Volume 6 Issue 3 CONTENTS



A Foreign Labor Force in Early Republican Turkey: The Case of Hungarian Migrant Workers1

Emre Saral

Atatürk Institute, Hacettepe University, Ankara

Beginning in the 1920s, Hungarian workers began to migrate to foreign countries for economic and political reasons. Among them, a group of Hungarians including workers, engineers, and trained experts arrived in Turkey. The laborers from Hungary entered the Turkish market before the Residence Convention signed in 1926, which mutually allowed the citizens of both signatories to reside and work in the two countries. As neither government initially implemented the necessary measures, there had been an uncontrolled flow of workers to Turkey. Enduring poor living conditions and facing several problems, including low wages and lack of social insurance, they were employed in jobs such as house building and railroad construction, and they made a serious contribution to the development of the country in the 1920s and 1930s. This essay presents the situation of the Hungarian migrant workers in Turkey in the interwar period on the basis of official documents held in Hungarian, Turkish, and British archives. I examine the socio-economic situation of Hungarians in Anatolia, the obstacles they faced, the stance of and measures adopted by the Turkish government, and the attempts that were made by the Hungarian diplomatic mission on behalf of the Hungarian citizens living in Turkey.

Keywords: Foreign labor force, Hungarians in Turkey, workers, Turkish–Hungarian relations in the interwar period


The harsh terms of the Treaty of Trianon negatively affected the Hungarian economy and the labor market. Many of the members of the new Hungarian minority communities in the neighboring states relocated to Trianon Hungary, and this raised the unemployment rate. Political instability and increasing military production during the many conflicts and armed struggles that broke out in the wake of the war triggered inflation. Real wages also fell. The real wage of an officer at the time of the outbreak of the war had fallen by 67 percent by the end of 1918. In the same period, farming wages dropped by 54 percent and factory workers’ wages by 47 percent.2 Economic problems in Hungary in the aftermath of World War I caught the notice of Turkish public opinion. In an official magazine on Turkey’s foreign affairs in the 1930s, the contention was made that the cease of the flow of seasonal workers from Czechoslovakia to the Hungarian plain in the summertime to work the arable lands had negatively affected the economies of both countries.3

The idea of emigrating appealed to unemployed Hungarians who had to struggle with the effects of World War I and the Treaty of Trianon: “Countries that have more population than capital export people as agricultural laborers. The migrants, like village or urban workers, go abroad for almost no money, and they seek countries wealthier than their homelands and at least as expensive as their livelihoods.”4 Hungarians migrated to a variety of countries, including Germany, France, the USA, Canada, Brazil, Norway, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Approximately 40,000 Hungarians went abroad between 1921 and 1924 and 35,000 between 1925 and 1931.5 Meanwhile, between 1918 and 1924, some 426,000 refugees relocated to Hungary.6

The population of Turkey according to the 1927 census was 13,649,945, of which 6,584,404 were males and 7,065,541 were females.7 If one takes the area of the country (roughly 900,000 km2) into account, it is clear that, given its comparatively low population density, Turkey had a strong need for a labor force and one would not expect high levels of unemployment. Nonetheless, the unemployment rate according to the 1927 census was 39.3 percent.8 Furthermore, non-Muslims in Anatolia left Turkey because of the wars in 1913–23 (they either fled or were deported or expelled). This demographic exchange ended with an agreement between Turkey and Greece held at the Lausanne Conference in 1923. As a consequence of these developments, there was a decline in skilled labor in Turkey in the early 1920s. The 1927 census shows that non-Muslim citizens in Turkey constituted 2.6 percent of the total population.9 Before the war, this rate was around 20 percent10 This is one of the reasons why a huge gap appeared in the Turkish economy.11 There was a lack of skilled workers in professions that required mastery. Thus, in the early republican period, the organization and development of Kemalist Turkey was intended to be based in part on the employment of foreign experts, workers, technicians, and engineers from various professions in order to gain momentum in every sphere of socioeconomic life.12 The Turkish government attempted to take precautions to support the native labor force.13 However, as these attempts would yield results only in the long term, priority was given to the employment of foreign workers and experts in order to come up with radical and quick solutions to Turkish modernization.

When mutual economic relations between the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire are examined from the perspective of the labor force, it can be observed that experts from Hungary were employed in Turkey in fields such as forestry, agriculture, veterinary care, and industry.14 There were also attempts to collaborate on railway transportation.15 Hungarians were also employed in mining and mine operations in Anatolia.16 Students were sent to Hungary to learn new agricultural and industrial methods.17

These collaborative efforts were maintained during the interwar period. Hungarians who sought opportunities abroad quickly discovered the potential of Turkey in an economic transformation. On the one hand, the Hungarian authorities and entrepreneurs aimed to supply raw materials, find jobs for thousands of unemployed Hungarian citizens, and find a trade partner for Hungary’s agricultural products. Moreover, Hungary aimed to supply plants in order to make its dismantled factories from the Habsburg period functional again.18 On the other hand, Turkey sought ways to strengthen its recently established economy, address the deficit in its labor market, and continue to benefit from Hungarian labor. These nascent countries had different socio-economic dynamics and structures, in part because one had been part of the Habsburg Empire and one had been the center of the Ottoman Empire.19 The deeper their economic relations became, the more complex and unfamiliar the problems they faced.

