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Turkey: Successor or Continuing State of the Ottoman Empire?


This article explores whether Turkey is the continuing or a successor state of the Ottoman Empire. This is a question that attracts particular attention in the context of the contemporary political debate on ‘neo-Ottomanism’. After the analysis of past debates on succession and continuity, the Ottoman Empire's legacy is considered in light of the international case law, especially the 1925 Ottoman Public Debt Arbitration. Arguments of the international doctrine in favour of and against the Ottoman continuity thesis are also explored and tested by reference to comparable cases. The peculiarity of the transitional period from the Empire to the Republic, where two governments and two constitutions coexisted, is crucial to understanding the transmission process of the legal personality. Despite the undeniable ambiguity of the issue, the conclusion tilts towards the continuity argument. Potential positive and negative, as well as legal and political, implications of continuity, including those related to delictual responsibility, are discussed at the end.

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1 Politics, with an English translation by H. Rackham, (1998) III/1, at 185.

2 It should be noted that the leading politicians of the governing party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), make a conscious effort to avoid using the term ‘neo-Ottomanism’ (for the concurring position of the President of the Republic, see Ansaldo, M., ‘Non c'e solo Europa: Conversazione con Abdullah Gül, presidente della Repubblica di Turchia a cura di Marco Ansaldo’, (2010) 4 Limes-Rivista italiana di geopolitica 23, at 26). Having said this, there are several examples in which the AKP's nostalgia for the Ottoman era is publicly manifested. In a most recent instance, following the passing away of the oldest member of the Ottoman dynasty, Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, along with four other cabinet ministers, attended the funeral ceremony; see E. Dolmacı and C. Yenilmez, ‘Oldest Surviving Ottoman Laid to Rest’, Today's Zaman, 19 July 2010, at 1.

3 Editoriale, ‘Pax ottomana o marcia turca?’, (2010) 4 Limes-Rivista italiana di geopolitica 7, at 8.

4 N. Fisher Onar, Neo-Ottomanism, Historical Legacies and Turkish Foreign Policy (2009), EDAM Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, Discussion Paper Series, at 1, 10–11.

5 See Türkmen, F., ‘Turkish–American Relations: A Challenging Transition’, (2009) 10/1Turkish Studies 119.

6 E. Alessandri, The New Turkish Foreign Policy and the Future of Turkey–EU Relations, Istituto Affari Internazionali, Documenti IAI 10/03, February 2010, at 3.

7 Ortaylı argues that, after the pagan first Rome and the Christian second Rome, the last and Muslim Rome, i.e., the Ottoman Empire, ‘collapsed when faced with the modern world and nationalism’; see I. Ortaylı, Osmanlı Barışı [Ottoman Peace] (2004), 21.

8 P. M. Dupuy, ‘A propos de l'opposabilité de la coutume générale: Enquête brève sur l'objecteur persistant’, in Mélanges Virally (1991), 257.

9 M. Koskenniemi, From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument, Reissue with a New Epilogue (2005), 423.

10 N. Politis, La morale internationale (1944); R. Aron, Paix et guerre entre les nations (1962), 596.

11 R. Mehdi, ‘Les objectifs de la codification régionale’, in Colloque d'Aix-en-Provence, La codification du droit international (1999), 81.

12 Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996, General List No. 85, para. 86.

13 Williams, J. F., ‘La doctrine de la reconnaissance en droit international et ses développements récents’, (1933/III) 44 RCADI 203, at 204.

14 Verhoeven, J., ‘La reconnaissance internationale: Déclin ou renouveau?’ (1993) XXXIX AFDI 29.

15 Castren, E. J., ‘Aspects récents de la succession d'Etats’, (1951/1) 78 RCADI 385, at 395.

16 See Stern, B., ‘La succession d'Etats’, (1996) 262 RCADI 27, at 219.

17 Degan, V.-D., ‘Création et disparition de l'Etat (à la lumière du démembrement de trois fédérations multiéthniques en Europe)’, (1999) 279 RCADI 205, at 293.

