The Turkish Revolution of 1926: The Transition Process of Family Law from Ottoman Legal Heritage to Turkish Civil Law

Author:Irfan Cicekli
TheTurkishRevolutionof1926:
TheTransitionProcessofFamilyLawfrom
OttomanLegalHeritagetoTurkishCivil
Law
IrfanCicekli*
Thelegalrevolutionof1926inTurkey,markedby
thepromulgationofthenewCivilCode,hasbeen
seenasadifferentandevenspecialinstanceby
somescholars.Themainreasonlyingbehindthat
assumptionisthefactthatitwasavoluntary
adaptationasopposedtothemajorityofinstances
wherelegaldiffusionoccurredthrough
colonisation.Itwasalsoseenasrevolutionary
sinceitbroughtmarginalchangesintheareaof
familylawanditwillbediscussedtowhatextent
thisrevolutionhasbeencharacterisedas
completelyliberatingandacertaincutofffromthe
Ottomanlegalhistory.Thispaperwillcritically
examinethevalidityofsuchclaims,byanalysing
thechangesthathaveoccurredsincetheOttoman
perioduntilveryrecently.Themethodsusedinan
attempttobringTurkeyinlinewithother
modernisedstates,alongwiththeimplicationsto
society,willbescrutinised.

184SLJ5(1)
Introduction
Inahighlyfamousspeech,MustafaKemalAtaturkstated
thatthecorrectpathforthenewlyformedTurkishRepublic
istheroadofcivilisation.Itisacommonperceptionamong
manyTurksthattheKemalistrevolutionof1926was,infact,
theultimatetoolforsuchacivilisationandledtoacomplete
andclearbreakfromtheIslamicOttomanpast.However,
whenthesociolegalanalogyisanalysed,itisseenthatthe
Turkishlegaltransplantationisfarfromadecisiveeasy
goingprocessasithasbeenadvertised.Thispaperwill
analysetheTurkishexperienceinordertotestthevalidityof
theperceptionthattheTurkishlegalrevolutionwasa
completecutofffromthepastIslamicandculturalnorms.
Thefirstchapterwilllookatthetheoreticalbackground
behindtheTurkishlegaltransplantationandexplainwhy
Turkeyhasbeenseenasaspecialinstanceandwhythefocus
intheareaoffamilylaw.Thesecondchapterwillanalysethe
modernisationandsecularisationeffortsintheOttoman
periodtodemonstratethatthe1926revolutionwasnotthe
firstmodernisationeffortinTurkishhistory.Thethird
chapterwilllookatthepowerdynamicsatworkinthe
Code’stransplantationandtheextenttowhichiteliminated
thenormsandrulesthatweredeemedoutdatedbythe
foundersoftheRepublic.Thefourthchapterwillanalysethe
implicationsoftherevolutionfromtheearlydaysofthe
Republicuntiltheendofthe20thcenturytoseethereaction
ofthenormativeorderingsembeddedinthesocietytowards
change,andwhethertherewasanyresistancetoofficiallaw.
ThefifthchapterlooksatthenewCivilCodeof2002and
analyseswhethertheeffectsofOttomanIslamiclegal
heritagecanstillbefounddespitenumerousreformsinareas
suchasgenderequalityandmarriage.Throughoutthecourse
ofthediscussion,itwillbeshownthatthelinesbetweenthe
pastandpresent,oldandnew,andtherealitiesofchange
TheTurkishRevolutionof1926185
beforeandaftertherevolutionareneitherasclearnoras
definiteasthehegemonicnarrativesmaysuggest.1
1.TheoriesandBackground
Alegaladaptationcantakeplaceinanumberofdifferent
ways.Itcanbeimposed,planned,unplanned,adeliberate
effort,oraresultofconvergenceordivergence.2Turkey’s
caseofadoptingtheSwissCivilCodewassurelynotacaseof
anunplannedoranenforcedone.AsstatedbytheMinister
ofJustice,MahmudEsatBozkurt,theintentionwasnota
simplereformbutratherarevolutionoflaw.3Legalreform
wasthecentralmechanismoftheKemalistRevolutionand
codificationwasthemainmethodoflegalreform.4By1926,
anentirelysecularlegalsystemwasputinplaceanditis
arguedthatthelawwasaimedatchangingbehaviourinthe
hopethatattitudeswouldfollow.5Theaimwastobuilda
newnationalidentityandthechosenmodewaslegal
transplantation.
*IrfanCicekliiscurrentlyanLPDstudentattheUniversityof
Law.HeholdsanLLBfromtheUniversityofLondonSOAS.
1SevalYildirim,‘AftermathofARevolution:ACaseStudyof
TurkishFamilyLaw’(2005)17PaceInternationalLawReview348.
2DavidNelkenandJohannesFeest,AdaptingLegalCultures(1st
edn,HartPublishing2001)22.
3BozkurtME,TurkMedeniKanunuNasilHazirlandi?[1944]in
BozkurtG(tr),‘TheReceptionofWesternEuropeanLawin
Turkey(FromtheTanzimattotheTurkishRepublic,18391939’
(1998)7DerIslam283,294.
4Yildirim(n1)356.
5EliseBoulding,Foreword’inNerminAbadanUnat(ed),
WomenintheDevelopingWorld:EvidencefromTurkey
(UniversityofDenver1986).

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