Throughout history, many foreigners from the West and the East have defected to our country. Some settled, some migrated to other lands. Arrivals were first and foremost a sign of trust in our land. It was easier for those coming from the West to integrate into society than others. However, defections have always occupied the agenda from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic.

The Second World War and the migration movements experienced by Europe in its aftermath brought about the need to regulate the refugee issue in accordance with international law. For this purpose, the 1951 Geneva Convention was established. This Convention granted refugees concrete and advanced rights such as health, education, labour, residence, and nonrefoulement to the country of origin. Although these opportunities seemed to cover a wide range of areas, they naturally meant a status inferior to that provided to “citizens” with constitutional guarantees such as the right to vote and be elected. 

Turkey is also a signatory to the Geneva Convention. However, our elders, who foresaw that those coming from the East would turn the country into a refugee depot, put a geographical reserve when signing the Geneva Refugee Convention in 1951, saying, “We only grant refugee status to asylum seekers coming from member countries of the Council of Europe”. For this reason, a Syrian or Iraqi asylum seeker cannot get refugee status in our country. They are granted “Temporary Protection” status, which provides a minimum level of shelter security and has a place in the United Nations experience. On the other hand, according to the second paragraph of Article 42 of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, these people with Temporary Protection status cannot be granted a Permanent Residence Permit. In other words, the legislator stipulates that the return of such foreigners to their country of origin is considered essential. However, the fact that a Syrian can skip two steps – temporary protection and permanent residence permit – and be made a citizen directly has become a matter of debate. 

Unlike the refugee problems we are experiencing today, we have had refugees in the past who did not cause us such brooding. For example, we can count tens of European scientists who fled the Nazi persecution, made significant contributions to our universities and Anatolian enlightenment, and were able to integrate with our society. Among the first to come to mind are the orientalist Helmut Ritter, the architect Bruno Taut, the mayor of Berlin Ernst Reuter, the composer Paul Hindemith, the economics professor Fritz Neumark and the theatre director Carl Ebert. It is also worth considering why these people chose Turkey of that period for their freedom when many European countries did not. This choice will also help us to understand the atmosphere of trust and thirst for light provided by the Atatürk era. 

During the Republican period, interesting personalities such as Trotsky and Imam Khomeini also resided in our country. 

In the Ottoman Empire, we had some very interesting refugees from the West who left unforgettable traces behind them. There have been such incidents that one really feels like saying “Where are the old refugees?” in the face of both the refugees and the behaviour of the Ottoman administration. 


In the nineteenth century, some Polish and Hungarian generals who had been defeated in the war had taken refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Those of these soldiers who accepted were given senior positions in the army as soon as they arrived. The refugees were left free in their beliefs and preferences. One of them, Jozef Bem (1794-1850), of Polish origin, took refuge in Turkish lands after the suppression of the Hungarian freedom and independence movement by the Habsburg dynasty in 1849, converted to Islam voluntarily, took the name Murat Pasha and was immediately appointed to Aleppo with the highest rank at that time. Many years later, the Hungarians erected a large statue of Bem, whom they regarded as a national hero, in the square in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Budapest. Among the Turks in Budapest and the Hungarians who knew Turkish, there were those who called that square “Murat Pasha Square”. In October 1956, the first spark of resistance against the Soviet occupation was lit when university students gathered in this square under the statue of Murat Pasha. One arm of this statue portrayed Pasha with one arm in a bandage, while the other arm pointed to the East. How could he have known that one day he would become an Ottoman Pasha and bid farewell to life there?

Likewise, the Hungarian general Richard Guyon (1813-1856), who took refuge in the Ottoman Empire in 1849 when he was the Chief of General Staff, converted to Islam and took the name Hurşit Pasha. General Kmetty (1813-1865), who also converted, took the name İsmail Pasha and served the Ottoman army in various capacities (İsmail Pasha later used the name Kmetty again when he went to England). 

Lajos Kossuth (pronounced Layoş Koşut) (1802-1894), one of the statesmen who took refuge in the Ottoman Empire, wrote the following in his memoirs written in London about the Turks who did not extradite him despite the pressures of Russia and Austria and hosted him in Kütahya for two years: “The Turks, with their high feelings and respect for human rights, did not succumb to threats. The Turkish nation has a superior power in this respect… I will live with the memories of the favour and respect I received from the Turks.”


Among those who sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, perhaps the most mysterious and controversial figure was Janos (pronounced Yanoş) Bangya, who took the name Karabatır Mehmet Bey after arriving in Istanbul and served as Istanbul Police Chief between 1864 and 1868. Bangya, born in Hungary in 1817, came from a noble family of landowners, received officer training in the Austrian army, was promoted and joined the Hungarian war of independence in 1849 with the rank of Colonel. However, Bangya fled after the defeat and defected to Vienna, where he began working for the Austrian secret police in 1850. In the same year, Bangya travelled from Vienna to Paris, where he became vice-president of a committee of Hungarian, Austrian and German refugees. However, strangely enough, five of the seven members of this committee were rumoured to be spies. 

