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Ottoman Armenian population size within the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and 1915 is a controversial topic. Most estimates by Western scholars range from 1.5 to 2.5 million. Establishing the size of this population is very important in determining an accurate estimation of Armenian losses between 1915 and 1923 during the Armenian Genocide and what followed as the Turkish War of Independence.

This article presents some statistics of the Armenian population within the Ottoman Empire.



Ottoman statistics

While the Ottoman had records of populations prior to the 1830s, it was only in 1831 that the Office of Population Registers fund (Ceride-i Nüfus Nezareti) was founded. To draw more accurate data, the Office decentralized in 1839. Registrars inspectors and population officials were appointed to the provinces and smaller administrative districts. They recorded birth and deaths periodically and compared lists indicating the population in each district. Thes records were not a total count of population. Rather, they were based on what is known as “head of household”, that is the ages, occupation, and property of the male family members only were counted.

In 1867 the Council of States took charge of drawing population tables, increasing the precision of population records. They introduced new measures of recording population counts in 1874. This led to the establishment of a General Population Administration, attached to the Ministry of Interior in 1881-1882. Somehow these changes politicized the population counts.


Armenian population prior to 1878

In 1844 the Ottoman recorded a total of 2.4 million non-Muslims (gayri müslim) within the Ottoman Empire. In 1867 this number remained the same.

After the internationalization of the Armenian question, and the Treaty of Berlin that followed, the idea of a self governing Armenian nation became a possibility. Thus census records of the Armenian population became important. The first record of the General Population Administration under Abdul Hamid was half the figure in 1881-1882. The Ottoman Empire in 1877-78 lost Batumi, Kars and Ardahan. The Armenian population statistics for those regions would have influenced the losses of Armenian population but can not account for the other million or more Armenians that are missing in the records of 1881-1882 under the reign of Sultan Hamid.

Armenian population to 1905

From 1881-1882 to the 1905 census, there was a near constant increase in census statistics for the Armenian population.

The Ottoman statistics had been used by an American demographer and Ottoman expert, professor Justin McCarthy who mostly relied on those census figures to determine the Armenian population within the Ottoman Empire. McCarthy's records are mostly based on those of 1911-1912, 1905 and 1895-1896. By using the Ottoman population records and applying the population stability theory (using the men half pyramid) he provided the figure of 1,698,301.[1]

While McCarthy numbers are the result of extensive studies, they have been highly contested by many specialists. Some of them, like Frédéric Paulin, have severely criticized McCarthy's methodology and suggested it is flawed.[2] Hilmar Kaiser[3] another specialist has made similar claims, as have professor Vahakn N. Dadrian[4] and professor Levon Marashlian.[5]

The critics not only question McCarthy's methodology and resulting calculations, but also his primary sources, the Ottoman censuses. They point out that there was no official statistic census in 1912; rather those numbers were based on the records of 1905 which were conducted during the reign of Sultan Hamid.[6]

Censuses of Sultan Hamid

The fact that the 1912 records are based on a census that was conducted under the Hamidian regime, according to the critics, makes it dubious. Turkish records as also suggest that Sultan Hamid might have intentionally undercounted the Armenian population.

The Turkish author Kâzım Kadri writes, “During the reign of Abdul Hamid we lowered the population figures of the Armenians...” He adds, “By the order of Abdul Hamid the number of the Armenians deliberately had been put in low figures.”[7]

Other evidence suggests such undercounts cut in half the actual Armenian population. In the district of Mus (compromising Mus plain, Sassoun, and the counties of Mus) for example, the Armenian official in charge of the census, Garabed Potigian, presented the official figures as 225,000 Armenians and 55,000 Turks. Upon the insistence of his Turkish superiors he was forced to reduce the Armenian population to 105,000 and increase the Turkish population to 95,000.[8] Lynch himself report similar incidences: “Pursuing our way, we meet an Armenian priest—a young, broad-shouldered, open-faced man. He seems inclined to speak, so we ask him how many churches there may be in Mush(Mus). He answers, seven; but the commissary had said four. A soldier addresses him in Kurdish; the poor fellow turns pale, and remarks that he was mistaken in saying seven; there cannot be more than four ...Such are a few of our experiences during our short sojourn at Mush.”[9]

