NEW YORK TIMES
December 2, 1922
TO FIGHT FOR BILLION AND RICH OIL LANDS
FOR SULTAN'S HEIRS
Alvin Untermyer Sails Today to Press Claims of 22 Princess and Princesses.
AT LAUSANNE CONFERENCE
Immense Oil Holdings In Mesopotamia Now the Object of World Diplomacy.
STANDARD IN THE CONTEST
Property Part of the Immense Private Estate of Abdul Hamid, Claimants Say.
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 Mesopotamian 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 Government, 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 inherit it.
Major John Godolphin Bennett, who is mentioned in dispatches from Lausanne, is the representative of eighteen of the Turkish heirs. Samuel Untermyer 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 interested.
Fighting Oil Companies.
The chief legal expenses, it is alleged, are incurred in fighting the alleged efforts 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 contain more oil than all the fields in America and Mexico, so that the thing at stake is not merely the fortune of individuals 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 Bennett 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 unintelligible. Major Bennett is not secretary to Mr. De Kay. He is an Englishman who has for many years Military Attaché to the British Embassy at Constantinople, 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 countries, 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, retained me to act for those interests. My son, Alvin Untermyer, is leaving tomorrow 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 yesterday. 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 connected 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 greatest 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 largely 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, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby was active in demanding fair play for Americans in the Mesopotamian oil fields.
This policy is alleged to have been followed up actively by the present Administration. The position alleged to have been taken by the State Department at Washington is that the liberation of Mesopotamia from the Turkish control automatically killed all the Sultan's real estate titles in that region.
The future of the oil property may depend on whether the Turkish Government now succeeds in recovering the Mosul territory now administered under a British mandate.
Importance of Concession.
No ordinary concession is at stake. Governments are deeply interested because 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 bringing abut the recent Turkish war and there is fear that it will cause another war.
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 Morgenthau, 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 follows:
"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 controversy among nations is on his private lands.
"After he died, the tenants didn't pay any rents except in Constantinople, where the heirs have been receiving them.
"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 organized. There are five such corporations-one to take care of the copper and other metals, various great mineral deposits and the oil concessions.
"Then there are two holding companies 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, private 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 registered.
"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 recognized 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-thusfar 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 Government has now abandoned that contention. 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 Turkish 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 Mesopotamia 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 concessions 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 Government persists in this attitude in the interest of the Standard Oil it looks as if the situation might become embarrassing.
"We have here, therefore, the following condition: The British Government is trying to get an interest in the Mesopotamian 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."
Transcribed for educational, archival and fair use purposes only by Sofia Kontogeorge Kostos
NOTE: Standard Oil was founded by John Davison Rockefeller. (SKK)
NOTE: Abdul Hamid II is known as "the Great Assassin" "the Red Sultan" and "the BloodySultan." He ordered the brutal massacres of the Christian Armenians in 1894-96. SKK)
NOTE: A ruthless method of collecting taxes from the Christians was to farm out to the highest (Muslim) bidders. For incentive: the bidders were granted the full powers of authority to collect taxes for the Sultans-and keep the rest for themselves. (SKK)