 (1953);Google ScholarEssai sur les données statistiques des registres de recensement dans l'Empire Ottoman au XVe et XVPe siècles’, Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, 1, 1 (08 1957), 921CrossRefGoogle Scholar and ‘Research on the Ottoman Fiscal Surveys’, in Studies in the Economic History of the Middle East, Cook, M. A., ed. (London, 1970), pp. 163171.Google Scholar See also Erder, Leila, ‘The Measurement of Preindustrial Population Changes: The Ottoman Empire from the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Century’, Middle Eastern Studies, 11 (3 10 1975), 284301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 I believe that further research in the Ottoman archives may yield substantial information on population figures, even for the later centuries. The existing records on taxation and the distribution of miri (state) land to cultivators could yield excellent figures on the Ottoman population in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. For instance, the yoklamas, censuses of the timars in 1596, 1606, 1672, 1691, 1694, 1698, and 1715 indicate that the tradition was not abandoned altogether. These surveys show a continuous preoccupation with the size of cultivable lands, at least with those given as fiefs to the sipahis, and with their revenue. See Mutafcieva–Str, V. P.. Dimitrov, Sur l'état du systeme des timars des XVIPe–XVIIIe siècles (Sofia, 1968).Google Scholar

13 Karal, Enver Ziya, Osmanli Imparatorluǧu'nda Ilk Nüfus Sayimi, 1831 (Ankara, 1943).Google Scholar

14 ‘Traduction d'un memorandum de la Sublime-Porte, adressé aux missions étrangères à Constantinople, et relatif au recensement général decrété par Hautesse', S., Le Moniteur Universel, 248 (4 09 1844).Google Scholar

15 Ubicini, A., Lettres sur la Turquie (Paris, 1853).Google ScholarBoré, Eugene, Almanach de l'Empire ottoman pour l'année 1849 et 1850 (Constantinople, 18491850).Google Scholar

16 The census of the nomadic tribes in these two provinces was carried out by army officers belonging to the units stationed in the area (S to M, Letter of 7 Sefer 1268 [2 Dec. 1851] BA, Irade, Dahiliye, 14855). See also Kanitz, F., Donau-Bulgarien und der Balkan, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1875);Google Scholaridem, La Bulgarie danubienne et le Balkan: Etudes de voyages, 1860–1880 (Paris, 1882).

17 It appears from official correspondence that the census of the Muslim population in Cyprus was concluded by 1861, and that a census of the non-Muslim population was ordered in 1862, with the purpose of reforming the tax system. The census of the non- Muslims in Cyprus was carried out by four teams, each consisting of one Muslim and one Christian official plus a secretary. It was expected that the census of the non-Muslims living in villages and towns would take 4–5 months. The Porte debated at length whether the expenses of the census should be covered from the general treasury or from a levy of a tax of one kuruṣ on each Muslim and non-Muslim or deducted from the annual tax collected from Cyprus (S to M, correspondence of 28 Sefer 1279 [25 Aug.1862], BA, Irade, Meclis-i Vala, 21366).

18 This material, under the serial number PC 79/8, is found in the oriental section of the National Library of Bulgaria in Sofia. For further details see Todorov, Nicola(i), ‘The Balkan Town in the Second Half of the 19th Century’, Etudes Balkaniques, 2 (1969), 3150.Google Scholar

19 Ibid., n. 3.

20 Todorov, N., Balkanskiat Grad XV–XIX-vek (Balkan Towns in the XV–XIX Centuries) (Sofia, 1972).Google Scholar An English translation of this book is to be published by University of Washington Press, Seattle.

21 The tezkeres for the Tuna/Danube province were to be printed by Boyacloḡlu Agop at a cost of 1,250,000 kurus. Actually, the printing of various forms associated with the census and population registration provided good financial stimulus for the burgeoning printing business in the Ottoman Empire. See S to M, communication of 9 Rebiulahir 1282 (1 Sept. 1865) BA, Irade, Meclis-i Vala, 24167.