Sultan Hamid apparently considered the under evaluation presented to him of 900,000 as exaggeration.[10]

The German chief of staff of the Ottoman Third Army, Colonel Felix Guse, complained that "The Turks knew only poorly their country, on top of that the possibility of getting reliable statistical figures was out of the question.[11]

Fa'iz El-Ghusein, the Kaimakam of Kharpout, wrote in his book, that according to the Ottoman official statistics there were about 1,9 million Armenian's in the Ottoman Empire.[12]

Another indication that other statistics might have existed is that Polybius in his book published in 1919, refer to a said “Ottoman Official Census of 1910.”[13] But Justin McCarthy has questioned the information and considered it fabrication.[14]

The Turkish historian Dr. Secil Akgun, claimed: “The Ottomans do not have a definite number. That is, we have in our hands contradictory numbers regarding the Armenian population within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. I would think that Basmacıyan gives the most accurate number. This is to be between two and three million.”[15]

Other census problems

Another problem arises, and it is the fact that the Ottoman census statistics have maintained constant increase for the Armenian population from the period where between 1894-1897, an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 Armenians lost their lives during the Hamidian massacres. While the minimum in the range represent the Armenian increases of population over years, the 1905 census hasn't shown any anomaly of Armenian increases, which suggest that there might have been a fixed quota of Armenian population, and that regardless of the census, there were much more Armenians within the Empire.

Another element that add, is that many Armenians, like many Jews and Christians, were considered as foreigners, because they had foreign nationalities or enjoyed the protection of foreign consulates and those for were not counted in those census statistics.

To this, add that Armenians were as well purposely undercounting themselves to escape the military tax by not registering.

The result of all those factors, is that the Armenian population censuses, according to the specialists that criticize them, is an important under counting of the Armenian population, that could have gone as far as misrepresenting it by half. Lynch critic itself regarding the inclusion of all the Muslims together, when there were probably Armenians in the count, is supported by the Ottoman census, that contain an anomaly that in some region like Van, the Muslim population from one census to another jumped to about 50%, suggesting that numbers for the Ottoman government could have been used as political tool, and went as far as transferring Armenians in the table as Muslim.

In short, even though the Ottoman records were official data, and that few Western specialists and most Turkish specialists rely on them, most Western scholars ignore this data, because according to them it is unreliable.

Armenian Patriarchate statistics

Armenian Patriarchate figures

Various Armenian Patriarchate figures were presented, but one of those that seemed the most complete was published in La Question Arménienne à la lumière des documents by Marcel Léart (Krikor Zohrab).[16] It is said that the records were supposedly based on records of baptisms and deaths kept by the ecclesiastical officials. Those figures though excluded the regions where Armenian population was not considerable, as well as excluded the areas outside of the six vilayets.

The problem with such numbers, is that there has been no records of whatever or not the statistics were really based on baptisms and deaths certificates kept by the ecclesiastical officials. For those reason, Justin McCarthy and few other Western scholars as well as most Turkish specialists believe them to be fabrication. Just for comparison, the Patriarchate Statistics of Armenian's in the “Six Vilayets” known as Ottoman Armenia, there was a reported 1,018,000 Armenian's against 784,914 for the Ottoman figures.

Figures by the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople[17]:

Vilayet Armenian population
Vilayet of Bitlis 218,404
Vilayet of Sivas 204,472
Vilayet of Erzurum 202,391
Vilayet of Halep 189,565
Istanbul 163,670
Vilayet of Ankara 135,869
Vilayet of Mamûretü'l-Azîz 124,289
Vilayet of Adana 119,414
Vilayet of Hüdavendigâr 118,992
Vilayet of Van 110,897
Vilayet of Diyarbekir 106,867
Vilayet of Trabzon 73,395
Vilayet of İzmit 61,675
Vilayet of Edirne 30,316
Vilayet of Aydin 21,145
Vilayet of Konya 20,738
Vilayet of Kastamonu 13,461
TOTAL 1,914,620