Colonel Bangya managed to establish contacts with the German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), who was active in Paris at this time and who was interested in the German refugees for political reasons, and with his trusted political circle, for reasons that can be easily surmised. In February 1852, Bangya approached Marx, pretending to be authorised by the exiled leader of the Hungarian revolution, the aforementioned Lajos Kossuth. During this period, Marx, together with his friend Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), was writing political criticism, but was having difficulties in getting it printed. For this reason, they could not get their criticism of Proudhon’s book published. Similarly, in April and May, when they were trying to find a way to publish the pamphlet “The Sages of Revolution”, a response to the views of German “petty bourgeois” leaders, they came across Bangya. Bangya took the manuscripts, telling Marx that he would take them to Berlin to have them printed. 

The habit stuck; there was no news of these writings ever again. When Marks realised that Bangya had handed them over to the Prussian police, he immediately made a statement to the New York Criminal Zeitung and exposed Bangya, but it was too late. The manuscripts were never to appear again. On page 219 of David Maclellan’s book Karl Marx, His Life And Thought, there is an unfavourable statement about Bangya: “Bangya is an agent in the service of whoever pays him the most money.”


It is not known what effect this event had on the European philosophical world, and whether Proudhon profited from it or not. However, upon these developments, Bangya, perhaps because his connection with the Austrian police had been exposed, found the solution to “cross over” to the Ottoman Empire in 1853. As soon as he arrived in Istanbul, the Ottoman state accepted him into the army with the rank of colonel. 

Meanwhile, the Crimean War (1853-1856) begins. The House of Habsburg sided with England and France against Russia. During the war, the Ottomans assigned Bangya to the Caucasian front. On pages 33 and 34 of the book titled Summaries from the Biographies of Hungarian Refugees who were granted asylum in Turkey, published by the Turkish-Hungarian Friendship Association in 2010, there is a detailed article titled “Yanoş Bangya”. In this book, it is recorded that during the Circassian war in the Caucasus, Bangya was appointed as the chief of staff of Sefer Pasha of Circassian origin, and interestingly, when the Russian general Baryastinsky raided and captured Sheikh Shamil (1797-1871), the freedom hero of the Caucasus, on 6 September 1859, it was rumoured that Bangya had betrayed him. Of course, this has not been proven to be true.

Bangya’s adventure in the Caucasus must have been really interesting. If he played a role in the capture of Sheikh Shamil by the Russians, it is not known whether he did so on behalf of a third state. Did he do it in exchange for material benefits, as the allegation against him in the case of the manuscripts above suggests? This is also unknown, but let us explore the matter a little further:

Balıkesir University faculty member Zübeyde Güneş Yağcı’s interesting historical research titled “International Leader of the North Caucasus: Sefer Zaniko”, it is stated that Colonel Karabatır Mehmet Bey was on duty next to Sefer Pasha who fought on the Caucasian front. In this article, it is noted that after a while, it was revealed that the Colonel acted in both directions, exchanged letters with the Russian General Fillipson, and in these letters, it was understood that Karabatır wrote that the Circassians could live under Russia like Georgia. Thereupon, Karabatır was declared a traitor on 3 January 1858. Especially the anti-Russian Polish officers in the army pressured for his execution, but with the intervention of Sefer Pasha, he was not executed and sent to Istanbul. The fact that there was a long period between 1858, when Karabatır was sent to Istanbul, and 6 September 1859, when the Caucasian Muslim leader Sheikh Shamil surrendered, reveals that the issue of whether he really gave Shamil up or not is not fully clarified. 

Karabatır Mehmet Bey came to Istanbul in 1864 and became the Undersecretary of Security and then the Chief of Security of Istanbul until 1868, when he passed away. The Ottoman state must have made an assessment of his background and personal qualities when giving him this important position, but unfortunately not much information has been found about the period he was in charge in Istanbul. It is only known that he was given honours and gifts and that he married the beautiful 15-year-old daughter of a Tatar prince, and that three daughters, Hatice, Fadime and Adile, and a son, Mustafa Asım, were born from this marriage. In the light of this information, it may seem normal to be interested in researching the genealogy of the Karabatır family, but such an endeavour may mean failing to respect the privacy of private life. Therefore, let us end our story here with the part based on the available data. 

It is not easy being a political refugee and having to leave your homeland.  When leaving, there are always deeply buried secrets, and in the country of origin, there are countless trials to overcome and dozens of adventures to live through. Yanoş Bangya’s life, which began in the Austrian army, also took some adventurous turns; He participated in his country’s war of independence, joined the Austrian secret police, worked as a newspaper reporter in London and Paris, took Marx’s manuscripts under the pretext of printing them and handed them over to the Prussian police, then “crossed over” or took refuge in Ottoman territory, changed his religion and name there, was alleged to have betrayed Sheikh Shamil while serving in the Ottoman army with the rank of colonel on the Caucasian front, was declared a traitor there, but was later made chief of police in Istanbul. He married and had children in Istanbul. It is not known whether the fifteen years he spent as a refugee on Ottoman soil until his death has other mysteries.

What should we say?  May God have mercy on him, or may he rest in peace?

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