The Guardian reports (emphasis mine):

Ankara says the planned safe zone could allow up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey to return, although international observers and the SDF say such a move would amount to demographic engineering. Turkish presidency spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on Monday that Turkey has “no interest in occupation or changing demographics”.

I haven't heard the phrase demographic engineering before, and at face value, it sounds like a euphemism for ethnic cleansing.

The article cited below describes "demographic engineering" as the state-directed movement of ethnic groups:

McGarry, John. "'Demographic engineering': the state-directed movement of ethnic groups as a technique of conflict regulation." Ethnic and Racial studies 21.4 (1998): 613-638, doi:10.1080/014198798329793.

How is this different from ethnic cleansing?

  • 3
    Surely if they're refugees, they're returning to their original location and this is the reversal of ethnic cleansing?
    – pjc50
    Oct 7, 2019 at 12:59
  • @pjc50 Is there such a thing as reverse ethnic cleansing?
    – gerrit
    Oct 7, 2019 at 13:00
  • 2
    What I mean is a return to the status quo ante - refugees returning to the place from which they were driven. I'm not sure if there's a term for this.
    – pjc50
    Oct 7, 2019 at 13:00
  • @gerrit I think I'm with you; sounds like a lower body count alternative.
    – Dan Scally
    Oct 7, 2019 at 13:13
  • 4
    @jwenting, as long as not a single native is driven out, I would not call it ethnic cleansing. Diluting terms like this isn't good for the political debate. (Consider the "interesting" definitions of WMD adopted by US law.)
    – o.m.
    Oct 8, 2019 at 4:42

1 Answer 1


What is “demographic engineering” and how does it differ from ethnic cleansing?

Demographic engineering may include ethnic cleansing.

Ethnic Cleansing

ethnic cleansing : the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity

Demographic Engineering

Books interview with Paul Morland: “Even the Spanish flu pandemic wasn’t enough to stop population growth”. Dr Paul Morland is an associate research fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London, specialising in demography. He is the author of Demographic Engineering: Population Strategies in Ethnic Conflict (Routledge, 2014).

Q: You talk about ‘demographic engineering’ – what does that involve?

A: Demographic engineering is when groups in conflict use demography in order to strengthen their hand against the other side. I talk about two types: hard and soft.

Hard demographic engineering is when you change a population through demographic factors themselves – attempting to manipulate birth rates, death rates or migration. In its most extreme form it could even include genocide. One example of hard demographic engineering would be Northern Ireland’s Protestant establishment encouraging Catholics to emigrate in the 1960s and 1970s. This was a rather deliberate strategy to counter high Catholic birth rates and strengthen Protestant numbers. Another example would be the elevated birth rates of both Israelis and Palestinians when compared to similar groups – what could be termed ‘competitive breeding’, driven by a group’s desire to reinforce their numbers in a time of conflict.

Soft demographic engineering is when you try and change a population through non-demographic means, such as redrawing boundaries or manipulating cultural or national identities. To take another example from Northern Ireland: when the state was founded, there was a decision to include six rather than nine counties, as those six counties constituted a much more sustainable Protestant-majority population. It was about defining the state in a way that favoured one group over another.

[Emphasis added.]

  • 2
    I do wonder what exactly is wrong with intermixing different populations on a voluntary basis, according to the author. Oct 7, 2019 at 16:57
  • Could we say the opposition of the international observers and the SDF also amounts to demographic engineering? If it was in their interests, they probably wouldn't be against it.
    – user
    Oct 8, 2019 at 2:57
  • 1
    @Pat-Laugh the difference is that the opposition to this wants to keep the current status (where there's a - I believe - kurd majority in the area, which means it's an area where any democratically elected officials will likely be kurds and care about kurd issues. Nobody would lose anything they do not currently have by NOT allowing this demographic engineering. By resettling a lot of non-kurd refugees in the area, this would change. And since kurds are a minority which is not seen very friendly by the syrian government, this would remove a layer of protection from them.
    – Syndic
    Oct 8, 2019 at 7:35
  • 1
    @Pat-Laugh or shorter: "Demographic engineering" means to change demographics to achieve a goal. NOT actively changing the demographics would thus not be engineering.
    – Syndic
    Oct 8, 2019 at 7:36

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