Hungarians played a crucial role in the modernization of the recently established Turkish republic. Various experts, such as engineers and architects with higher education degrees, made serious contributions to the reforms of Kemal Atatürk’s Turkey. For instance, Antal Réthly established the modern Turkish meteorological service;20 turcologist Gyula Mészáros founded ethnographical museum in Ankara;21 László Rásonyi, another turcologist, was the first lecturer at the Institute of Hungarology in Ankara;22 engineer György Tittes built the infrastructural facilities of various Anatolian cities;23 engineer János György was appointed chief director of Kemal Atatürk’s farm;24 János Máthe was the gardener for Kemal Atatürk’s house;25 Oszkár Wellman was the agricultural engineer who introduced his Turkish colleagues to new breeding methods;26 the landscape architect Imre Ormos did landscapeing in the new capital, Ankara; histologist Tibor Péterfi27 had many outstanding achievements.28

This essay adds to the extensive literature concerning the activities and contributions of Hungarian technical experts and intellectuals to the modernization of Turkey by focusing on a little known aspect of Turkish–Hungarian relations in the twentieth century. Specifically, I offer an analysis of the foreign manpower of Hungarian origin on the Turkish labor market in the 1920s and 1930s. Hungarian migrants arrived in Turkey and worked there as qualified laborers in various sectors. My essay examines the socioeconomic situation of the Hungarians in Turkey, how the new Turkish nation state handled the foreign labor, the challenges that Hungarians faced, and how the Hungarian legation in Turkey responded to these challenges. I draw on documents found primarily in Hungarian and Turkish archives, though I also use relevant documents held in the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom. My article sheds light on the migration history of both nations with an informative and descriptive approach rather than a theoretical and methodological framework.

The Arrival of Hungarian Manpower on the Turkish Labor Market

The foreign labor force in Turkey consisted not only of Hungarians, but of people of many national backgrounds. There were still non-Turkish workers who had been working for foreign companies in Turkey since the Ottoman period. Despite several challenges and serious unresolved problems between Turkey and Greece throughout the 1920s, Greek citizens were still working in Turkey. A group of White Russians took refuge in Turkey right after the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution and became actors on the Turkish market.29 During the political turmoil in the first half of 1920s, citizens of Balkan countries such as Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (primarily Serbs), and Albania also arrived in Turkey.30 German and Austrian workers also came to Turkey. The Hungarian colony did not unquestionably form the largest migrant labor community in Turkey. According to the 1927 and 1935 censuses, the distribution of the population was as follows:


1927 Census

1935 Census

















































Europe (other)

Asian & African countries

Miscellaneous & unknown







Total Number of Foreigners



Table 1. Official Statistics on foreign citizens living in Turkey31

Hungarian workers who came to Turkey worked in construction jobs through various contractors.32 It is claimed that some 100 workers of Hungarian origin worked in Ankara and its surroundings by mid-1925.33 They were employed in construction projects such as home building, city sewerage, pavement, water networks, electricity, lighting, etc. They were also employed in the construction of the Ankara–Sivas railway line and construction around the Izmir province.34 Some 300 people with training and experience in construction went to Turkey from the Tolna County in southern Hungary (and in particular Bátaszék, one of the larger cities in the Tolna County).35

According to Hungarian deputy Imre Szabó, there were 800 Hungarian workers in Turkey.36 Camille Jacquart, a French demographer, contends that there were 619 Hungarian citizens in Turkey in 1927.37 According to a report of the Turan Society on the development of economic relations between Turkey and Hungary in 1928 there were 4,000-5,000 Hungarian workers living in Turkey.38 In an embassy report dated 1 February 1927, the number of Hungarians living in the embassy’s area of responsibility was approximately 1,200. This report asserts that a flow of 300-400 Hungarians came to Turkey in the previous year, though the same number of Hungarians returned to their homeland.39 János Vendel, a Jesuit pastor serving in Turkey, arrived at the exaggerated figure of approximately 15,000. He observed that around 1,000-1,100 of them were Catholics who were living in Ankara and its surroundings.40 No official data have been given on the share of foreign citizens on the Turkish labor market due to unregistered employment and inadequate local control mechanisms. However, the official data on the total population of Hungarians in Turkey given by the government is as follows:41

1927 Census

1935 Census

1945 Census



















Table 2. Hungarian citizens living in Turkey42

Turkish decision-makers were eager to provide employment opportunities for skilled Hungarian workers. In his interview with the Hungarian newspaper Világ, Ahmed Riza Bey, the representative delegate of the Ankara government in Paris, stated that they would be pleased to benefit from the art and literature of the Hungarian nation and emphasized their need for Hungarian engineers and experts.43As a matter of fact, Ali Haydar Bey, the Mayor of Ankara, paid a five-day of inspection visit to Budapest in 1924 with the intention of “taking some fifty Hungarian artisans to Ankara, where they will help facilitate the reconstruction of the city and the emergence of the institutions. Haydar Bey also added that they would learn a lot from the Hungarians and benefit from their well-developed industry.44

A remarkable factor that influenced Turkish resolution to bring members of the Hungarian labor force to Turkey was a political one. In the eyes of Turkish authorities, Hungary was an ideal choice as a former ally which would not be an anti-Turkish position. As citizens of a successor of an empire which was economically dependent on the great powers through capitulations, decision-makers of the nascent state turned to nations which had, in the words of Sir George R. Clerk, the British ambassador to Turkey, “vast numbers of economically useful and politically harmlesspeople.45 This refers simply to nations that would neither be expected to seek further political concessions from Turkey nor to get involved in political activities against it. The Turks would have probably taken into consideration the fact that Hungary, which had recently lost two thirds of its territory and was in socioeconomic turmoil, internationally isolated, and sympathetic towards the Turks, could hardly pose any threat to Turkey’s political or economic interests. In this respect, the unfavorable reaction of Ismet Pasha’s (İnönü), the foreign minister, to the speech given by Hüsrev Bey (Gerede), the Turkish envoy to Budapest, to Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian regent, could be regarded as a sign of how the Turks attached importance to the principle of political and economic independence. Following Hüsrev Bey’s presentation of his letter of credence, the Hungarian leader expressed his opinion that Hungary had a stalwart support of Turkey and would help it in its efforts to approach the prosperity of European civilization. The Turkish diplomat said that he was grateful to the Hungarian regent for his kind words. Ismet Pasha ordered the envoy not to give any approval for such gestures, since “in political relations an envoy should refrain from accepting or confirming such assertions of expertise and scientific affairs, as it would diminish the country’s political credibility.”46

