Soysal, Mümtaz (1929–)

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Soysal, Mümtaz

Mümtaz Soysal is a professor of constitutional law at Ankara University as well as a columnist in prestigious newspapers in Turkey. He served as a member of Turkish parliament (1991–1998) and minister of foreign affairs (1994). Professor Soysal is the recipient of the first International United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Prize for the Teaching of Human Rights (Paris, 1978).


Soysal was born in Zonguldak, Turkey, in 1929. He graduated from Galatasaray high school in 1949 and from Ankara University faculty of political sciences and law in 1954. He worked for two years as an assistant at the Institution of Public Administration for Turkey and the Middle East and later studied at the London School of Economics in England and at Princeton and Berkeley Universities in America. After he returned to Turkey, he received his doctorate from the faculty of social sciences where he was later appointed as an assistant (1956). He became an assistant professor in 1959 and an associate professor in 1969. During those years, he was appointed to the Founding Assembly that prepared the 1961 constitution of the Republic of Turkey. He was the founder of the Socialist Culture Society and became the chair of the Mediterranean Social Research Council. He also served as the vice president of Amnesty International.

Soysal became a full professor and was appointed as the dean of his faculty in 1971. However, he resigned after a short period because of his conviction during a 1971 military coup on the basis of a communist propagation he intended to propose in his book. He served 14.5 months in prison. After his sentence, he began to take part in international meetings and many law associations, and has published his work in Forum, Akis, and Yön (one of the founders), Emek and Ortam reviews, and Yeni Istanbul, Ulus, Cumhuriyet, Barıș, and Milliyet newspapers. He served as a constitutional advisor for the Turkish Republic of northern Cyprus in the Cyprus negotiations between 1978 and 1980, and from 1988 onward.


Name: Mümtaz Soysal

Birth: 1929, Zonguldak, Turkey

Family: Widowed. Wife, Sevgi Soysal (d. 1976); two daughters, Defne and Funda

Nationality: Turkish

Education: BA, Ankara University, 1954; London School of Economics, 1955–1956; Princeton University, 1959–1960; University of California, Berkeley, 1960


  • 1959–1963: Administrational law assistant, Ankara University
  • 1963–1969: Constitutional law professor assistant, Ankara University
  • 1969–1991: Constitutional law professor, political sciences faculty, Ankara University
  • 1971: Dean of the political sciences college, Ankara University, arrested during 1971 military coup and serves 14.5 months in prison
  • 1974–1978: Member of the Amnesty International executive board
  • 1976–1978: Vice-chair of the Amnesty International executive board
  • 1978–1980, 1988: Constitutional advisor of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the Cyprus negotiations
  • 1991–1995, 1995–1999: Member of Turkish Grand National Assembly

In the early 1990s, he took an active part in politics and became a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly between the periods of 1991 to 1995 and 1995 to 1999. He was first elected as deputy of Ankara by joining the Social Democratic People's Party (Sosyaldemokrat Halk Partisi, or SHP), which is a Turkish left-wing party established by Murat Karayalçın. However, Soysal gave the government's privatization slate a hard time by trying to stop projects via the courts. He criticized his party for taking a defensive role in the coalition government and suggested offensive approaches. The Social Democratic leader, Deputy Prime Minister Karayalcin, appointed Soysal as the foreign minister of Turkey. Just four days later, Soysal resigned because the government passed a privatization law, earlier opposed by him. While serving in the parliament, his arguments with Çoșkun Kırca, who had also served as a member of the parliament, put Soysal in front of the spotlight. He took part in accusing the parliament of implanting unconstitutional election laws and disputed some of the parliament's proposals in Turkey's highest court, the Constitutional Court.

Just before 1995 general elections, Soysal decided to continue his political career in another left-wing organization, the Democratic Left Party (Demokratik Sol Parti, or DSP). He was elected to the parliament as deputy of Zonguldak. He served as a foreign minister in Bulent Ecevit's cabinet and worked hard to improve relations with Armenia. In 1996, Soysal had applied to the Constitutional Court for cancellation of a law planned to provide privatization of the Turkish Telecom (TT) when he was a deputy of the DSP. The court cancelled the law upon his application. At that time, about U.S.$30 billion was proposed for TT, an amount totaling Turkey's domestic and foreign debts. A year later, he resigned from the cabinet and from Ecevit's Democratic Left Party because of a conflict with the prime minister's wife, Rahsan Ecevit.

