Just 10 years old when the Turkish republic was founded, the sultan's last grandson lived a quiet life abroad in a New York City apartment, returning to his homeland only as a tourist.
Last prince of the Ottoman empire denied his palace
But for the vagaries of history, the abbreviated honorific title accorded to the grandson of the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire, who has died aged 97 in Istanbul, would have been His Imperial Highness Prince Shehzade Ertugrul Osman Effendi. As it was, most people knew the last surviving grandson of the final emperor of the long vanquished Ottoman dynasty simply as Osman Effendi. Instead of residing in splendour at the sublime Dolmabahçe Palace on the banks of the Bosporus in Istanbul, the place of his birth, the would-be caliph of all Sunni Muslims lived a modest life in a Manhattan apartment, where he entertained other members of the Istanbul elite, journalists and politicians, attended the opera and frequented the Metropolitan Museum of Art, passing anonymously amid a population largely composed of fellow émigrés. Unusually for a member of royalty, he also showed a keen aptitude for business, successfully running a mining company with interests in South America for many years.
Banished from Turkey in 1924 as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's Republic emerged from the ashes of the empire, the royal family withdrew to Vienna where the 10-year-old boy had already been sent to pursue his studies. He spent the next two decades there and in Paris, where he completed his education. What memories he retained of the early years of his rarefied childhood in Istanbul were limited to vague impressions of a strict German nanny and a shifting background of palace concubines.
It was in Venezuela in 1947, while on business with the mining company Wells Overseas, that Osman received word that the family's exile had been repealed. Told that he could apply for citizenship, he refused on the grounds that amnesty was not required of those who had done nothing wrong. Yet, he was remarkably accepting of the loss of the imperial privileges and way of life that he had been encouraged as a child to accept as his birthright.
"The republic has been devastating for our family, but very good for Turkey," he said. His second wife, Zeynep Tarzi Hanim, a niece of the last king of Afghanistan, was less restrained in her reaction to the end of the Ottoman empire: "If the caliphate were restored, the world would be a better place," she told The New York Times in 2006. In Manhattan, the couple occupied a rent-controlled apartment, paying the princely sum of US$350 a month. Their landlord was not best pleased at his tenant's longevity: it was in 1945 that Osman had moved in. He was joined in 1947 by his first wife Gulda Twerskoy, who died in 1985. There were no children from either marriage, but for company there were two cats, Dodo and Silvermix. At one time, exercising Osman's then 12 dogs had kept the neighbourhood's children occupied.
As he claimed to be a citizen of the Ottoman Empire and no such empire now existed, Osman held no official passport until strict security measures in the wake of 9/11 required that he swap his dog-eared laissez-passer for a standard document. This enabled him to travel frequently to Istanbul where what struck him most forcibly was that everyone spoke Turkish, a language he associated with exile. His journeys to Turkey were front-page news, though he eschewed any publicity and chose to visit his childhood home together with a group of tourists as though he were just any other sightseer.
Osman Effendi was born on August 18, 1912, and died on September 23. He is survived by his wife. * The National