18 P. Fauchille, Traité de droit international (1922), tome 1er, at 391.

19 Stern, supra note 16, at 38.

20 See H. Pazarcı, Uluslararası Hukuk (2010), 356.

21 Sciso, E., ‘Dissoluzione di Stati e problemi di successione nei trattati’ (1994) 1 La Communità internazionale 63, at 71.

22 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties, 23 August 1978, Art. 1(2)(b); Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of State Property, Archives and Debts, 7 April 1983, Art. 2(1)(a).

23 O'Connel, D. P., State Succession in Municipal Law and International Law (Internal Relations), Vol. 1 (1967), 3.

24 See P. Dumberry, State Succession to International Responsibility (2007) 17; Stern, supra note 16, at 108.

25 Mullerson, R., ‘The Continuity and Succession of States by Reference to the Former USSR and Yugoslavia’, (1993) 42 ICLQ 473, at 475.

26 H. Ascensio, ‘Etat’, in D. Alland (ed.), Droit international public (2000), 89, at 131.

27 Bothé, M. and Schimidt, C., ‘Sur quelques questions de succession posées par la dissolution de l'URSS et celle de la Yougoslavie’, (1992) 96 RGDIP 811, at 814–15.

28 For the concept, see Hershley, A. S., ‘The Succession of States’, (1911) 5 AJIL 285.

29 Kunz, J., ‘Identity of States in International Law’, (1955) 49 AJIL 68, at 69–70.

30 Rich, R., ‘Recognition of States: The Collapse of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union’, (1993) 4 EJIL 36, at 58.

31 Hershley, supra note 28, at 286, 289–90. In 1925, an arbitral sentence held that it was impossible to say that the state that acquires territory by cession is in strict law bound to take over a corresponding part of the public debt of the ceding state: ‘Affaire de la dette publique ottomane’, 1 Recueil des sentences arbitrales 529 ff. This sentence must, however, be read in its historical context. It seems that, although no customary rule according to which a partial successor must take over a proportional part of the general public debt of the predecessor state has crystallized, there is a practice in this sense, which only needs the opinio juris to become a positive rule.

32 Craven, M. C. R., ‘The Problem of State Succession and the Identity of States under International Law’, (1998) 8 EJIL 142, at 153, 153–4, 158.

33 I. Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (2008), 80.

34 Stern, supra note 16, at 40, 41, 89.

35 Czaplinski, W., ‘La continuité, l'identité et la succession d'Etats: Evaluation de cas récents’, (1993) 2 RBDI 374, at 379.

36 Stern, supra note 16, at 85.

37 See, e.g., Williams, J. F., ‘La doctrine de la reconnaissance en droit international et ses développements récents’, (1933/III) 44 RCADI 203, at 204, 206–7, 236, 239; Abi Saab, G., ‘Cours général de droit international public’, (1987/VII) 207 RCADI 29, at 68, 69; Verhoeven, J., ‘La reconnaissance internationale: Déclin ou renouveau?’, (1993) XXXIX AFDI 7, at 29; A. Cassese, International Law (2003), 48; B. Conforti, Diritto Internazionale (1996), 16.

38 Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 374, 379.

39 H. Kelsen, Principles of International Law (1967), 383.

40 Degan, supra note 17, at 300.

41 Interview given to Izvestiia (14 January 1992) by Vereshchetin (cited in Bothé and Schimidt, supra note 27, at 830).

42 Sciso, supra note 21, at 80–1.

43 N. Q. Dinh, P. Daillier, and A. Pellet, Droit international public (2002), 542, para. 353.

44 Stern, supra note 16, at 147, 148, 150.

45 Ascensio, supra note 26, at 119.

46 Verdross, A., ‘Le fondement du droit international’, (1927) 16 RCADI 247, at 269–70.

47 Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 375–6.