Parallel to this, the Turkish authorities did not want the foreign citizens to form colonies within the Turkish territories. In this respect, the request of a group of 120 Hungarian farmers to establish a village was rejected by the Turkish government, since foreign citizens were prohibited from creating settlements within the territories of the Republic of Turkey.47 Meanwhile Numan Bey (Menemencioğlu), the Turkish chargé d’affaires to Budapest, called to the attention of a delegate of the prestigious Turanian Society that the Hungarian workers in Turkey were expected to serve in Turkey and to abstain from any effort to establish a colony.48 The negative experiences of the Ottoman period shaped this Turkish policy, whereas the Hungarian authorities drew a more pragmatic picture on mutual economic relations: “Should [the Turks] trust foreigners in the construction of railways and factories, then they must tolerate skilled workers in the absence of a Turkish labor force and foreigners in professions that require expertise.”49

Challenges Faced by the Hungarian Migrant Workers in Turkey

A letter from 1925 written by Boldizsár Beck, the representative of Société Anonyme Turque d’Etudes et d’Enterprises Urbaines, a Turco–German joint company, offers a description of the living conditions of the Hungarian workers.50 The letter was addressed to Jakab Klein and Ádám Schmidt from the Hungarian village of Csibrák. Klein and Schmidt had been invited to Ankara to work as skilled laborers. Beck claimed that no diploma was required to work as a bricklayer. He added that in the case of a ten-day-work period, with a daily wage of 5 liras, it would be possible to cover all of the travel expenses to Ankara, including the visa fee, and it would be possible to set aside money in a settlement in which little money was spent.51

It appears that Beck painted a very encouraging picture. However, he may well have been exaggerating in order to attract masses of workers. Indeed, according to the official statistics, the daily average cost of living for a person in Ankara between 1923 and 1925 was 13 or 14 liras, which was equivalent to the national average cost of living.52 Jenő Ruszkay, the commercial attaché, drew a more realistic picture of daily expenditures than Beck. In his report, the Hungarian official described daily life in Ankara as a camp for an ordinary European man in the beginning of 1923. On the basis of his personal experiences, Ruszkay set the daily cost of living at 17 or 18 liras (approx. 1,700 Hungarian crown). The costs which should be covered with this sum were the following: housing: 2.5 liras (a better facility could be rented for 5); heating: 2 liras; meals: 3 liras; transportation (if necessary): 3-4 liras; and tips and various expenditures: 4-5 liras.53 In light of Ruszkay’s report, Beck’s optimistic calculations hardly seem plausible. Therefore, it could be claimed that it was not possible to lead a comfortable life with a daily wage of 5 liras with these living expenses. As a matter of fact, Hungarian workers faced serious challenges in Turkey. In 1925, Tibor Pőzel, the representative of the Hungarian legation in Ankara, described these challenges: inadequate daily wages; the harsh climate of Anatolia; summer diseases, such as malaria; no work due to the cessation of construction in the winter; accommodation in adobe houses and unhygienic places; and finally, the lack of a labor union which would protect the interests of the workers.54

Other factors also worsened the situation of workers. First, legal and institutional deficiencies negatively affected their prospects and the conditions in which they lived. Diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Republic of Turkey officially began with the Treaty of Friendship signed on December 18, 1923.55 The second legal arrangement between the parties was the Residence Convention of December 8, 1925, which was signed in accordance with the third article of the treaty of friendship, which obliged the parties to make necessary arrangements allowing their citizens mutual rights to travel and reside in each country. This convention could be regarded as the legal guarantee of the free movement of the Hungarian labor force in Turkey. Since the abolition of economic concessions, known as the capitulations, by the Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923), which had applied to foreigners in the Ottoman period, Hungarian citizens in Turkey had been deprived of legal guarantees. The aforementioned convention was consolidated on December 20, 1926 and came into force both in Turkey and Hungary in mid-1927.56 However, Hungarian workers entered the Turkish market in 1924, before the residence convention had been implemented. Thus, the laborers worked in Turkey for almost three years without any legal assurances.

In the session of the Hungarian parliament on October 23, 1926, problems faced by Hungarian workers in Turkey became a subject of discussion. Deputy Imre Szabó made a motion with his assertion that the living conditions of the workers had deteriorated. In his motion, the Hungarian deputy, who criticized the government for not supporting its citizens abroad who were suffering from poverty, posed a question to Lajos Walko, the foreign minister, as to whether or not the government would take necessary measures for possible repatriation.57 A few months later, during the session concerning the ratification of the Turco–Hungarian Residence Convention of 1926, Deputy Géza Malasits, referring to Szabó’s motion, indicated that he was in favor of the convention, which would help settle the problems faced by Hungarians who were unable to get their money and lived under worse conditions.58 During the session, speaker István Görgey, who introduced the draft law, emphasized the lack of legal guarantees for the Hungarian citizens living in Turkey since the abolition of the capitulations. Thus, this agreement aimed to obtain concessions in favor of Hungarian citizens, such as freedom of residence and movement, right to property ownership, and equity in taxation.59 In reply to Szabó’s motion, Walko informed the deputies that the government gave assistance to workers who wanted to return to Hungary or let them work in the Danube Steam Ship Company. Walko argued that workers who were unable to get their wages avoided consulting the Hungarian legation for some reason: „If we knew where they were working, it would be easier to provide them assistance.”60

Second, the absence of a coordinative organ, either separate or joint, that would settle the worker flow also negatively affected the conditions in which the workers lived.. In terms of social policy and labor, a limited population, weak industry, and a weak economy which relied on primitive agrarian society set the framework of the social conditions in the new Turkish state. Turkish decision-makers searched for new methods, including encouraging private entrepreneurship and liberalism to foster economic growth and development. Therefore, beginning in the 1920s, the government attempted to determine the fundamentals of labor relations. Labor law, which regulated these relations, came into force in Turkey in 1936. Although some arrangements had been made concerning workers’ vacation and holidays and the sanitary issues faced by working women and children, there had been no comprehensive regulations concerning the labor until then.61 Talas identified factors such as problems in the functioning of the democratic institutions of the state, an economy with an agricultural society and weak industry, a small working class, the Great Depression, and intolerance of left-wing ideas as reasons for this slow pace of progress.62