22 The name ceride given originally to some of the land and population registers came later to mean ‘newspaper’. The name ceride-i nüfus (population register) was changed later to nüfus sicilli and nüfus kütüǧü in order to show its role as the source of all population information.

23 Some information on the history of population administration is found in the reports of the Ṣuray-i Devlet, number 438 of 21 Cemaziyulevvel 1298 (21 April 1881) BA, Irade, Ṣuray-I Devlet, 3148; S to M, communication of 7 Sefer 1268 (2 Dec. 1851), BA, Irade, Dahiliye, 14855.

24 Report of the Ṣuray-i Deviet, number 695 of 29 Zilhice 1290 (17 Feb. 1874), BA, Irade, Meclis-i Mahsus, 2086. All these reports concerning the census of 1874 are found in one folio.

25 See report of the Ṣuray-i Deviet, Tahriri Nüfusun Suret-i Icraiyesini Mutzammin Tatimattir (Instructions Concerning the Conduct of Population Census), S to M of I Rebiyulevvel 1291 (18 April 1874), BA, Irade, Meclis-i Mahsus, 2089.

26 Ibid.., art. 2.

27 Ibid., art. 8–10. Boys under the age of three, the sick, and others who had valid excuses could be registered by proxy.

28 See report of the Suray-i Deviet; Tahrir-i Nüfus Için Ittihaz Olunacak Üc Türlü Defterin Suret-i Istimalini Mübeyyin Tarifnamedir (Information [Description] Concerning the Use of the Three Registers To Be Created for Conducting the Population Census), S to M of I Rebiyulevvel 1291 (18 Aug. 1874), BA, Trade, Meclis-i Mahsus, 2089.

29 See report of the Ṣuray-i Deviet, Memaliki Mahsusa-i Ṣahanede Tahrir-i Nüfus Icra Kilinan Mahallerde Istihdam Olunacak Nüfus Nazirlari ye Kaātipleri ile Mukayyiterlinin Suret-i Tertip ye Tayinleri ile Vazifeleri Hakkznda Talimattir (Instructions Concerning the Organizations, Appointment, and Responsibilities of the Population Inspectors, Secretaries, and Registers To Be Appointed in the Localities of the Realm Where Census Has Been Conducted), S to M of I Rebuyulevvel 1291 (18 April 1874) BA, Trade, Meclis-i Mahsus, 2089.

30 See correspondence S to M of 8, 9 Rebiyulahir 1291 (May 25, 26, 1874), BA, Irade, Meclis-i Mahsus, 2089.

31 M to S, order of 15 Recep 1297 (June 23, 1880), BA, Irade, Dahiliye, 65276.

32 S to M, Ṣuray-I Deviet, Tanzimat Dairesi, Communication Number 438 of 21 Cemaziyulevvel 1298 (21 April 1881), BA, Irade, Ṣuray-I Devlet, 3148.

34 The Ottoman government began to compile regular statistics concerning foreign trade beginning in 1294 (1878). The statistics for 1878–1900 are available in their entirety. The statistics for 1900–13 are sporadic. See Osmanli Imparatorluǧunun Ticaret Muvazenese, 1878–1913, No. 123–73, General Directorate of Statistics (Ankara, 1939).

35 I tried to find the names of the individuals who directed the statistical office of the Ottoman Empire. Continuity of directors and their ranks could indicate the degree of professionalism and the importance attached to, and hence, the quality of the statistics. A search through the Salnames of 1310 (1892) to 1334 (1916) with the exception of 1911–1914, when no Salnames were issued, showed that the office of statistics was headed by high-ranking non-Muslim officials and foreigners for about thirteen years out of a total of nineteen for which precise information is available, as shown in the table opposite. It is also interesting to note the effort of the Ottoman officials to disseminate information on statistics. A statistical publication prepared by Mehmet Behiç, showing the demographic economic, financial, and other characteristics of the Ottoman state in 1310 (1894) begins with a general introduction discussing the meaning and importance of statistics. See Sicill-i Nüfus Idare-i Umumiyesi, Yevmiye Kātibi Mehmet Behiç Tarafindan Tenzim Olunan Istatistik Defteri, Istanbul Universitesi Kitapliǧi, Türkçe Yazmalar, 9075.

