Esin Orucu

I was born in Istanbul in 1940, an only child. My mother was a geography teacher, very principled with a serious work ethic, treating me always as a grown up: my views always counted. When my father told me not to do something, such as not to read a book, his reason always was ‘because I say so’, whereas my mother gave me a logical explanation such as ‘it is not time yet, you will not understand now and I will tell you when the time comes.’ That meant that I went to her for explanations.

I now must say a few things about my mother, since I have come to believe that she was my ‘role model’, as the saying goes. My mother was born in 1900 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Her mother was a housewife and her father was a teacher of Astronomy as well as being the Regional Director of Education in the Bursa region, where she was born, and then a headmaster in Istanbul in a Girl’s secondary school. She graduated from two Faculties, first Literature (Istanbul Darulfunun) at the time of the Empire, which was a general arts degree before Istanbul University was properly divided into Faculties after the Republic in 1924, and then there, the Faculty of Geography. She was one of the first five girls in her class. Upon graduation, she taught geography in a number of secondary schools for girls all in Istanbul for forty-seven years, and for a while before I was born, was a head mistress. She was well liked as a teacher and many of her students ended up by becoming geography teachers later in life.

It was my mother who decided that I should go to the English High School for Girls in Istanbul, one of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire’s concessions (capitulations) and then to the American College for Girls (ditto)(now Robert College), although this time my opinion was sought. Learning English and French (which was the second language offered) she said would open doors for me - which proved to be correct. She also repeatedly told me that a woman needed a ‘golden bracelet’, by which was meant a university degree and a profession and said that even if she decided later on not to work, she could always rely on her profession and not put up with a dead marriage, for instance.

In my day, the preferred professions were medicine, law, engineering and architecture. Although my mother said she loved being a teacher and that she would do exactly the same were she to be born again, this was never a profession suggested for me. I decided either to join the diplomatic service or go on stage! The last was not really an option, so I decided on the first and for that purpose went to the Istanbul University Law Faculty (1961-1965) which was one route to the diplomatic service, the other being the Faculty of Political Science, which at that time was only in Ankara. By the time I was in the second year of my studies I had decided to join academia: I had fallen in love with research, and teaching. It felt like the marriage of acting on stage – since the yearly intake in Law was 800 students, taught in two groups of 400 each, in huge amphitheatres with the podium where the lecturer stood, acting – and constant intellectual challenge. I graduated as the first of my class in 1965 and immediately joined the Faculty. I also joined the Istanbul Bar Association though I never practiced law. In spite of that, I received a placard after twenty-five years of service to the Bar!

I worked in Istanbul University for ten years, first as a lecturer of Administrative Law, with a break at the London School of Economics as a research student while I was working on my PhD. Later, I became a Docent (the step before professorship) in Istanbul and left for Glasgow in 1976. In Glasgow, first I was a lecturer, then a senior lecturer and then became the Professor of Comparative Law (1992). My mother was with me all through my journey. She was in Glasgow for eight years and passed away here when she was 88.

When I left Istanbul Law Faculty there were already three female Law Professors there and in the whole of the UK there were only four! When I became a Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 1981(part time), I was their first and only female (in addition to being the only Turkish female) Professor of Law.

During my academic career I gave seminars on a yearly basis at other Universities such as SOAS, Utrecht, Amsterdam Free University, European Academy of Legal Theory, Brussels, and in Turkey, Yeditepe and Okan Universities (whose Deans were my former students from Istanbul). I was the first Head of Department of Jurisprudence for four years after the former Departments of Jurisprudence (including Comparative Law) and Legal History were merged in 1989. I was the first Convener of the SPTL Special Subject Section of Comparative Law. I am also a titular member of the International Academy of Comparative Law, all comparatists’ umbrella organisation.

After twenty-five years at Erasmus, I retired in 2005 aged 65. I received an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 2009 and while a ring was put on my finger, was told that I was now married to the University. At Glasgow, I worked forty years altogether. Having reached the age of seventy-five and having worked in this profession for fifty years, I decided to stop teaching in 2015 at Glasgow, with a symposium organised covering my birthday: as always work and fun together...

I learnt from my mother a work ethic, professionalism, logic, discipline, order and listening. The English High School taught me responsibility, to take whatever one is doing seriously, the advantages of discipline both towards oneself and life, to work hard, and be self-confident. The American College gave me space and the possibility to develop and expand my personality at the right time between the ages of 17 and 21. I had the possibility to further build on a strong foundation and digest what I had acquired. And from life itself, I learnt humility and to balance everything it throws at you.

I am now an Honorary Senior Research Fellow. I have always felt married to my profession and believe that ‘if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well’.


Esin Orucu is Professor Emerita of Comparative Law and Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow; and Professor Emerita of Comparatıve Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam. She was born in 1940 in Istanbul and graduated from Istanbul University, Law Faculty. She completed her PhD in Istanbul University. She is a member of the Istanbul Bar. She has been working and living in Britain since 1976 and was also part time Professor in the Netherlands (EUR) until 2005. She became one of the first female Professors of Law at the University of Glasgow when she was appointed Professor of Comparative Law in 1992. She finished teaching courses in 2017. Her areas of interest include comparative law, Turkish law, language and culture and jurisprudence.