Under these circumstances, there was no institution that would make arrangements for foreign labor or handle the problems of foreign workers in Turkey. As a matter of fact, due to the absence of an institution that would check the eligibility of the workers going abroad, regardless of their qualification, every worker who wished to go to Turkey constituted an obstacle to a possible increase in the living standards of Hungarian workers in their host country. In 1923, the Dutch Legation in Istanbul, which provided consular protection to the citizens of Hungary in Turkey, sent a note to the Turkish Foreign Ministry regarding the uncontrollable flow of Hungarian masses to Turkey. They contended that the Turkish legation in Budapest encouraged unemployed Hungarians to go to Turkey regardless of their qualifications or skills. This was why the Dutch consulate urged the Turkish authorities to take the necessary measures in order to stop the flow.63

The absence of such an organ of oversight put the entire burden on the Hungarian legation in Turkey. The Hungarian legation in Ankara addressed the workers’ problems. For instance, citizens from Bátaszék wrote a petition to Hungarian authorities concerning eleven building masters and Mihály Lasko, their foreman in the Turkish town of Bozuyük. As soon as they received bad news from their countrymen in Turkey, they sought assistance from the legation. Répási, the attaché, unable to get in touch with Lasko, was informed that the latter had been unable to pay his workers and had disappeared.64 Furthermore, the embassy sought jobs for its citizens. Hungarian authorities received information on the employment opportunities at the Ankara–Sivas railway construction project, and they lobbied Swedish and Belgian contractors in an attempt to prevail on them to provide employment for Hungarian workers in the undertaking.65

Turkish intolerance of left-wing ideas and, particularly, communism was also an important factor. Given the poor living conditions, the workers’ inability to get full wages, the absence of any guarantee of employment or social facilities that would provide gathering places for the Hungarian community (such as churches, schools, etc.), communist ideas began to spread among Hungarian workers in Turkey.66 Clerk expressed his views in his annual report of 1927. In his assessment, the immediate preoccupation of László Tahy, the Hungarian envoy to Turkey, was “the necessity of preventing Hungarian workmen from coming to Turkey, because those already in Angora seemingly been won over to Communism by propaganda put about by the Soviet embassy, and in consequence, to be sent back to their native land under escort.”67 Tahy convinced Tevfik Rüştü Bey (Aras), Turkish foreign minister, of the premise that, in his own words, “communism spreading among Hungarian workers would be a threat for Turkey as well.”68 Kemalists actually regarded communists as a threat to the social model they sought to build, which was predicated on the emergence of an integrated society without any class distinction.69 This is why the Turkish authorities arrested roughly two hundred Hungarian workers. Some of them were immediately deported, and the rest were given a period of one month to leave the country.70

There is no evidence indicating that the Hungarian communists had any direct contact with their Turkish comrades or intended to spread their ideology in Turkey. Dilaver Bey, the chief of police in Ankara province, informed Tahy that in the light of their interrogation, the main goal of the Hungarian communists was to get their comrades in Ankara back to Hungary illegally.71 According to the indictment issued by the Turkish security officials, the communists, who were unable to maneuver easily in their homeland, were able to organize their activities under Cell No. 10 of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSzMP).72 The head of this hierarchical organization was László Mihályfalvi, and the cell had meetings in Lajos Debreczeni’s home in Ankara twice a week. The first task of this organization had been the distribution of magazines entitled Magyar Munkás (“Hungarian Worker”), which was printed in Paris, Az Ember (“Man”), which was printed in the United States, and Új Előre (“Onward Anew”).73 According to the police report, this cell got orders directly from Hungary, and when Kummer’s house was searched, one of the cell members, stamps, member identification cards and lists, forms, and relevant documents were found.74 Workers accused of spreading communist propaganda with the backing of the Soviet embassy in Ankara could not simply be dismissed en masse from the country. The construction of the city had slowly been progressing, and there had been a dearth of skilled workers on the labor market.75 The fact that in 1928, 47 communists from among the accused were expelled with their families to the Soviet Union could have been the consequence of the lobbying activity of the Soviet legation (the Soviet Union was a close ally of Turkey at the time).76

The elimination of the communist threat did not settle all of the problems among the Hungarian workers. One of the repercussions of the communist propaganda was the dramatic increase in prejudice against foreigners. Communists who were able to stay in Turkey and other Hungarians who had no contact with the accused groups were both negatively affected by these developments. As Turkish police began to follow them, employers became reluctant to employ Hungarians. Moreover, as Turkish workers were unable to reach the living standards and acquire the rights of their European counterparts thanks to the long-lasting struggles, the wages of Turkish skilled workers remained very low in the early 1920s. In contrast, foreign workers and skilled laborers who came to Turkey entered the market with high wages. However, the economic crises triggered a general tendency among employers to hire locals instead of foreigners, and this caused a significant decrease in the wages of the Hungarian skilled workers in the construction sector. Beginning in 1932, several Hungarian workers began to leave Turkey because of the preference among employers for hiring locals, the aforementioned decrease in wages, and high taxes.77According to an embassy report of 1932, the annual average wages of Hungarian skilled workers was as follows:78


(Lira / year)








































Table 3. Wages of Hungarian skilled workers

The influence of the Great Depression of 1929 on Turkey affected the labor market as well. The rising unemployment rate prompted the government to take strict measures. In the National Industrial Congress of 1930, the Turkish intolerance of the foreign workers became an issue of debate. The Congress recommended that the employers would no longer hire workers and skilled laborers who were unable to find jobs in their home countries. Moreover, employers were advised to insist that migrant workers present the necessary papers and favor Turkish workers in seasonal jobs.79 The Ministry of Interior declared that it had passed a decree to prevent foreigners from loitering in the Turkish streets without money or a job. According to this decree, foreign citizens who wished to reside in Turkey had to show at least 400 liras at the border check. For people who wished simply to travel through Turkey, this amount was set at 250 liras. Otherwise, foreign visitors were not allowed to enter the country.80 The 1931 program of the Republican People’s Party, the ruling party, also put emphasis on the issue. According to this platform, “the interests of the nationalist Turkish workers are going to be taken into consideration.”81