36 See Sicill-i Nüfus Nizamnamesi of 8 Ṣaban 1298 (5 July 1881), BA, Irade, Ṣuray-i Devlet, 3148. All reports and correspondence concerning the census of 1881/82 are in one folio.

37 See Ṣuray-I Devlet, Umumi Heyeti Mazbatasi, of 8 Ṣaban 1298 (5 July 1881), BA, Irade, Ṣuray-I Devlet, 3148. Of the twenty people who participated in the debate only two voted against the proposal. All the three non-Muslims, Yanko, Constantin, and Nuryan, voted for it.

38 During the debates in the Ṣuray-I Devlet, the General Committee suggested that since some non-Muslim community leaders could not speak Turkish and consequently faced difficulty in filing the birth certificates, the population officers sent to these areas should be selected from those who spoke the native languages. In other words, instead of compelling the citizens to learn Turkish, the language of the administration, the Ottoman government sought at this date to teach its own officials the regional languages, a custom long in practice.

39 See exchange of letters between the Prime Minister's office and the Palace, and the latter's Irade (Orders) of 7 Ṣevval 1298 (1 Sept. 1881) and 8 Ṣevval 1898 (2 Sept. 1881), BA, Irade, Ṣuray-I Devlet, 3148.

40 For a general reference, see Eldem, Vedat, Osmanli Imparatorluǧu'nun Iktisadi Ṣartlan Hakkunad Bir Tetkik (n.p., 1970), pp. 4965.Google Scholar Eldem used some of the figures published in the official publication cited in n. 48. He does mention the fact that the Ottoman government took a census in 1882–84 but does not elaborate further. Vital Cuinet also seems to have relied on the same source. See Syrie, Liban et Palestine: geographie administrative, statistique, descriptive et raisonnée (Paris, 1896).Google Scholar For some information on the population of Palestine, see also Ma'oz, Moshe, ed., Studies on Palestine during the Ottoman Period (Jerusalem, 1975).Google Scholar

41 A report by the head of the census committee (nüfus tahrir komisyonu) giving some estimates for 1882, indicated that this was the fifth census of the city but could not find the lists for the first two censuses. It appears from the existing information that the government empowered the Ihtisab, later Zaptiye (Interior) ministry, in 1265 (1848) to maintain population lists to be completed every year according to the deaths and births occurring in the country. The measure was abandoned and then revived after the Crimean war when population was given the first nüfüs tezkeresi (identity card). See reports in Istanbul Universitesi Kitapliǧi, Türkçe Yazmalar, Number 8949. Other sources are in BA, Irade, Dahiliye, 24, 402. My detailed study of Istanbul's transformation in the nineteenth century, presented originally at a conference organized by AISEE and UNESCO in 1973, will appear elsewhere.

42 The orders for establishing new census teams were issues on 3 Nov. 1884,.approxi- mately three years after the census began.

43 Letter from Premier's office, 20 Zilkade 1302 (31 Aug. 1885), BA, Irade, Dahiliye 76006.

44 Palace (Yildiz) letter of 9 Rebiyulahir 1304 (5 Jan. 1886) BA, Irade, Dahiliye, 80019.

45 For instance, in 1886, the vilayet of Halep (Aleppo) demanded at least nine more months to finish its census. Indications are that it completed its census much later than that. See correspondence S to M of 19 Cemaziulevvel 1303 and 25 Cemaziulahir 1303 (23 Feb. 1886, and 31 March 1886), BA, Irade, Dahiliye, 77419.

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