Edirne (Adrianople) after the Balkan Wars

Much has been published on the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) in general, and on the siege of Edirne (Adrianople) in particular, by journalists, diarists, historians, and others. The Balkan Wars, it will be recalled, had the distinction of being the first twentieth-century international conflict on European soil, complete with the use of aircraft. The siege of Edirne by the Bulgarian and Serb armies, which lasted more than five months, was one of the war’s most dramatic events, and it elicited much public interest in Europe and elsewhere….

By the outbreak of the Balkan Wars, the Ottoman Empire had been in a state of disintegration for some time. However, the Balkan Wars, which resulted in the Ottoman Empire’s loss of most of its European territories and the concomitant rise of victorious and strong Balkan national states that laid claim to the loyalties of the empire’s Christian minorities, delivered the final blow to the possibility of Ottoman plural coexistence and foreshadowed the empire’s complete demise. Indeed, within one decade from the end of the Balkan Wars, the remnants of the empire would be transformed into a national state in which the great majority of its population would follow one religion (Islam) and speak one language (Turkish). And these processes were fully reflected in the fate of Edirne.

According to Turkey’s official census of 1935, Edirne’s total population was 36,121, including 31,731 Muslims, or Turks (88 percent of the total), 4,020 Jews (11 percent), and 368 Christians (1 percent). What is striking about these figures is the almost total disappearance of the Christians (who were more than 30 percent of the population in 1912) due to migration and population exchange and the decline of the Jews (17-18 percent in 1912) in both absolute numbers and relative terms. But perhaps even more surprising is the numerical decline of the Muslims (55,000 in 1912). In fact, between 1912 and the post-World War I era, Edirne lost about two-thirds of its population and did not begin to recover until the 1960s.

The reason for Edirne’s decline is well known. The city that until the Balkan Wars had been a major administrative, military, economic, and commercial center had essentially become an isolated border town, but off from its commercial and economic hinterland. The Balkan Wars … also caused extensive destruction throughout eastern Thrace, further undermining Edirne’s economy. The outcome was a rapid flight of population and commercial and economic enterprises from Edirne.

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. 153, 191-192

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Filed under Eastern Europe, Turkey, war

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