The roots of economic nationalism in Turkish society go back to the eve of World War I. The Union and Progress Party, which ruled the Ottoman Empire during the war, aimed to strengthen the “national economy” and create a “national bourgeoisie.” In their assessment, this would be possible only with the erosion of non-Muslim economic hegemony. Thus, particular emphasis was put on the “national” aspect of economic life, and foreigners and minorities began to be presented as exploiters of the national economy.82

In this respect, in the beginning of 1932, a draft law concerning the prohibition of foreign workers from certain professions was prepared by the Turkish authorities. This was the fourth reason why the situation of the Hungarian workers worsened in Turkey. According to the law, foreign citizens were prohibited from having a shop or pursuing a profession anywhere but in the major towns. In these towns, they were not allowed to be artisans, itinerant dealers, gardeners, musicians, printers, toy manufacturers, journalists, typographers, newsboys, brokers or agents, dealers in monopoly goods, guides, auctioneers, car-drivers, workmen of all categories, porters, servants, bar-artists, physicians, veterinary surgeons, chemists, dentists, engineers, or lawyers. Foreigners whom the new law affected were allowed to continue practicing their professions for a specified period of time and in the end had to give them up within three years’, by May 1935 the latest. This draft was passed by the parliament and came into force on June 16, 1932.83

Hungarian workers were not the only people negatively affected by the law. It also had consequences for British citizens who were working in İzmir and its surroundings. According to an embassy report, the number of British citizens in Turkey, including wives and families, was roughly 3,500.84 according to a consular report, roughly 53 percent of the total number of British citizens engaged in professional, commercial, and industrial pursuits in İzmir was likely to be affected by law.85 Another consular report from Istanbul dated 1933 noted that within the British colony, the UK citizens of Maltese origin (around 1,200 people) were significantly affected by the law.86 The report also mentioned that Italian and Greek colonies were confronted with the same problem. There were plans to transfer between 8,000 and 10,000 Italian citizens to Pontine Marshes, Italy, where the Greek government was inclined to treat the Greek citizens (of whom there were some 25,000) as refugees.87 The Observer, a British newspaper, drew attention to the issue. According to the news, Greeks, who formed the largest foreign community in Turkey were expected to be the most affected by the arrangement.88 They were especially good at handicrafts, and they were found in larger numbers in most of the professions included in the new bill. The article also mentioned Russian refugees as another group who would also suffer from the new measures, as they were principally chauffeurs, toy manufacturers, artists, and service providers in bars.89

The law complied with the government policy based on economic nationalism in the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929. From the Hungarian point of view, the law clashed with Article 4 of the Residence Convention of 1926, which allowed the citizens of either country to work in the other.90 However, the Turkish authorities did not take this into account. Şükrü Kaya, the interior minister, defended the draft law by referring to the economic obligations of the state to its citizenry. He argued that proportionally very few foreigners actually worked in the professions listed in the draft law, and thus very few people would actually be affected. He also claimed that the draft law was not intended to prohibit the employment of the foreigners, but merely to create a control mechanism. Thus, it would actually not be against the interests of the foreign labor force.91

Tahy immediately started lobbying against the bill before the Turkish authorities. First, he drew the attention of the relevant Hungarian authorities in Budapest to the possible negative effects of the implementation of the law on Hungarians working in Turkey, such as waiters and drivers. He claimed that it would not be possible for Hungarians in Turkey to work in professions and services such as stone mastery, plumbing, carpentry, or the service industry if the draft law was passed (and he was correct).92

As Tahy foresaw, the protectionist measures taken by the Turkish government negatively affected foreign workers. The law had repercussions in Hungary as well. Governmental bodies, including the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Interior, and the Chambers of Trade and Commerce, contacted the Foreign Ministry to request consultations.93 Tahy made every effort to convince the Turkish authorities to postpone implementation of the law. He lobbied among leading Turkish political figures and the statesmen at the drafting stage of the law in an effort to obtain possible concessions for Hungarians. Both the minister of the interior and the foreign minister told Tahy that the law was a response to public pressure caused by high unemployment rates and the economic crisis.94 Tahy believed that the exclusion of Hungarians from certain professions in Turkey would also put a burden on the Hungarian economy, and his efforts seem to have had some effect, because the parliamentary commission on foreign affairs proposed an amendment to the law concerning the extension of the deadline to cease working in the professions listed from three months to one year.95 According to an amendment passed on 31 May 1933, the deadline was extended for two more years, which made the deadline 21 May 1935.96 Finally, in accordance with a cabinet decision on 10 May 1934, the law was fully implemented.97

Tahy claimed that the Turkish authorities gave him an oral assurance concerning the situation of Hungarians working as qualified bricklayers, locksmiths, painters, and so forth. They would be allowed to continue working, as the law would not include these professions.98 Tahy shared his opinion with his British counterpart, Clerk. The latter wrote the following:

My Hungarian colleague is quite happy about the law, for his nationals are nearly all employed in the building trade as foreman and so on and will therefore be entered as ‘specialists’ and allowed to remain, while those of lower grades have already found life in Turkey too difficult and have gone, or are going, in large numbers to Persia, where, for reasons best known to themselves, they imagine that they will find good and lucrative employment.99

However, his initial optimism was followed by futile diplomatic efforts with the Turkish authorities. Hungarian officials also relied on this argument in their later lobbying activities. Kálmán Kánya, the Hungarian foreign minister, even ordered Mihály Jungerth-Arnóthy, Tahy’s successor in Ankara, to provide written assurance from the Turkish authorities regarding the issue.100 However, in the final draft no such distinction was drawn. Though the Hungarian authorities reiterated this assurance several times to the Turkish side during the talks, their efforts seem to have had little effect on the latter’s decision. As Jungerth brought the issue before Şükrü Kaya, the Interior Minister, Kaya ended the dialogue by criticizing Tahy for his possible misunderstanding: “Monsieur Tahy might have understood my explanation in a quite broad sense, in a sense that even opposed to the entire law, and this is impossible…”101

