ISTANBUL (HURRIYET)–The heirs of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman sultan to rule with absolute power, have filed a complaint for damages amounting up to $18 billion regarding 4,200 properties that were once owned by Ottoman dynasty members and later seized by the state.
Known as the bloody sultan, Abdul Hamid was responsible for massacring 300,000 Armenians between 1894-96.
The first hearing of the case was held last week, and the second hearing is scheduled for Sept. 30. Scattered around the world, the members of the family will reportedly reunite in Istanbul to attend the hearing.
The 48 plaintiffs are even planning to carry the case to the European Court of Human Rights if they lose.
Orhan Osmanoglu, one of the plaintiffs and a third generation grandson of Abdul Hamid, defined the case as the “lawsuit of the century,” adding that, “If we win the case, then we are ready to settle for a reasonable amount.”
“We do not demand the palaces. We just want the property bought by our grandfather with his own money,” Osmanoglu, speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs, said in an interview with the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “Abdul Hamid’s personal assets have not been transferred to the state treasury yet.”
However, the demand has already raised some eyebrows in the country. The Topkapi Palace Museum manager Ilber Ortayli, who is renowned for his research on the Ottoman dynasty, said it was a strange situation.
“I am trying to figure out what they are trying to do despite my amazement,” he said. “I can’t say I have been successful yet.”
Lawyer Deniz Ketenci, on the other hand, said the first thing to do should be to check the land registry documents. “Also there is a further complication in that the claims are coming from grandsons of grandsons, namely, there are a few generations in between,” he said. “Therefore, I do not think my commentary on the lawsuit could be sound now. We had better see the process.”
If the case is won, part of the indemnity will be distributed among the heirs, and the rest will be transferred to the Ottoman Dynasty Foundation, which is planned to be established in a few months.
Speaking to Hurriyet recently, Beyzade Bulent Osman, a great grandson of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, said he was about to take legal action for oil reserves in Mosul. Commenting on that, Osmanoglu said his enterprise would end up at nothing, just like a similar case in the 1940s. “Mosul aside, we also have personal assets in Greece and Egypt, but we first want our assets in Turkey back,” he said.
Adding that his attorneys conducted research into the state archives before the lawsuit, Osmanoglu said he had acquired 16 land registry documents. “We do not need to present a land registry document. The General Directorate of the National Estate already knows what used to be ours. There is a lot of profit involved in this business. If we win the case, we will not reclaim the lands owned by the military or the state, but we will protect our rights about the rest until the end.”
After their exile, the Ottoman family members were scattered across the world, and most of them had extreme economic hardships, said Osmanoglu, adding that their financial exile still continued. “The government has launched initiatives one after another. They could as well make an Ottoman Initiative. But we do not want much. We just want our rights protected. There is still a huge bias against the Ottomans.”
The women members of the dynasty scattered to metropolises like Paris, London and New York and were repatriated by virtue of a law passed in 1952 during the Adnan Menderes government. The men, on the other hand, could only be granted the same rights in 1974 by the general amnesty law passed during Bulent Ecevit’s Prime Ministry. Osmanoğlu said he came back from Syria with his family after the law passed in 1974, adding that he could not use his citizenship rights for 10 years.
“My childhood in Syria was tough, both economically and in terms of morale,” said Osmanoglu. “In addition to economic hardships, our teachers always would attack me, saying ‘You invaded our country.’ There was a huge hatred against the Ottomans. My education life included many overwhelming struggles.”