Turkey and the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code

The written and spoken versions of the speech are equally authentic.
Adress speech by Federal Councilor Christoph Blocher given on the occasion of the opening of the symposium at Ankara University on October 4, 2006, commemorating the 80th anniversary of the entry into force of the Turkish Civil Code


I was taught early on at school that Turkey had adopted the Swiss Civil Code. I simply took note of this piece of information, and, yes, I was certainly pleased to learn about this fact — although I had no idea back then what a civil code was all about. But what a sense of pride we felt, young as we were, to hear that mighty Turkey had adopted from tiny Switzerland something which we had to presume was so important.

I am delighted, dear Rector Aras, dear Minister of Justice, dear Madam Dean, ladies and gentlemen, to commemorate with those here present at Ankara University the 80th anniversary of the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code by Turkey.

How should the proud little boy that I was back in the forties of the last century know that he would be accorded the great honor of celebrating this event, today, here with you?

I wish to thank you, my dear colleague, Minister of Justice Cemil Cicek, for your kind invitation. Furthermore, and on behalf of the Swiss Federal Council, I am pleased to extend greetings and best wishes to the government of Turkey. As you may be aware, the Swiss Federal Council is composed of seven members. This group functions collectively as head of state, as it were. There is no such thing as a prime minister or president in Switzerland.

Dear Rector, Professor Nusret Aras, I thank you for the hospitality extended to me and the opportunity to speak at Ankara University — an institution that has played a role of paramount importance in the history of the Republic of Turkey. My thanks go also to you, Professor Lale Sirmen, and to your dear learned friends for making it possible to hold a several-day-long symposium in the republic’s capital.

The fact that a country, such as Turkey, adopted another country’s legal code, such as the Swiss Civil Code, certainly had numerous ramifications. One such ramification had to do with me. And this is the story behind it:

As a young legal employee with the business enterprise I later came to buy, I had to deal with the business inquiry of a Turkish entrepreneur. The inquiry was about constructing an industrial plant in Turkey. I asked the founder and president of our business whether it would be wise to enter into this construction contract. “After all, this project will take us to far away Turkey,” I reasoned, a country that was still rather exotic to our minds back then. “Every nation has its own way of doing things, after all,” I ventured. All the president would say was, “The Turks are decent people; after all, they adopted the Swiss Civil Code from us. They must be decent business people, then!”

Well, the contract was signed, and this was the beginning of a solid, long-standing business relationship, marked by mutual trust and confidence — a relationship that has endured to this day and that has resulted in a variety of projects all over Turkey, such as those in Izmit on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmara, the region that was shaken by a major earthquake.

Further projects include those in Bursa, an ancient capital of the Ottoman Turks. Other projects were done in Adapazari, which was partly damaged by another major earthquake.

These few examples go to show that it was not merely about business relationships. Rather, this initial business contact with Turkey resulted in the establishment of personal relationships of long standing.

In view of these relations, it is only obvious that a good many distinguished Swiss law professors from three university cities — Bern, Fribourg, and Lausanne — have come to participate in the symposium. I am especially delighted and impressed to find among them Professor Eugen Bucher, one of my former law professors under whose tutorship I studied.

My fellow country-people are living proof of the good contacts established with Turkey after 1923. Above all, their presence here today reflects the amicable ties between Turkey and Switzerland.

  • Recalling the past eighty years, we are reminded of places of particular historic interest — Take Geneva, for instance, a place closely associated with the Young Turks. Some 22 Ottoman opposition newspapers were printed in Geneva.
  • Remember also the Lausanne Peace Treaty, signed in 1923. To this day, this momentous document is, in effect, considered the founding charter of the Republic of Turkey. It is, so to speak, the Turkish opposite to the Swiss Federal Charter, signed in 1291.
  • The Montreux Convention, reached in 1936, gives Turkey unqualified sovereignty over the Dardanelles, the Bosporus, and the Sea of Marmara.
  • Furthermore, there is Zurich, the place where the Cyprus agreements were negotiated in 1960;
  • and in 1988, Davos served as a forum of rapprochement between Turkey and Greece. The talks culminated in the signing of the Davos Declaration.
  • And then, there is the Bürgenstock resort, another place. The final round of the Cyprus talks was held there in 2004.

Over time, Turkey and Switzerland have developed their relationship in a variety of other fields as well — a relationship marked by mutual respect and goodwill.

  • One example of this good relationship is Turkey’s adoption of the Swiss Civil Code in 1926, the very reason we are convened here today.
  • Furthermore, there is the Turkish-Swiss Lawyers’ Convention. Thanks to you, ladies and gentlemen, it has been possible for many years to stage this meeting alternately in Turkey and Switzerland.
  • And also think of Migros Türk, the supermarket chain store, established in 1954, after Gottfried Duttweiler, an outstanding person and personality and the founder of the Migros chain store in Switzerland, paid visit to Turkey.
  • If I speak of the good relationship between Turkey and Switzerland, I also have in mind the many students that come from Turkey, those studying for a doctor’s degree, and their doctoral dissertations.
    It is an interesting fact that up until about 1970, Switzerland was the country in Europe with the highest number of dissertations per head written by Turkish students. The cities and universities of Geneva, Lausanne, and Neuchâtel were particularly favored by students. Professor Lale Sirmen, too, came to Switzerland for a year to study at Zurich University. 

It was a truly gigantic undertaking to reestablish, in 1926, from scratch Turkey’s legal system, if not to say an entire society. This was a unique undertaking, a major experiment that deserves our admiration and respect. Switzerland is particularly honored it could add a tiny piece to that undertaking by contributing the Swiss Civil Code and the Code of Obligations.

The fact that the first minister for the interior of the Republic of Turkey, Mahmud Esad Bozkurt, studied in Lausanne and Fribourg was no doubt beneficial in expediting the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code. Regarding the gargantuan task of reorganizing the Turkish legal system, Esad Bozkurt said, and I quote,

“It takes an entirely new Turkish judicial organization, a new legal system, new laws, and new courts. But how could and should such a judicial organization be organized so that foreigners, too, cannot help submitting to it? The answer lies in one single word — secular.”
Professor Ernst Hirsch cited this statement in an article published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Swiss Lawyers Association.

The courage the founding fathers of Turkey, in particular Kemal Atatürk, displayed in transforming the vestiges of the Ottoman Empire into a modern republic was and is awe-inspiring.

Dear Justice Minister,
dear Rector, Professor Aras,
dear Professor Sirmen,
ladies and gentlemen:

I am delighted to be here with you today. And I am proud that the document which marks the birth of the Turkey was negotiated in Lausanne. I am equally proud that the Swiss Civil Code has become part of Turkish legislation. This code was drafted by Eugen Huber, a modest and humble man. By adopting this civil code, Turkey honored Switzerland and its people. It is a token of esteem that fills us with pride and humility, and it is lasting proof of the strong ties between Turkey and Switzerland.

Let me conclude by wishing you an interesting judicial symposium, a symposium where old friends come together and new friendships are made. I recognize the courage the founders of Turkey showed and the circumspection displayed in consolidating progress and traditional, proven concepts into a viable,
future-oriented synthesis.

Thank you very much for your commitment.



Last modification 04.10.2006

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