48 O'Connel, supra note 23, at 401.

49 Kelsen, supra note 39, at 384–5, footnote 85.

50 Sciso, supra note 21, at 74.

51 See H. Lauterpacht, Recognition in International Law (1948), at 109; Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 383.

52 Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 383, 378.

53 Kelsen, H., ‘The Legal Status of Germany According to the Declaration of Berlin’, (1945) 39 AJIL 518.

54 This legal notion seems to reflect a historical and even psychological conception of the German state. Before being shot by the death squad, Stauffenberg, the perpetrator of the failed attempt against Hitler, had shouted ‘Long live Holy Germany’ (see P. Hoffman, Stauffenberg, a Family History, 1905–1944 (1997), 277). What the young count meant by ‘Holy Germany’ was certainly not the Third Reich that he tried to destroy, but a more abstract and perennial entity.

55 Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, concluded by the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic and the four Allied powers and signed in Moscow on 12 September 1990 and entered into force on 15 March 1991.

56 Meyn, K. U., ‘Debellatio’, in Encyclopaedia of Public International Law, Vol. 1 (1992), 869: ‘The minimum content of any definition of debellatio is that one of the belligerent States has been defeated so totally that its adversary or adversaries are able to decide alone what the fate of the territory of that State and of the State authorities concerned will be.’

57 Ascensio, supra note 26, at 118.

58 Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 381.

59 Craven, supra note 32, at 145.

60 See Frowein, J. A., ‘The Reunification of Germany’, (1992) 86 AJIL 152, at 157.

61 Degan, supra note 17, at 304, 308.

62 Blum, Y. Z., ‘Russia Takes Over the Soviet Union's Seat at the United Nations’, (1992) 3 EJIL 354, at 355–6.

63 Rich, supra note 30, at 59.

64 Observation by Degan, supra note 17, at 306.

65 Stern, supra note 16, at 316, 318.

66 Mullerson, supra note 25, at 478.

67 Bothé and Schimidt, supra note 27, at 824, 826–9.

68 See Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 388.

69 Stern, supra note 16, at 44.

70 Bothé and Schimidt, supra note 27, at 832.

71 Mullerson, supra note 25, at 479.

72 Sciso, supra note 21, at 78–9.

73 Ş. Ünal, Uluslararası Hukuk (2005), 220.

74 Lloyd, D. O., ‘Succession, Secession, and State Membership in the United Nations’ (1993–94) 26 NYUJILP 761, at 779.

75 Kherad, R., ‘La reconnaissance des états issus de la dissolution de la République Socialiste fédérative de la Yougoslavie par les membres de l'Union Européenne’, (1997) 101 RGDIP 663, at 686. In fact, in addition to the continuity claims in question, Serbia had asserted preservation of a perfect identity since 1878 onwards. It is noteworthy that the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians was considered to be the continuing state of the Serbian Kingdom with regard to the treaties concluded by the latter prior to 1918; see Degan, supra note 17, at 304, 311.

76 Rich, supra note 30, at 53.

77 Sciso, supra note 21, at 68, 88.

78 See B. Stern, Le statut des états issus de l'Ex-Yougoslavie (1996), 17, 75, 89, 129.

79 Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 390.

