2 Dec 1922: To Fight for Billion and Rich Oil Lands for Sultan's Heirs, New York Times

nyt 02121922


Alvin Untermyer Sails Today to Press Claims of 22 Princess and Princesses.
Immense Oil Holdings In Mesopotamia Now the Object of World Diplomacy.
Property Part of the Immense Private Estate of Abdul Hamid, Claimants Say.

The New York Times
Dec 2, 1922.


   Alvin Untermyer, son of Samuel
Untermyer, sails for Europe today
to press before the Lausanne conference
the claims of twenty-two Turkish
Princes and Princesses for Mesopota-
mian oil fields alleged to be worth more
than $1,000,000,000.  
   Mr. Untermyer will represent his
father and other American and British
citizens who are financing eighteen of
the twenty-two heirs of the late Sultan
Abdul Hamid. The claim is that most
of the oil fields now the object of world
diplomacy are owned by them in fee
simple by inheritance from Sultan Abdul
Hamid, who died in 1915. They contend
that the Sultan bought the property
from funds from his personal estate,
paid taxes on it to the Turkish Govern-
ment, and was the personal owner with
a title as good as any person could have
for real property.
   Hamid was deposed and driven out of
power by the Young Turks, but this, it
is alleged, did not impair his title to the
property nor the right of his heirs to in-
herit it.
   Major John Godolphin Bennett, who
is mentioned in dispatches from Lau-
sanne, is the representative of eighteen
of the Turkish heirs. Samuel Unter-
myer on his recent trip abroad became
interested, it was learned yesterday,
with Major Bennett in the affairs of the
Turkish heirs. Arrangements were
made to furnish the capital which was
necessary to provide immediate income
for some of the heirs, to pay the taxes
on their property and to defray the
legal expenses in connection with it.
Lieut. Col. T. Maitland Edwards is said
to be one of the British citizens inter-