Reanalysis of Armenian Patriarchate figures

Another set of Armenian Patriarchate figures figures were published in 1913. Armenian sources records for this statistic have more ground than the first one in that they are based on actual archival records. In 1992, Raymond H. Kevorkian and Paul B. Paboudjian have published a work which present “precision” to the last digit, for each Ottoman provinces from the Armenian archives. For the figure of the entire Ottoman population, those records indicate 1,914,620[18] closely matching with the Ottoman statistics for the Western part of the Ottoman, but diverge in the Eastern zone, where the Ottoman statistics are suspected to have considerably undercounted the Armenian population. And even in some instances, the actual Ottoman counts after McCarthys correction were higher in some regions than those statistics, indicating that those figures might have been possibly a serious records and might have under-counted Armenian's in some instances.

Western records

There have been various Western records representing the Armenian population, but demographic figures representing the total Armenian population within the Ottoman Empire were few.

Number of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire by different sources

The list of different numbers of Armenians living in the ottoman Empire by Western sources.[19]

According to Date Number of Armenians
M.Zarceshi (French Counsul at Van) 1,300,000
Francis de Pressence 1895 1,260,000
Torumnekize 1900 1,300,000
Lynch 1901 1,158,484
Ottoman census 1905 1,294,851
British Blue Book 1912 1,056,000
L.D. Conterson 1913 1,400,000
French Yellow Book 1,475,000
Report of "French Armenian" commite March 1, 1914 1,280,000
542,421 (East Anatolia)
Armenian Patriarchate Ormanian 1,579,000
Johannes Lepsius 1,600,000
Krokor-Zohrab (estimate of Patriarchate) 2,560,000+
Armenian historian K.S. Basmachian 2,380,000+
By Armenian delegation given at the Paris Peace Conference 1919 2,250,000+
By Eleftherios Venizelos
at the Paris Peace Conference
(pre. World War I, 1914)
December 30, 1918 2,100,000
1,260,000+ (Living in 1918)
Letter by Boghos Nubar to French Ministry December 11, 1918 700,000+
390,000 (Alive in Caucasus, Persia, Syria, Iraq)
National Geographic, page 329 October 1915 2,000,000 (All area including Persia, Russia)
Grabill, page 51 1,800,000-2,000,000 (All over the empire)
New York Times October 22, 1915 1,200,000
Zurcher, page 119-120 "Turkey" 1,500,000
Encyclopædia Britannica 1914 1,500,000
National Geographic page 61 July 1918 2,000,0000 (Total Empire population 18,000,000)
Katchaawuni H. - living in 1920 (after emigration and loses) nearly 1,000,000
Armenian historian Yervand Lalayan - detailed, living in Armenia only in 1918 885,000
690,500 (in Armenia only in 1920)
195,000 (deaths in Armenia under the Dashnak rule)
Armenian historian Kevork Aslan 1,800,000
Revue de Paris 1,300,000
Turksih census 1927 123,602


Vital Cuinet a French geographer that was charged to survey areas and count their population. His figures were also used to establish the ability of the Ottoman Empire to pay its debts, Cuinet eager to get precise numbers was finally forced to conclude that it was not possible to get them, he gives two main reasons for this.

  1. The limitations imposed by the Turkish authorities made his researches inconclusive.
  2. Because of the lack of control of the Turkish authorities for farther provinces, it was impossible for him to complete his work.

An example often referred by the critics, was Cuinet's statistics drawn from Turkish authority numbers and information that they provided him regarding the Vilayet of Aleppo (classified in those works as the sandjak of Marash). The number is an impossible 4,300. While only in the city of Marash the Catholic and Protestant Armenians were numbering 6008, and this without including the Gregorians.

Cuinet at the beginning of his work, cautioned the reader by declaring: "The science of statistics so worthy and interesting, not only still is not used in this country but even the authorities refuses, with a party line, to accept any investigation."