80 Sciso, supra note 21, at 70.

81 Rich, supra note 30, at 54.

82 Bothé and Schimidt, supra note 27, at 825.

83 Stern, supra note 16, at 46.

84 Rich, supra note 30, at 59–60.

85 Bothé and Schimidt, supra note 27, at 838.

86 Lloyd, supra note 74, at 778, 782.

87 For the English summary of the case, see O'Connel, supra note 23, at 401–2.

88 Art. 15: ‘Turkey renounces in favour of Italy all rights and title over the following islands: . . ..’ Art. 16: ‘Turkey hereby renounces all rights and title whatsoever over or respecting the territories situated outside the frontiers laid down in the present Treaty and the islands other than those over which her sovereignty is recognised by the said Treaty, the future of these territories and islands being settled or to be settled by the parties concerned. (§) The Provisions of the present article do not prejudice any special arrangements arising form neighbourly relations which have been or may be concluded between Turkey and any limitrophe countries.’ Art. 17: ‘The renunciation by Turkey of all rights and titles over Egypt and over the Soudan will take effects as from the 5th November, 1914.’ Art. 18: ‘Turkey is released from all undertakings and obligations in regard to the Ottoman loans guaranteed on the Egyptian tribute, that is to say, the loans of 1855, 1891 and 1894. The annual payments made by Egypt for the service of these loans now forming part of the service of the Egyptian Public Debt, Egypt is freed from all other obligations relating to the Ottoman Public Debt.’ Art. 20: ‘Turkey hereby recognises the annexation of Cyprus proclaimed by the British Government on the 5th November, 1914.’ For the English text of the Lausanne Treaty, see F. L. Israel (ed.), Major Peace Treaties of Modern History, 1648–1967, with an Introductory Essay by Arnold Toynbee, Vol. 4 (1967), at 2309–10.

89 Art. 89: ‘From the coming into force of the present Treaty and subject to the provisions thereof, the multilateral treaties, conventions and agreements of an economic or technical character enumerated below shall enter again into force between Turkey and those of the other Contracting Powers party thereto: (1)– (8)’; see Israel, supra note 88, at 2350–1.

90 ‘Affaire de la dette publique ottomane (Bulgarie, Irak, Palestine, Transjordanie, Grèce, Italie et Turquie) 18 April 1925’, 1 Recueil des sentences arbitrales 573. Art. 46(2): ‘From the dates laid down in Article 53, Turkey shall not be held in any way whatsoever responsible for the shares of the Debt for which other States are liable’; see Israel, supra note 88, at 2320.

91 See O'Connel, supra note 23, at 402.

92 By the Law No. 241 of 6 May 1926, the Turkish Parliament determined ‘the modality of ratification and accession to the international treaties, conventions and agreements enumerated in articles 89 and 100 of the Treaty of Lausanne’; see S. Toluner, Milletlerarası Hukuk ile İç Hukuk Arasındaki İlşkiler (1973), 570.

93 I. Doğan, Devletin Milletlerarası Andlaşmalardan Doğan Hak ve Borçlara Halefiyeti Sorunu (1970), 88–91.

94 ‘Affaire relative à la concession de phares de l'Empire ottoman (Grèce, France) 24/27 July 1956’, XII Recueil des sentences arbitrales 184.

95 Ibid., at 190.

96 Verdross, supra note 46, at 271–2.

97 Sottile, A., ‘Eugène Borel: Son rôle dans la jurisprudence internationale, sa sentence arbitrale sur la répartition de la dette ottomane’, (1926) IV Revue de droit international, de sciences diplomatiques et politiques 88, at 106. Sottile makes curious observations about the story of the Lausanne Treaty: ‘Les négociations de Lausanne consacrèrent le succès de la diplomatie turque, la plus habile du monde, et l'échec du Quai d'Orsay’, at 101.

98 Kunz, supra note 29, at 68, 72; Cansacchi di Amelia, G., ‘Identité et continuité des sujets internationaux’, (1970/II) 130 RCADI 1, at 32; Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 376; K. Gözler, Devletin Genel Teorisi (2007), at 18.

99 Ascensio, supra note 26, at 118; see İ. Ortaylı (interviewed by Mehmet Gündem), ‘Tarihten kaçamayız’ [‘We Cannot Escape History’], in M. Gündem, Eleştirel Akla Çağrı, Bir Entellektüel Ajanda (2000), 69: ‘There is continuity in history . . .. The territories on which the Turkish Republic was founded are the homeland of the Ottoman Empire, hence the State is continuing with the Republic.’