From early 1935, long negotiations were held between the Hungarian diplomats in Turkey and Turkish authorities concerning the situation of Hungarians, which would be affected by the law. As a consequence of these negotiations, Jungerth and Cevad Acikalın, the head of the relevant department at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, agreed that Hungarians who would declare proof of mastery of their profession would be allowed by the Ministry of Economy to continue working after the deadline.102

Ullein-Reviczky, the head-consul in Istanbul, regularly reported on the situation of Hungarian workers. In his opinion, the Ministry of Interior should have been informed of the issue, which in the eyes of the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Economy seemed settled, since local security authorities in the small towns of Anatolia would prevent the Hungarians from continuing to pursue their occupations.103 As a matter of fact, Hungarians who began to receive notifications obliging them to give up their professions by May 20, 1935 sought assistance from the Hungarian embassy.104 Within this period, 114 Hungarian workers submitted applications to the Turkish Ministry of Economy for an extension of their work permit.105 However, among the Hungarians, only workers who had training in plumbing and central heating were allowed to continue working after the deadline of May 21, 1935. Apart from them, among the professions including carpenters and house construction workers, only people who worked either for the government or for influential potentates were able to continue working and earn a living.106

An Embassy report indicates that as of January 31, 1935, the total number of Hungarians living in Turkey was around 1,200: 607 in Ankara, 350 in Istanbul, and 250-300 in Anatolia.107 By early 1936, only 200-300 Hungarian workers remained in Turkey. They were either people who had been directly authorized by the cabinet decision or people who had become Turkish citizens. The workers who were authorized by the cabinet decision to remain were offered contracts as experts in various government institutions. The number of such experts who went Turkey between 1936 and 1950 is 157.108 Some of the people who left were repatriated,109 and the rest attempted in large numbers to try their luck in countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the territory of Palestine, where they hoped to find lucrative employment.110


Following the proclamation of the republic in Turkey on October 29, 1923, the main problem concerning the population of the country was a dearth in the labor force of people with the training necessary in order to exploit the resources and maintain and develop industry, not only in agriculture in the fertile part of the country with large arable lands but also in other professions. During World War I and the Turkish War of Independence, many artisans and craftsmen of Greek and Armenian origin left the country (they fled or were expelled or were subjects of population exchange). This led to a deficit in the labor force of the country, a problem which was to be settled by the importation of a foreign labor force for the short term. The foreign labor force on the Turkish market gradually began to diminish between 1932 and 1935, parallel to the rise of nationalism. The effects of the Great Depression also contributed to the emergence of more nationalist attitudes and, in response, government policies. Thus, the Turkish government made legal arrangements according to which only Turkish nationals were allowed to work in some professions.

Hungarian workers escaped unemployment and political turmoil in their country by seeking refuge in Turkey, where they hoped to find safe haven. However, in general, their story did not have a happy ending. Most of them were unable to get accustomed to the living conditions in Anatolia, secure a decent, reliable living and were obliged to leave the country within a short period of time. The factors that influenced their fates can be summarized as 1) inadequate legal arrangements and institutions; 2) the spread of communist ideology among workers and the negative perceptions it created about the workers in Turkish society; and 3) economic measures taken by Turkish government in response to increasingly nationalistic attitudes in Turkish society. First, the residence agreement was signed by the two governments only three years after the first group of Hungarian workers arrived in Turkey. Thus, the laborers worked without any legal protections. Second, both parties were incapable of establishing a mechanism that could control the migrant flow to Turkey. As a result, workers struggled with difficult challenges. Some of them did not hesitate to get in touch with official organs, such as the Hungarian legation in the hopes of finding redress for their griefs. The fundamental problem they faced was bad living and working conditions in Anatolia. Their dissatisfaction led to the spread of communist propaganda among a small group in the colony. The communists saw Anatolia as a convenient place for the spread of their ideology among workers who were displeased with their situation. However, this made the situation worse for almost the entire colony. The Turkish government was strongly opposed to communist ideology, and so, between 1925 and 1927, a witch hunt was started for Turkish and non-Turkish (including Hungarian) communists. There is no evidence of collaboration between Hungarian and Turkish communist groups. The Hungarian communists sought to spread their ideology in Hungary, not Turkey. On the contrary, Hungarian diplomats lobbied their Turkish counterparts to dismiss any communist agitation in their homeland. This is for the fact that, Hungarian communists were taken into custody and expelled from the country in 1927. The rest who remained in Turkey were strictly monitored by the authorities, and they faced mistrust in professional circles. In the meantime, as their daily wages began to decrease, the workers gradually left the country for other destinations.

In the meantime, the Turkish government had already decided to transform its economic policy into a centrally planned model in the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929. Rising nationalism in Turkish society also drew the attention of government officials. As a consequence of a law passed in 1932, which restricted some professions to Turkish nationals, foreign citizens living in Turkey were forced to give up their professions, regardless of their nationality (i.e. including Hungarians). From 1935 onwards, Hungarian experts, such as skilled workers and engineers, were only allowed to work in Turkey with the direct authorization of the government. The Hungarian legation in Turkey made every effort to protect the interests of these workers. However, their attempts exerted little influence on Turkish decision makers. To sum up, the story of Hungarian migrants in Turkey between 1924 and 1935 cannot be characterizing as long-lasting.


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Bayazıt (Ağrı)












Cebelibereket (Osmaniye)














Elaziz (Elazığ)





















































































Table 4. Population of Hungarian Citizens in accordance to the 1927 census: Distribution per provinces111

1 This article is an excerpt from the following study: Emre Saral, “Türkiye–Macaristan İlişkileri 1920–1945 (Relations between Turkey and Hungary, 1920–1945)” (PhD diss., Ankara Hacettepe University, 2016).

2 Romsics, Magyarország története a XX. században, 107.

3 “Harpten On Sene Sonra Macaristan,” 4594–95.