Regardless of what could have been considered as an indirect admission of under counting. Cuinet presented 840,000 for 1891-92, of what was called “Armenian Villayet” a figure higher than the one presented from Ottoman statistics.[20]


Henry Finnis Bloss Lynch, a British geographer-ethnographer, in completing his own studies, came up with 1,058,000 for the beginning of 1890s for Turkish Armenia. Lynch indicated, like Cuinet, that there was a seemly deliberate Ottoman policy of under counting. Nonetheless, Lynch figures were well circulated, but he cautioned the reader regarding the misleading character of the term “Muslim” since many Armenians converted and were counted as Muslim, while they were still practicing Armenian Christians.[21]

The British official figures at the embassy relied upon careful investigations like those of Lynch. When comparing those figures with Ottoman figures, Zamir concludes: "the provinces of Van, Bitlis, Mamuretal-Aziz (Harput), Diyarbekir, Erzerum, and the independent district of Maras, where British figures are 62 percent higher (847,000) compared with 523,065.” For those reasons he was forced to conclude: “The understatement of the non-Moslem figures appears to be intentional."[22]

Britannica itself takes the figure of 1,750,000 as "a reasonable representation of the Armenian population in Anatolia prior to 1915."[23]


The German professor, Herman Wambery presented as figures for Turkish Armenia: 1,130,000 in 1896.[24]


Samuel Cox at the American Embassy in Istanbul from 1880 to 1886, estimated the Armenian population within the empire to be of 2,4 million.[25]


The problem with such figures is that they do not cover the same regions. For instance, many time “Anatolia” is equalled with the Ottoman empire. Other times there are partial statistics representing one region, like Turkish Armenia, Ottoman Armenia, Asiatic Turkey, Anatolia, Ottoman Empire, 6 Armenian Villeyets, 9 Armenian Villeyets etc.

Another problem with the figures is that those numbers were drawn from a period of about 20 to 30 years, mostly from 1890 to 1915.

German official figures representing the Armenian population within the Empire were about 1.9 million to 2 million.[26]

Toynbee settle on between 1.6 to 2.0 million, and states that the real number is probably closer to 2 million for Anatolia. Pushing the median slightly on the right side of 1.8 million.[27]

Ludovic de Contenson, present the figure of 1,150,000 for Asiatic Turkey, and call them “statistics” without any sources. His numbers suggest that they might actually be the Ottoman census statistics, without correction.[28]

Conclusion of Western scholars

Most Western scholars believe the totality of the Armenian population within the Empire prior to 1915 to be between 1.8 and 2.1 million.

Armenians in the Ottoman Empire by vilayets

Information about the Armenian population (1914, 1922), settlements, churches and schools[29]

Vilayets/regions Settlements Churches Schools Population in 1914 Deported or Killed Population in 1922
Vilayet of Erzurum 425 482 322 215,000 213,500 1,500
Vilayet of Van 450 537 192 197,000 196,000 500
Vilayet of Diyarbekir 249 158 122 124,000 121,000 3,000
Vilayet of Mamûretü'l-Azîz 279 307 204 204,000 169,000 35,000
Vilayet of Bitlis 618 671 207 220,000 164,000 56,000
Vilayet of Sivas 241 219 204 225,000 208,200 16,800
Vilayet of Trabzon 118 109 190 73,390 58,390 5,000
Western Anatolia 237 281 300 371,800 344,800 27,000
Cilicia and Northern Syria 187 537 176 309,000 239,000 70,000
European Turkey 58 67 79 194,000 31,000 163,000
Ottoman Empire 2,925 3,368 1,996 2,133,190 1,745,390 387,800