100 Castren, supra note 15, at 393.

101 Rich, supra note 30, at 58; Kunz, supra note 29, at 72; Schoenborn, W., ‘La nature juridique du territoire’, (1929/V) 30 RCADI 81, at 119; Kelsen, H., ‘Théorie générale du droit international public: Problèmes choisis’, (1932/IV) 42 RCADI 121, at 337; Schachter, O., ‘The Development of International Law through the Legal Opinions of the United Nations Secretariat’, (1948) 25 BYBIL 81, at 105; Degan, supra note 17, at 303.

102 Crawford, J., ‘The Criteria for Statehood in International Law’, (1976–77) 48 BYBIL 83, at 139.

103 Kunz, supra note 29, at 72.

104 Blum, supra note 62, at 357.

105 Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro), Preliminary Objections, Judgment of 11 July 1996, [1996] ICJ Rep., General List No. 91, at 762–3, para. 87 (Judge Kreca, Dissenting Opinion).

106 See Castren, supra note 15, at 395: ‘les modifications apportées à l'organisation intérieure de l'Etat telles que le changement de gouvernement et de l'ordre juridique et social . . . n'influent pas sur ses droits et obligations internationaux . . .. Pareilles modifications intérieures n'altèrent pas la personnalité juridique internationale de l'Etat’; see also Stern, supra note 16, at 40.

107 Stern, supra note 16, at 83.

108 Kunz, supra note 29, at 73–4.

109 Mullerson, supra note 25, at 476.

110 Kunz, supra note 29, at 71.

111 Czaplinski, supra note 35, at 374.

112 Oran, B., Türk Dış Politikası, Vol. 1 (2002), 24; in fact, some historians draw attention to ‘more or less hidden’ continuities between the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, especially in terms of authoritarianism, centralization, and the weight of the state; see F. Georgeon, Abdulhamid II, le sultan calife (2003), 447.

113 Stern, supra note 16, at 59, 67.

114 In the republican era, Turkish language underwent a neologist reform process (initiated in the late Ottoman period) in order to be purified from Arabic and Persian vocabulary; however, the grammar and the basic Turkish vocabulary are strictly the same; for further information, see G. Lewis, The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success (2002).

115 Stern, supra note 16, at 74.

116 For instance, see ‘Protocole signé à Constantinople par les représentants de la France, de la Russie et de la Turquie, le 5 septembre 1862’ (10 Rebiülevvel 1279); ‘Coupole du Saint-Sépulcre’ (1884 Recueil des traités de la Porte ottomane avec les puissances étrangères par le Baron I. De Testa, Tome Sixième, at 474).

117 See Stern, supra note 16, at 405.

118 R. H. Davidson, ‘Ottoman Diplomacy and Its Legacy’, in L. C. Brown (ed.), Imperial Legacy: The Ottoman Imprint in the Balkans and in the Middle East (1996), at 197–8.

119 Özay, I. H., ‘Cumhuriyetin Dini’, (1981) 2/3 İdare Hukuku ve İlimleri Dergisi at 79; Ortaylı, supra note 99, at 67–8.

120 See Stern, supra note 16, at 386.

121 A family friend, who performed his military service in the early 1970s, reported that the ammunition boxes used in shooting exercises were stamped ‘Enwerland’. This is the nickname given by Germany to its First World War ally, which was de facto ruled by the military dictator Enver Pasha, son-in-law of the Sultan. The German General Staff could not help bitterly joking while sending military materiel to the Ottoman Empire and Turkey was still using the strong made-in-Germany Enwerland boxes over half a century after they had been sent.

122 T. Z. Tunaya, Devrim Hareketleri İçinde Atatürk ve Atatürkçülük (2002), 213.

123 See Lord Kinross, Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation (1966), 180, 531.

124 E. Çelik, Türkiye'nin Dış Politika Tarihi (1969), 17.

125 For instances, see Law on Civil Servants’ Trial (4 February 1913, Julian Calendar – still problematic before the European Court of Human Rights!), Statute Law on Land (7 Ramadan 1274), Law on Concessions of Public Interest (10 June 1326), Law on Provisory Occupation of Lands and Stone Quarries Belonging to Private Persons for Reasons of Public Interest (18 February 1331), Law on Field Watchmen (18 February 1330), Provisory Law on Breaches of the Regulation of 17 June 1329 on Steam Generators, Chambers and Motors Used for Purposes Other than Sea Transportation (6 Teşrinisani 1329), Law on the Expropriation of the Places Located in the Inner Sanctuary or the Annexes of the Holy Mosques or Other Pious Foundations (25 June 1328) (dates after Hegira).