4 Bayur, Türkiye Devletinin Dış Siyasası, 174.

5 Zeidler, A Revíziós Gondolat, 56; Gál, “Hungary and the Anglo-Saxon World,” 507–09; Frank, “Approaches to Interwar Hungarian Migrations, 1919–1945,” 346; Fermi, Illustrious Immigrants, 18–138; Major, American Hungarian Relations 1918–1944, 93–110; Mosonyi, “Franciaországi Magyarok Nyelve,” 1036.

6 Zeidler, A Revíziós Gondolat, 57.

7 İstatistik Yıllığı 1951, 106.

8 Ibid.

9 See Table 1.

10 Ahmad, “Cumhuriyet Türkiye’sinde Sınıf Bilincinin Oluşması, 1923–45,” 123.

11 Ahmad, “Cumhuriyet Türkiye’sinde,” 140.

12 Gezer Baylı, “Türkiye’de İstihdam Edilen Fransız Uzmanlar Ve Türk Modernleşmesine Katkıları,” 8.

13 Sakal, “Türkiye’de Çalışma Hayatının Millileştirilmesi.”

14 Toprak, İttihad-Terakki ve Cihan Harbi Savaş Ekonomisi ve Türkiye’de Devletçilik, 18–24.

15 Namal, Türk–Macar İlişkileri, 131–49; Yiğit Türker, “Türk–Macar İlişkileri (1867–1918),” 73–86.

16 Karabekir, I. Dünya Savaşı Anıları, 543.

17 Information on the Hungarian workers in the Ottoman Empire in its last decades can be found in Csorba, “‘Magyar anyakönyv’ Forrás a konstantinápolyi magyarok történetéhez,” 131−44.

18 Çolak, “Cumhuriyet’in İlk Yıllarında Türkiye–Macaristan İktisadî İlişkileri,” 48.

19 Becker, “Transition to Capitalism and Dissolution of Empires,” 25–29.

20 Çolak, Aksakallı Havabakan Antal Bey; Çolak, “Atatürk Dönemi Türkiye’sinde Bir Macar Meteorolog,” 113–36.

21 Karaduman, “Gyula Mészáros ve Ankara Etnografya Müzesi.”

22 Országos Széchenyi Könyvtár (OSZK) Kézirattár, Balogh József hagyatéka, Fond 1-2676, Letter no. 24075 dated November 12, 1935.

23 Tittes, “Törökország Vízügyi Munkálatai,” 493–502.

24 Çolak, “Bir Macar Çocuğun Anılarında Atatürk,” 96–105.

25 Çolak, “Atatürk’ün Macar Bahçıvanı János Mathe›nin Anılarında Ankara,” 184–88.

26 Çolak, “Türkiye–Macaristan İktisadî İlişkileri,” 48.

27 Maskar, “Tibor Péterfi 22.6.1883-14.1.1953,” 249, 254, 255.

28 Yıldırım, “Cumhuriyet Döneminde Türk–Macar İlişkileri Çerçevesinde İstihdam Edilen Macar Uzmanlar,” 121–50; Tóth, Magyar lendkerekek az új Törökország gépezetében; Dávid, “Magyarok a köztársaság kori török gazdasági életben: a múlt tényei és a jövő lehetőségei,” 13, 16; Namal, “Zonguldak’ta Macar Uzmanlar (1923–1950),” 99–108.

29 Baran, “Mütareke Döneminde İstanbul’daki Rus Mültecilerin Yaşamı.”

30 Sakal, “Türkiye’de Çalışma Hayatının...”

31 İstatistik Yıllığı 1951, 110.

32 The main contractor was the Turco–German joint company Rellah. Ökçün, 1920–1930 Yılları Arasında Kurulan Türk Anonim Şirketlerinde Yabancı Sermaye, 50.

33 Ibid.

34 MNL OL K 79 47. cs., 1924–1926, 2. tétel, May 9, 1925 169/A.kig/ Pőzel to the Ministry of Interior.

35 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltár (MNL OL) K 79 47. cs., 1924–1926, 2. tétel, December 31, 1925 528/A.kig.

36 Képviselőházi Napló, 1927, IV. kötet May 20, 1927, 51st session, 250–52.

37 Jacquart, “Nüfus Meselesi Ankara Nüfus Tahririnin Verdiği Dersler,” 1.

38 MNL OL K 70 300. cs. 7/a tétel 1928–31 March 22, 1927, 17.

39 MNL OL K 60 1927/I-7 February 1, 1927 2490/kig./1926.

40 Molnár, “A Szentszék, a magyar jezsuiták és egy törökországi tudományos intézet alapításának terve (1930–1934),” 178, 191.

41 See Appendix 1.

42 İstatistik Yıllığı 1951, 110.

43 “A török főrendiház elnöke a kisázsiai győzelmekről és a török–magyar barátságról,” Világ, September 7, 1922.

44 “Haydar Bey Macaristan’da,” Hâkimiyeti Milliye, September 17, 1924.

45 The National Archives of the UK Foreign Office General Correspondence (FO) 371/16984 E 826/587/44. February 10, 1933.

46 Atatürk ve Yabancı Devlet Başkanları, vol. 3, 279.

47 Başbakanlık Cumhuriyet Arşivi (BCA) [Prime Ministry of Turkey], July 12, 1925 No. 2202, File No: 97-84.

48 MNL OL K 70 300. cs. 7/a 1928 16 August, 1927 1143/gazd./1927.

49 Ibid.

50 MNL OL K 79 47. cs. 1924–1926 2. tétel May 9, 1925 169/A.kig/.

51 MNL OL K 69 761. cs. April 21, 1925 882/kig /; letters dated February 11, 1925 and March 28, 1925. (1 lira = 8.90 pounds = 1,83 USD in 1925. İstatistik Yıllığı, vol. 10, 305.)

52 İstatistik Yıllığı, 1934–35, 482. The capital was transferred to Ankara in October 1923. Before then it was a smalltown in Central Anatolia, which was of no special importance. The living standards remained around the national average.