  1. ^ Justin McCarthy, Muslims and Minorities: The Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire, New York Univ Press, 1983.
  2. ^ Frédéric Paulin, Négationnisme et théorie des populations stables : le cas du génocide arménien, in Hervé Lebras (dir.), L’Invention des populations. Biologie, Idéologie et politique, Editions Odile Jacob, 2000.
  3. ^ Hilmar Kaiser, a German expert on the Armenian genocide, also criticizes McCarthy's calculation techniques in an interview with Dirk van Delft published in the NRC Handelsblad, p. 51, Amsterdam, Saturday, 27 May 2000
  4. ^ Vahakn N. Dadrian, Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1999. See also his essay: Ottoman Archives and Denial of the Armenian Genocide, in The Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics, R.G. Hovanissian, ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992 pp. 294-7
  5. ^ Levon Marashlian, Politics and Demography: Armenians, Turks and Kurds in the Ottoman Empire, Zoryan Inst for Contemporary Armenian Research & Documentation Inc. September, 1990
  6. ^ Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Population 1830-1914: Demographic and Social Characteristics, Madiscon, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. See also Tableau indicant le nombre des divers éléments de la population dans l'Empire Ottoman au 1er Mars 1330 (14 Mars 1914), Istanbul: Zellitch Brothers, 1919. Foreword by Refet. FO 371/4229/86552. May 1919.
  7. ^ Hüseyin Kâzım Kadri, Balkanlardan Hicaza: Imparatorlugun Tasfiyesi. 10 Temmuz Inkilâbı ve Netayici, Istanbul: Pınar, 1992. Originally published in Ottoman Turkish in 1920 in Istanbul by Islam and Askeri Publishers. p. 126, 133; in the original Ottoman version, p. 116, 123. Cited as well in Vahakn N. Dadrian, Warrant for Genocide p. 173
  8. ^ See: Sarkis Pteyani Hushere,' in Harazat Patmutiun Tarono, Cairo: Sahag-Mesrob, 1962 p. 22 for such undercounting examples. Also cited in Vahakn N. Dadrian, Warrant for Genocide [notes 13] p. 187
  9. ^ H.F.B. Lynch, Armenia. Travels and Studies, Vol. 2, Beirut, Khayats, 1965, p. 171
  10. ^ Sultan II. Abdülhamid Han, Devlet ve Memleket Görüşlerim, A. Alaeddin Çetin and Ramazan Yıldız, eds. (Istanbul: Çigir, 1976) p. 158
  11. ^ Felix Guse, Die Kaukasusfront im Weltkrieg, Liebzig: Koehler und Amelang, 1940, p. 83
  12. ^ El-Ghusein, Fà'iz (1917). Martyred Armenia. p. 7.  
  13. ^ See "Greek Population" in Justin McCarthy, Muslims and Minorities: The Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire, New York Univ Press, 1983
  14. ^ Ibid
  15. ^ Interview published in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, April 27, 1987
  16. ^ Marcel Léart (Krikor Zohrab), La Question Arménienne à la lumière des documents, Paris : A. Challamel, 1913
  18. ^ Raymond H. Kevorkian and Paul B. Paboudjian, Les Arméniens dans l'Empire Ottoman à la vielle du génocide, Ed. ARHIS, Paris, 1992
  19. ^ The So-Called Armenian Issue
  20. ^ For the entire Cuinet account see: Vital Cuinet, La Turquie d'Asie : géographie administrative, statistique, descriptive et raisonée de chaque province de l'Asie-Mineure, 4 vols., Paris, 1890-95. See also a useful description and critic of Cuinets figures by Sarkis Y. Karayan, Vital Cuinet’s La Turquie d’Asie: A Critical Evaluation of Cuinet’s Information about Armenians, Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, Volume 11, 2000
  21. ^ For his accounts see H.F.B. Lynch, Armenia. Travels and Studies, Vol. 2, Beirut, Khayats, 1965, or the previous version published in 1901
  22. ^ Meir Zamir, Population Statistics of the Ottoman Empire in 1914 and 1919, Middle Eastern Studies 17, 1981, p.81
  23. ^ "Armenian massacres" (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 12, 2006
  24. ^ Herman Wambery, published in Deutsche Rundschau, February 1896
  25. ^ Samuel Cox, Diversions of a Diplomat in Turkey, New York, 1893
  26. ^ An example of such a figure was provided in a report, A.A. Türkei 183/44. A27493, October 4, 1916. (German archives)
  27. ^ The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Documents presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs By Viscount Bryce, London 1916
  28. ^ Ludovic de Contenson, Les Réformes en Turquie d'Asie. 2nd ed., Paris, 1913, pp. 10,17

See also


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