126 See E. Teziç, Anayasa Hukuku (2003), 83.

127 Kelsen, H., ‘Recognition in International Law: Theoretical Observations’, (1941) 35 AJIL 611.

128 For the debate on the USSR, see Rich, supra note 30, at 44; Stern, supra note 16, at 220; for the former Yugoslavia, see Degan, supra note 17, at 289; Stern, supra note 16, at 227, 228.

129 For the decisions abolishing the monarchy, see Ş. Gözübüyük and S. Kili, Türk Anayasa Metinleri, 1839–1980 (1982), 88–9.

130 The Turkish public law professor Okandan argues, without providing any explanation, that the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist on 3 November 1922, when the Tevfik Pasha Government presented its resignation to the last Ottoman monarch; see R. G. Okandan, Amme Hukukumuzun Anahatları, I (1977), 411–12.

131 See Çelik, supra note 124, at 18.

132 Tunaya, supra note 122, at 78; B. Tanör, Osmanlı-Türk Anayasal Gelişmeleri (1789–1980) (2001), 268.

133 See Tanör, ibid., at 279.

134 See Soysal, İ., Tarihçeleri ve Açıklamalarıyla Birlikte Türkiye'nin Siyasal Andlaşmaları, Vol. 1 (1989), 17; it is noteworthy that Art. 8 of the Ankara Treaty of 20 October 1921 concluded between the Turkish National Assembly and France preserves Turkish sovereignty over the Jabar castle, where ‘the grave of Suleiman Shah, grandfather of Sultan Osman, founder of the Ottoman Dynasty’, is located (at 51).

135 See Soysal, supra note 134, at 25.

136 Tanör, supra note 132, at 240.

137 Dumberry, supra note 24, at 123 (emphasis in original).

138 Ibid., at 201–3.

139 ‘Affaire relative à la concession de phares de l'Empire ottoman’, supra note 94, at 197, 198.

140 See Israel, supra note 88, at 2329.

141 See Dumberry, supra note 24, at 100.

142 See League of Nations: Treaty Series (1935), 391, 392; Turkish Official Gazette No. 2896, 2 January 1935, at 4616–17. The District Court of California ruled that a California law extending the statute of limitations for claims to ‘looted assets by heirs to victims of the Armenian genocide’ conflicted with the executive agreement in question (Deirmenjian v. Deutsche Bank, A. G. 525 F. Supp. 2nd 1068 (C.C. Cal, 14 December 2007); see ‘California District Court Finds Post-World War I Agreements with Turkey Trump California Armenian Genocide Statute’, (2008) 102 AJIL 349.

143 See A. Kurumahmut (ed.), Ege'de Temel Sorun: Egemenliği Tartışmalı Adalar [The Main Problem in the Aegean: Disputed Sovereignty over the Islands] (1998).

144 The travaux préparatoires seem to show that the recognition the European character of the Ottoman Empire was more declaratory than constitutive; see E. Öktem, ‘Le traité de Paris de 1856 revisité à son 150e anniversaire: Quelques aspects juridiques internationaux’, in G. Ameil, I. Nathan, and G.-H. Southou (eds.), Le Congrès de Paris (1856): Un événement fondateur (2009), 151, at 164.

* Associate Professor, Galatasaray University, Istanbul []. The author would like to thank Jean d'Aspremont, Aydin Gülan, Mehmet Karli, Ilber Ortayli, Füsun Türkmen, and Vladimiro Zagrebelsky, who all contributed to this article in various ways.

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