In 1912, Edirne was the capital and administrative center of a large and central Ottoman province (vilayet) by the same name, comprising an area of 42,500 square kilometers and a population of almost 1,500,000. The city of Edirne and its suburbs had a population of more than 100,000, and according to one source, in 1912 the population consisted of approximately 55,000 Turks, 20,000 Greeks, close to 20,000 Jews, 10,000 Bulgarians, 6,000 Armenians, and an unspecified number of foreign nationals of various European states.
Edirne was an important crossroads and a major Ottoman military, commercial, and economic center in the eastern Balkans. From a historical and cultural perspective, Ottomans regarded Edirne, a former imperial capital, as second only to the current capital, Istanbul. The political and economic importance of Edirne was underscored by the fact that Austria, Britain, France, Russia, and Bulgaria all maintained consulates in the city. In addition, the city had foreign schools, hospitals, and various religious institutions under the protection of Austria, France, and Italy.
The Jewish community of Edirne was historically one of the oldest and most important in the Ottoman Empire. It was probably the largest and most important Ottoman Jewish center in the period between the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1361 and its transformation into the Ottoman capital and the conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453 and the transfer of the capital to the latter city. In subsequent years other Jewish communities–especially those of Istanbul, Salonica, and Izmir–surpassed the community of Edirne in their size and importance. Nevertheless, until the end of the Ottoman era, Edirne was known as a vibrant and important Jewish cultural center.
Following a period of decline in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the community became stabilized in the mid-nineteenth century and began flourishing anew. At the end of the nineteenth century, the numbers of the Jewish population increased from approximately 4,000-5,000 in 1870 to some 15,000 by the beginning of the twentieth century. The Jews constituted then approximately 17 percent of the city’s total population that numbered 87,000, and they were the third largest group after the Turks and the Greeks. This growth was due to some extent to Jewish emigration from eastern Europe and the Balkan countries, especially from areas that the Ottoman Empire had lost to the Balkan states following the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian war. The Jewish population continued to increase in the first decade of the twentieth century, and in 1911 it numbered some 17,000.
SOURCE: “The Siege of Edirne (1912-1913) as Seen by a Jewish Eyewitness: Social, Political, and Cultural Perspectives,” by Avigdor Levy, in Jews, Turks, Ottomans: A Shared History, Fifteenth through the Twentieth Century, ed. by Avigdor Levy (Syracuse U. Press, 2002), pp. 156-157