By Havva Kara Aydin
ANKARA (AA) - While Turkey is known as the world's highest refugee-hosting country for hosting 3.7 million Syrian refugees, this is only the most recent page in the country's history with migrants in need.
Turkey and its predecessor, Ottoman Empire, has for centuries been the scene of a mass influx of victims of war, internal conflict and religious or cultural oppression.
"Turkey is regarded as a stable country, compared to others in the region. In comparison to the societies of other refugee-hosting countries, migrants are in harmony with the Turkish community, 'social acceptance' level for newcomers to feel comfortable and secure," said Prof. M. Murat Erdogan, an academic from the Turkish-German University (TAU), in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency.
Erdogan underlined that after World War I and the collapse of empires, many people migrated from Central Asia and the Middle East towards Turkey.
According to Turkey's migration authority, the first and most important migration movement in Turkey's post-republic period occurred after the 1923 population exchange agreement between Turkey and Greece.
The exchange ended in 1938 with the arrival of approximately 384,000 Turkish-origin people.
Migration from Yugoslavia and Bulgaria has been a centuries-long issue for Anatolia. Hundreds of thousands of people migrated from their homes under fear of massacre, looting, rape, oppression, exile, and forced assimilation.
Besides early migrant influxes, a total of 305,158 people came to Turkey from Yugoslavia after the Balkan Wars between 1924-1953.
Also, approximately 800,000 people fleeing Bulgaria between 1925 and 1989 came to Turkey.
An estimated number of migrants and refugees who came from sedentary soil of the Ottoman Empire between 1923 and 2011(in 88 years) was 1.8 million.
"Syrians, who came to Turkey after 2011, form a very new and significant basis for the country in terms of their quantity and characteristics," said Erdogan, adding that the recent migrant flow was different in terms of being from another ethnic, which is Arab.
- A warm welcome to all
Erdogan stressed that Turkey has been successful in establishing a peaceful environment for all migrants.
"Turkey made a breakthrough in integration and created its nation [with the migrants]," he said, adding: "Turkey followed very efficient resettlement policies since the 1930s and vocational, educational and harboring opportunities were provided to the new arrivals."
"Albanians, Bosnians, Tatars, Georgians and Laz people, all describe themselves as Turkish, and this is a great success for the forming of a nation," he said, adding that people could come together to live in harmony with an unforced common identity and sense of belonging.
With the help of the Turkish government, almost half of migrants have been re-settled and employed. The rest have mostly been settled near their relatives or acquaintances of their families.
During the early migration flows, Turkey managed the process relying on its resources alone.
Erdogan also pointed out that the fact that nearly all migrants who came to Turkey over the years remained in the country illustrated the harmony achieved between the newcomers and locals.
Emphasizing the importance of migration, he added that “Migrants have made a great contribution to Turkish society both in the construction of a nation-state and in terms of numerical and cultural richness”.
"The population was 13 million in 1923 and it has reached 82 million by 2019," he said.
- Country of aggrieved people
"It can be argued that Turkey is a country of aggrieved people," said Erdogan, saying the country provided better living standards to migrants who escaped "conflict, war and inhumane conditions" in their own countries.
Also, Turkish migration authorities underlined that the common characteristics of these migrants over the centuries was that they were victims of tragic loss and grief before their arrival in Anatolia.
The migration flow of Circassian people may be one of the most dramatic movements towards Anatolia, with 2.5 million people fleeing the Caucasus between 1858 and 1865, and around one million losing their lives on the way.
Another mass migration movement occurred just after the Russo-Ottoman War in 1828-1829, and one million Georgian people migrating to the Ottoman Empire by 1921.
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, one million people came to Turkey -- mostly ethnic Azeri Turks but also Persians and Kurds.
After the 1988 Halabja Massacre, 51,542 people fled their homes in Iraq, with 467,489 others following in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, coming to Turkey to find refuge.
- Turkey hosts 6 million migrants
Erdogan said: "After 2011, with 3.7 million Syrians, Turkey has been in a very special state on the issue of mass [migration] influx."
He stressed that despite this, the country has received very little support from the international community.
Erdogan also drew attention to non-Syrian refugees, migrants, and irregular migrants, whose number has also increased significantly after 2011.
"During the recent incidents, Turkey received very little support because everyone wants the least number of migrants and refugees," the professor said.
According to Turkey's Directorate General of Migration Management, the country hosts approximately 6 million asylum seekers and migrants on its territory.