     Fighting Oil Companies.
   The chief legal expenses, it is alleged,
are incurred in fighting the alleged ef-
forts of the Standard Oil Company and
other oil companies to capture rights in
these properties and to make good the
title of the heirs against claims put
forward by English and other interests.
   The oil fields owned by the Sultan and
claimed by his heirs are alleged to con-
tain more oil than all the fields in
America and Mexico, so that the thing
at stake is not merely the fortune of in-
dividuals but, to some extent, the future
of nations.
   Mr. Untermyer was shown yesterday a
dispatch in THE NEW YORK TIMES from
Lausanne containing an interview with
John W. De Kay, in which Major Ben-
nett is referred to as the secretary of
Mr. De Kay, and is quoted as saying
that former Postmaster General Hays
and Samuel Untermyer were to sail
from New York today and to make their
appearance at Lausanne. The statement
of Mr. Untermyer is as follows:
   "The message is confused and unin-
telligible. Major Bennett is not secre-
tary to Mr. De Kay. He is an English-
man who has for many years Military
Attaché to the British Embassy at Con-
stantinople, and is now representing the
Turkish princes and princesses who are
the heirs of the deceased Sultan Abdul
Hamid and who claim, as such heirs the
title of vast oil, mineral and agricultural
lands in Syria, Thrace, Greece Tripoli,
Palestine, Mesopotamia and other coun-
tries, including the vast oil fields of
Mesopotamia that are the subject of so
much diplomatic rivalry.
   "When I was in Europe last Summer
Major Bennett and Captain Edwards,
representing these Turkish interests, re-
tained me to act for those interests. My
son, Alvin Untermyer, is leaving tomor-
row for Lausanne for that purpose.
   "I know nothing about the story that
Will Hays is about to go abroad, except
that I know he is not going with my son
or in connection with this business."
   Will H. Hays was not in this city yes-
terday. His secretary, Ralph Hays said:
   "Mr. Hays is not sailing to Europe
tomorrow, and I don't think he plans to
sail there at all. I am sure that he is
not personally interested in any way in
the Mesopotomian oil question. It is
barely possible that his law firm is co-
nnected with it in some way. Mr. Hays
is today in Indiana."
   When Abdul Hamid died in 1915, it
was said that he was the richest man
in the world. His main productive
wealth was agricultural, and his great-
est potential wealth was oil. Oil
fields described as the most valuable
in the world exist on his private estate.
   The principal part of the known oil
properties, which have figured so large-
ly in the diplomacy of the last few years
under the name of the "Mesopotamia
oil fields," were bought by the former
Sultan in his lifetime. His ownership
under these conditions is alleged to have
blocked the efforts of the Standard Oil
Company and British companies to get
a foothold there. Whatever company
obtains the right to drill for oil in these
fields, it is asserted, will have to settle
first with the heirs of the old Sultan.
   The alleged efforts of the Standard Oil
Company to enter these fields through
diplomacy have been under attack for
several years. In the last part of the
Administration of President Wilson, Sec-
retary of State Bainbridge Colby was
active in demanding fair play for Amer-
icans in the Mesopotamian oil fields.
   This policy is alleged to have been fol-
lowed up actively by the present Ad-
ministration. The position alleged to
have been taken by the State Depart-
ment at Washington is that the libera-
tion of Mesopotamia from the Turkish
control automatically killed all the Sul-
tan's real estate titles in that region.
The future of the oil property may de-
pend on whether the Turkish Govern-
ment now succeeds in recovering the
Mosul territory now administered un-
der a British mandate.
     Importance of Concession.
   No ordinary concession is at stake.
Governments are deeply interested be-
cause oil is expected in the present
century to play the part in the rise and
fall of nations which coal played in the
Nineteenth Century. Oil is alleged to
have been an important factor in bring-
ing abut the recent Turkish war and
there is fear that it will cause another
   The alleged efforts to identify the plans
of the Standard Oil Company with the
interests of the United States has been
criticized by ex-Ambassador Morgen-
thau, Samuel Untermyer and many
others. A number of Americans are
said to be interested in the claims of
the Sultan's heirs. One account of the
Abdul Hamid estate and of the efforts
of various interests to deprive the
heirs of their rights was given yesterday as
   "Abdul Hamid was a billionaire when
he died. He had been for years buying
up great tracts of irrigated agricultural
lands, until he owned millions of acres
in Asia Minor, Thrace, Mesopotamia
and Africa. This was his personal
property. He paid takes [sic] on it to the
Turkish Government, just as any other
individual property owner would. His
annual rentals from these lands were
equal to $7,000,000 a year. His vast
oil tracts in Mesopotamia were, of
course, underdeveloped. The most valuable
part of the oil fields now in contro-
versy among nations is on his private
   "After he died, the tenants didn't pay
any rents except in Constantinople,
where the heirs have been receiving
   "Major Bennett made an agreement
with eighteen of the twenty-two heirs
by which all their claims were to be
turned over to corporations that he or-
ganized. There are five such corpora-
tions - one to take care of the copper and
other metals, various great mineral de-
posits and the oil concessions.
   "Then there are two holding com-
panies that he organized in Virginia.
His agreement with the heirs provided
that he should advance a certain amount
of cash which he paid them to give
them certain interests in the stocks of
these companies. He is also to pay
hundreds of thousands of dollars in the
way of taxes and the registration of
     Private Rights Sacred.
   "Under the Mohammedan laws, pri-
vate rights are sacred. They cannot be
seized by the Government even if the
owner is declared a traitor. Land titles,
when once registered in Turkey, are not
subject to contest. These land titles are
   "The tens of thousands of tenants on
the agricultural lands of the Sultan
Abdul Hamid have paid no rent since
he died and will pay no rent to any one
other than his heirs.
   "The French Government has recog-
nized the rights of the Turkish heirs in
the Syrian property and in the land and
all concessions there.
   "A billion dollars is a fair valuation
to put on the property. It is one of
fabulous wealth.
   "The British Government has long
been angling for the opportunity to get
in on the Mesopotamian oil fields - thus
far without success. It recently put forth
a claim that it had an option from the
Sultan Abdul Hamid on this land, but
could produce no writing substantiating
its claims except a writing from the
Turkish Ambassador said to have been
written in 1915.
   "It is understood that the British Gov-
ernment has now abandoned that conten-
tion. This contention is based on the
recognition of the title of Abdul Hamid.
   "For the past few years the Standard
Oil Company has made repeated efforts
to effect an arrangement with the Turk-
ish heirs. To that end it has tried to
deal with Major Bennett but without
result. Having failed in that direction
it appealed to our State Department to
get a ‘look-in' through the claim of our
Government to the open door in Mesopo-
tamia on the ground that, it being a
free State, all countries should have an
equal choice to exploit its resources -
quite overlooking the fact that the con-
cessions to these oil fields were already
owned by Turkish subjects whose rights
will be protected.
   "It has not been possible to learn
what representations were made or what
influences have been used to get our
Government to interfere through the
claim of the open door - which, in this
case, means Standard Oil. If our Gov-
ernment persists in this attitude in the
interest of the Standard Oil it looks as
if the situation might become embar-
   "We have here, therefore, the follow-
ing condition: The British Government
is trying to get an interest in the Mes-
opotamian oil fields under the claim of
an option from the Sultan Abdul Hamid
which his heirs deny. The Turkish heirs
claim that they own the oil fields, while
our Government raises the contention
that, since Mesopotamia is now a free
State, the exploitation of these oil fields
should be open to all countries - meaning
the Standard Oil."


donate buttonSupport Us

Donate to the GGRC and help us document the Greek Genocide.

About Us

The Greek Genocide Resource Center (GGRC) is a not for profit online resource created to raise awareness on the Greek Genocide. Read more.


Social Media