What is the context?

How many Circassians migrated at this time?

It is difficult to be precise about the numbers of refugees who left the Circassian homelands at this time. Official and unofficial estimates vary. The estimates are based on different time frames. Not all of the immigrants were Circassian. Some figures only relate to the period 1859-1866. Some estimates take a longer timescale. Some only focus on the numbers who went to the Ottoman Empire.  As Alan Fisher points out, it is difficult to make accurate estimates when the situation was so chaotic at the time. However, as Sarah Rosser-Owen observes, while the overall numbers vary, they all confirm that the scale of the migration was massive.   


McCarthy estimates that 1 in 3 Circassians died at this time and about 600,000 had left for the Ottoman Empire by 1864, with more arriving after this date.

Justin McCarthy, “Factors in the Analysis of the Population of Anatolia”, in Population History of the Middle East and the Balkans,  Analecta Isisiana LXII, Istanbul:Isis, 2002.


Stanislav Lak’oba has estimated that Circassian migration was around one million by the end of 1866.

"History: 18th century-1917" in Hewitt (ed) The Abkhazians: A Handbook, London: Curzon, 1999.


Shenfield estimates that probably over half of the original Circassian population has not been accounted for and that at least one million perished in the exodus.

“The Circassians: A forgotten genocide?” in Leven & Penny (eds) The Massacre in History, New York: Berghahn 1999.


Kemal Karmat has estimated that up to 2 million Caucasians, most of whom were Circassians, emigrated between 1859 and 1879, with only about 1.5 million of those actually reaching their destination. (He also estimates that a further 500,000 Circassians left for the Ottoman Empire between 1881 and 1914.)

Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Population 1830-1914, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.


An accurate count of refugees from the Crimea and the Caucasus… is not possible to obtain. Most of those leaving the Caucasus did it in a hurry, in a disorganised fashion, without passing any official border point where they might have been counted or officially noted.

Alan Fisher,  A Precarious Balance,  Analecta Isiana XL, Istanbul: Isis, 1999.


Whichever estimate one uses, it is nevertheless clear that the scale of the emigrations from Circassian territories to the Ottoman Empire was massive, and that the sudden influx of such large groups of refugees will have had no small impact on the Ottoman localities that received them.

Sarah Rosser-Owen, The First Circassian Exodus to the Ottoman Empire 1858-1867, unpublished MA Thesis, 2007.