The Name behind the Modern Turkish Law: Count Leon Ostrorog

The biggest contributor to the secularization of the Turkish legal system is a French citizen of Polish descent named Count Leon Ostrorog.

Ostrorog settled in France first in the early 19th century and later in Istanbul. At the time of the reforms of the Ottoman Empire, you can see the signature of this Count under many innovations, especially on the issue of the judiciary. With the Ottomans he was so close to the Muslim culture that he had recited the azan to his children’s ears before baptism. Count Ostrorog prepared the infrastructure of today’s legal system in Turkey, along with forensic revolution.

Arriving of Count Ostrorog to Istanbul

Count Ostrorog comes to the world as a child of a Poland-based family and then passes on to French citizenship. In the 19th century, in the wake of the struggle between Poland and Russia, the great repression of the Russian tsar forced him to leave Poland. At that time, many fleeing from the war settled in the Ottoman Empire, especially around Polonezkoy. While some of these people left the Ottoman Empire and went abroad, some families, like the Ostrorog family, prefered to stay in Istanbul.

The Name behind the Modern Turkish Law: Count Leon Ostrorog
Count Leon Ostrorog

Leon Ostrorog and His Understanding of Law

Leon Ostrorog, born in Warsaw, completed his studies at the Sorbonne Law School in Paris and got his doctorate in Islamic Law. While at the Sorbonne Law School, he met Izzet Pasha’s son and came to Istanbul upon invitation for the first time. Ostrorog was forced to leave his city due to political pressures on the pretext of war and settled in Istanbul with his family.

Ostrorog, who was expert at law and proved himself at a younger age with many works, worked for 5 years at Düyunu Umumiye (Public Debts). During that time, he married Jeanie, the daughter of Lorandolar, one of the Levantine families of Istanbul, and had two children named Jean and Staenislas. He always dealt with law and made a living by teaching law lessons in Darülfünun (Ottoman University). Ostrorog, a highly active and intelligent lawyer, wrote many articles about law in French newspapers.

Modernization of Ottoman Law System and Count Ostrorog

During the Second Constitutional Monarchy, many reforms were made to reduce the political pressure of Europe. The reforms, especially those related to justice, were very attractive. Count Ostrorog was appointed as a consultant in the Ministry of Justice to correct and rectify the Ottoman legal system. The commissioning of a non-Muslim population with a very important authority in the Ministry of Justice caused a great deal of reaction in political circles. While he was supported due to his education, profession about Islamic Law and his doctorate, he was strongly criticized by the ones who were opposed to the innovations of the period.

The Name behind the Modern Turkish Law: Count Leon Ostrorog
Count Leon Ostrorog Mansion

After his appointment, Ostrorog studied the Ottoman legal system from an insider point of view and wrote reports very quickly. In just one year, he wrote 11 different reports, which are of great value today. Ostrorog had different ideas regarding Trade Law. The capitulations reacted because of reports that Shari is not contrary to the law.

Ostrorog, strongly supported by the Committee of Union and Progress, was heavily criticized by the Constitutional Assembly. When the reports captured the attention of council, he was removed from the office.

Legal and Political Activities of Leon Ostrorog

The Name behind the Modern Turkish Law: Count Leon Ostrorog
Count Leon Ostrorog in the garden of mansion.

Count Ostrorog, who was in love with the Ottomans and Istanbul, did not abandon Istanbul even though he was taken from duty. Moreover, he served as one of the members of the Istanbul Lovers Association, which was founded in 1911.

The removal of Ostrorog from the post was a major influence of Necmettin Molla, who was from the Islamic wing at the time. Ostrorog, who was the sole lawyer of the Ottoman Empire, knew exactly 29 different languages and was able to compare Islamic law with European law in the same pot, was taken off by the conservatives.

Despite all, Ostrorog, who had proved his knowledge and qualifications, was soon appointed as the 1st legal counsel of Bab-ı Ali. Significant steps were taken in order to secularize the legal system in these years, and especially in the First World War. Some of the decisions regarding the legal status of the minorities in the Ottoman Empire, which was one of the top issues that hurt the Ottoman State, were sorted out with the contribution of Ostrorog.

The Name behind the Modern Turkish Law: Count Leon Ostrorog
İstanbul 1911

Count Ostrorog’s Death – Ostrorog Mansion

During World War I, Ostrorog and his children had to compulsorily go to England. He taught Islamic Law and Turkish Land Law in England. When he died in England in 1932, he was brought to Istanbul by his two sons and buried in the Catholic cemetery of Feriköy. Leon Ostrorog inherited 200 books that were written on the law backwards. These books were donated by their children to the Law School and are still addressed by the curious people here.

From the Ostrorog family, a mansion in Kandilli has also been inherited. It is located in the most beautiful spot of Kandilli and was purchased by Rahmi Koç in 2000, restored and reopened.