53 MNL OL K 64 7.cs. 1923 32. tétel, March 2, 1923 12.345, Ministry of Defence to Foreign Ministry. (1 lira = 7.63 pounds = 1,67 USD in 1923. İstatistik Yıllığı, vol. 10, 305).

54 MNL OL K 79 47. cs. 1924–1926 2. tétel, May 9, 1925 169/A.kig/.

55 For a detailed analysis of the treaty see. Saral, “Türkiye–Macaristan Dostluk Antlaşması (18 Aralık 1923),” 155–80.

56 Official Gazette, June 18, 1927, No. 610. For the agreements signed between Hungary and Turkey in the interwar period see: Jónás and Szondy, Diplomáciai Lexikon, 960.

57 Nemzetgyűlési Napló, 1922, vol. 46, October 23, 1926, 584th session, 386–88.

58 Képviselőházi Napló, 1927, vol. 4, 252–54.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Yavuz, “Sanayideki İşgücünün Durumu, 1923–40,” 162.

62 Talas, Türkiye’nin Açıklamalı Sosyal Politika Tarihi, 78–79.

63 Hariciye Nezareti İstanbul Murahhaslığı (HR.İM) [Foreign Ministry of Turkey İstanbul Legation] 82/63 From the Dutch Consulate to the Turkish Foreign Ministry September 3, 1923, no: 2331.

64 MNL OL K 79 47. cs., 1924–1926, 2. tétel, January 31, 1925, 528/A.kig. Their names are as follows: Mihály Laskó, István Liebhauser, Nándor Liebhauser, János Rohmann, György Rohman, György Reinauer, Lőrincz Thész, József Gaszner, János Flotz, Ignác Schanzenbacher, György Speich.

65 MNL OL K 60 1927-I/7, April 4, 1927, 123/kig/1927.

66 MNL OL K 60 1927-I/7, February 1, 1927, 2490/kig/1926.

67 FO 371/ 13095 E840/708/44, February 15, 1928.

68 MNL OL K 64 31. cs. 1928, 41. tétel, January 26, 1928 5/pol. 1928.

69 Ahmad, “Cumhuriyet Türkiye’sinde...,” 139.

70 Ibid.

71 MNL OL K 64 31. cs. January 26, 1928 5/pol. 1928.

72 MNL OL K 653 19. cs. 10. tétel, October 21, 1927 23/A/res.1927.

73 Ibid.

74 MNL OL K 64 31. cs. January 26, 1928, 5/pol. 1928.

75 MNL OL K 64 37. cs. March 25, 1929 15/pol; FO 371/12321 E 5071/402/44 November 28, 1927.

76 Péter, “Horváth László – Lágernapló.”

77 MNL OL K 69 768. cs. 1931–1932 I-1 dos. Annual Report on the economy of Turkey 1932.

78 Ibid.

79 “Vilayet Raporu: Ankara,” in 1930 Sanayi Kongresi Tutanakları Raporlar-Kararlar-Zabıtlar, 629.

80 “Ecnebiler memleketimize ne şartlar altında gelecekler?.” Vakit, November 15, 1930.

81 Tekeli and İlkin, 1929 Dünya Buhranında Türkiye’nin İktisadî Politika Arayışları, 678.

82 Ahmad, “Cumhuriyet Türkiye’sinde…,” 127–28.

83 Official Gazette, June 16, 1932, No. 2126.

84 1,500 UK descent, 1,700 Maltese, 150 Cypriots, 150 miscellaneous. FO 371/16984 E826 587/44 February 10, 1944.

85 FO 371 / 16093 E 6677 / 811 / 44 December 7, 1932.

86 FO 371 / 16984 E 587 / 587 / 44 January 31, 1933.

87 FO 371 / 16984 E826 / 587 / 44 February 10, 1944.

88 “Turkey faces the slump. Bill aimed against foreigners. Jobs closed to them,” The Observer, January 24, 1932.

89 Ibid.

90 Official Gazette, June 18, 1927, No. 610.

91 Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (TBMM) [Turkish Grand National Assembly] Zabıt Ceridesi, 59th parliamentary session June 4, 1932, 65.

92 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d January 31, 1932 46/A/res.1932.

93 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d June 20, 1932 10.626/1932 Chamber of Trade and Commerce to Hungarian Embassy in İstanbul; August 9, 1932 11.685/1932 to Foreign Ministry; March 28, 1933 17.382/XI-1933 Ministry of Commerce to Foreign Ministry.

94 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d June 20, 1932 245/A.adm.res./1932 Tahy to Walko.

95 TBMM Hariciye Encümeni Mazbatası November 24, 1932 Decision No. 2 - 1/70.

96 Law No. 2249, May 31, 1933, Official Gazette, June 6, 1933 No. 2420.

97 Cabinet Decision No. 2/594, Official Gazette, May 24, 1934 No. 2709.

98 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d May 10, 1933 2067/A.kig/1933.

99 FO 371/16984 E826 587/44 February 10, 1944.

100 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d February 27, 1934 20.163/9/1934 Kánya to Jungerth.

101 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d March 18, 1935 509/1935.

102 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d March 15, 1935, 443/1935.

103 MNL OL K 94 4. cs. 1935 Reviczky’s daily report dated April 13, 1935.

104 MNL OL K 94 4. cs.1935 Reviczky’s daily report dated March 31, 1935.

105 MNL OL K 94 4. cs. 1935 Reviczky’s daily report dated May 5, 1935.

106 MNL OL K 63 290. cs.1936 32/1 (1) “Annual report on Turkey 1935,” February 11, 1936, 1.1936 3555/pl.1935.

107 MNL OL K 79 58. cs. 1932–1935 16d January 31, 1935 214/1935 Jungerth to Kánya.

108 Saral, “Türkiye–Macaristan İlişkileri,” 337; 478–96.

109 MNL OL K 79 73. cs. 1928–1935 17/3. tétel date n/a.

110 Annual report on Turkey 1935.

111 İstatistik Yıllığı 1934–35, 162–63.