Now serving as leader of the newly established Independent Republic Party (Bagimsiz Cumhuriyet Partisi, or BCP), he is still opposed to privatization and to higher education being provided in foreign languages. He believes that the recent political approaches do not reflect the needs and expectations of the people. One of his slogans, "Turkey is not governed from Turkey," refers to the control that foreign powers like the United States and the European Union wield over Turkey's economic reforms and foreign policy.


Soysal was influenced by the moral and legal basis of the human rights concept that human beings have universal rights, regardless of legal jurisdiction or ethnicity and nationality. Examples of human rights are the security rights that prohibit crimes, liberty rights that protect freedoms in areas such as belief and religion, political rights that protect the liberty to engage in political activity, due process rights that require a fair trial when charged with a crime, equality rights that guarantee equal citizenship, welfare rights that require the provision of things such as education and protections against severe poverty and starvation, and group rights that provide protection for groups against ethnic genocide and for the ownership by countries of their national territories.

He sincerely believed that these rights exist in morality and in law at the national and international levels, and followed the path of these beliefs through his academic and political career. He received the UNESCO International Human Rights Education Award that was given first in 1979. This UNESCO award was given to him because of his efficient, exemplary, and genuine contribution to the development of the teaching of human rights.

Soysal lectures as a professor of law on human rights and serves as a deputy in the parliament; he always pays great attention to the Cyprus issue and served as the constitutional adviser to former president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktas; he assumed critical roles during the Annan Plan, which was a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to settle the Cyprus dispute of the divided island nation of Cyprus as the United Cyprus Republic. As Soysal had predicted, Greek Cypriots said no to the referendum and were accepted as a member of EU, and Turkish Cypriots are still trying to remove the embargoes that have resulted from this.

As a former foreign minister, Soysal also worked on Kurdish and Armenian issues. He thinks that the United States, and especially Britain, are provoking these issues. As a solution, he proposed a specific economic plan that can be supported by private and state investments for southeastern Anatolia because of the negative economic conditions in the region.


Rauf Denktash was born on 27 January 1924 in Paphos, British-controlled Cyprus. After legal studies in Britain, he returned to Cyprus and became a practicing attorney. A member of the Turkish Cypriot community, in 1957 he helped form the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT) in Cyprus to resist the Greek National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) guerrilla organization. After Cypriot independence from Britain in 1960, he became the head of the Turkish Communal Chamber in the new government. After the failed 1974 Greek Cypriot coup that tried to unite Cyprus with Greece, and the subsequent invasion of the northern part of Cyprus by troops from Turkey, the island was divided into two zones: The Republic of Cyprus, which was the power controlling the Greek portion of the island in the south, and the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus, a government headed by Denktash in the north. In 1983, Denktash helped create the new Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, although the only nation that recognized the new government was Turkey. He served as the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus until 2005.

On the political stage, Soysal is known as a strong opponent to many issues, the most famous of which is his opposition to privatization. He believes that a mixed (public-private) economy is still necessary for Turkey's economic progress, especially in the southeast. He says that there should be government policies supporting labor-intensive investments in those regions and that mass migration to other places can be avoided.

When Turkey's attempts at Westernization are the concern, Soysal reminds the Turkish people that the EU says all the time that Turkey will not be a full member, and that the United States is trying to establish an independent Kurdish state just next to Turkey's southeastern region. He believes the Western world is orchestrating the press on the Kemalist republic and is supporting political Islam. Based on these statements, Soysal believes Turkey should get angry, cool off its relationship with these Western countries, be relaxed, and then be in a tough spot with the EU, or try hard to become a stronger and sounder nation.


Soysal is a well-respected human rights activist and his work is highly recognized by Turkish and international authorities. He was the first person to collect the UNESCO International Human Rights Education Award in 1979. Since then, he has continued to work for human rights all over the world.


Soysal is a distinguished professor of law and human rights, and his lectures and work have an influence on the Turkish legal system and political arena. As a former deputy and foreign minister, Soysal had applied to the Constitutional Court for election laws and for the cancellation of a law planned to provide privatization. Even though he has many opponents, he still continues to support the government's role in Turkey's developmental attempts.


Brown, James. "The Turkish Imbroglio: Its Kurds." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 541 (September 1995): 116-129.

Kushner, David. "Self-Perception and Identity in Contemporary Turkey." Journal of Contemporary History 32, no. 2 (April 1997): 219-233

Salem, Norma, ed. Cyprus: A Regional Conflict and Its Resolution. London: Macmillan for Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security, 1992.

Soysal, Mümtaz. Speech at United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, 13 December 2000. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Available from

                                                                   Erdem Aygok