In the 1923 compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey, most Muslims living in Greece were forcibly moved to Turkey, and most Christians living in Turkey were forcibly moved to Greece.

The specific exceptions were Christians living in Constantinople (Istanbul), and Muslims living in Western Thrace, as well as Muslims who are part of the ethnic Albanian community.

I am searching for the reason these specific groups were exempted. I understand the exception regarding members of the Albanian community, but I am trying to figure out the reason the other two communities were exempted.

I found a book chapter called 1923–1947: Exchanging Populations and the Aftermath, which seems to indicate that the Muslims of Western Thrace were excluded from the exchange to create a symmetry in terms of the Greek Orthodox population in Istanbul. However, I do not know if it mentions the reason the Christian population in Istanbul was to be excluded in the first place. I do not have full access to the manuscript.

I was unable to find any other sources which mention the reason.

  • 4
    if all christians in istambul were expelled, the patriarch of constantinople would have to go too, but he is important for the orthodox. After some years, the turks closed his seminary, and after other persecutions, today they are a token people, but the patriarch is still there.
    – Luiz
    Oct 25, 2021 at 14:22
  • Albanians are native to Albania; Greeks are native to Greece, of which Constantinople was once part; and Turks have dwelt in Turkey for over half a millennium.
    – Lucian
    Oct 26, 2021 at 5:47

3 Answers 3


In a recent study by two University professors Angelos Syrigos and Antonis Klapsis, related to the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, and published as a booklet supplement to the newspaper "Kathimerini" ("Daily"), we read that (vol. 2 p. 6):

  • It was the Greek side that demanded that the Christians/Greeks of Constantinople are not exchanged, while the Turkish side wanted a full exchange. As for the reasons why Greeks made such demand the authors write (quote, my translation) "[Greek prime minister] Venizelos... thought that the exchange also of Constantinople Greeks would create political, social and economic disaster, given that Greece has already received one million refugees". (Note: This statement is not very clear to me. Would the disaster be just because of the additional number of refugees? Other?)

  • This Greek demand was backed by UK and France, because their commercial interests would suffer otherwise, since it was mostly Greeks that manned the Constantinople subsidiaries of British and French multinationals of the day.

  • In order to offer something to the Turks in return, Lord Curzon proposed that the Muslims of Western Thrace are not exchanged also.


I added above a link to the newspaper site where they announce the publication. A video with one of the authors, where possibly it discusses the reasons why (I haven't seen it) is here. In Greek.

I do not see the booklet itself officialy being sold, but there is a metabook platform where it appears for sale, here. One can also purchase it from the newspaper.

  • Do you have any reference like a link to the study or the booklet supplement?
    – hb20007
    Nov 30, 2023 at 8:06
  • 1
    @hb20007 Thanks. Added some links. Nov 30, 2023 at 11:13

Not a full answer, but I expect it to be useful until a better one shows up.

Most of Greeks expelled from Turkey weren't expelled after the exchange was accorded but they were already in Greece (according to Wikipedia, that cites an article I can't read), as they had fled during World War I and the Greco-Turkish War. The Greco-Turkish war had been dotted with a lot of atrocities and ethnic massacres and fleeing of refugees, which means that Greeks were expelled as the Turks won the war.

The only part of Turkey that was out of the war and out of reach of the Turkish National Movement was Constantinople and the Straits area, which was occupied by the Allies until 1923.

By 1923 the war was over and the Allies accepted withdrawing from Constantinople. At that point, both the strategic reason and the momentum to immediately expel the Greek inhabitants of Constantinople weren't present. In fact, the perspective of Greeks being expelled from Constantinople as soon as the Allies would withdraw wouldn't help in the negotiation for that withdrawal, specially since they were still a large minority and the atrocities in the war were internationally well known.

In summary, Constantinople Greeks weren't included in the population exchange because they hadn't been expelled because they had been somehow shielded from the Greco-Turkish war by Allied occupation of the Straits.


There are many reasons as to why the region of Thrace was deliberately excluded from the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne population exchange, however, I will primarily focus on the Greek aspect as it relates to Constantinople and greater Thrace.

If Elefthertios Venizelos had agreed to include the centuries old Greek community of Constantinople in the 1923 Lausanne population exchange, it would have likely caused a near universal uproar throughout Greece and even throughout the Hellenic Diaspora. Such an agreement would have officially ended the centuries old Hellenic and Orthodox Christian presence in Constantinople and subsequently, such an agreement would have been both a geopolitically and ideologically supreme victory for Kemalist Turkey-(closely resembling the city of Smyrna/(Izmir), after the "Catastrophe" of September, 1922 whereby the 3000 year old Hellenic presence in that historic city, was "ethnically cleansed"....almost overnight).

Perhaps it was this recent mindfulness of the devastation of The 1922 Smyrna Catastrophe that helped to wisely (and strategically) influence Elefthertios Venizelos' decision regarding the unshakeable presence of the Phanaroit Greeks of Constantinople.

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