ISTANBUL, Turkey — Osman Bayezid, the last Ottoman heir, liked to eat and throw dinner parties where circassian chicken, borek and stuffed grape leaves were served liberally. His fondness for lavish Ottoman-style food was so much that when a doctor asked him to cut his meals, he went for the medical check-up with his coat's pockets full of coins. He knew he was going to be asked to step onto a weighing scale and then given a strict diet to follow. Bayezid thought it best to add a few artificial pounds so that he wouldn't be nagged about his weight in follow-up trips. "Oh, he had so many tricks up his sleeve," recalls Bosiljka Stevanovic, a longtime friend, in an interview with TRT World. "He would make you laugh and laugh and laugh."
The Ottoman family's heir is remembered by his friends and family as a gentle, funny, caring and humble man. Bayezid passed away in New York on January 7 at the age of 92. He never married. The Ottoman dynasty ruled an empire that once stretched from the deserts of Saudi Arabia to the border of Vienna.
After a 600-year reign, it went into decline in the 1800s. The final blow to the dying empire was the loss of large parts of its territory in World War I. In October 1923, the empire was replaced by the modern Turkish Republic, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. A few months later, in March 1924, around 140 members of the royal family were ordered to vacate the Dolmabahce Palace by the new anti-monarchical government. They had just one day to leave. In the rush, many managed to take only the clothes they were wearing with them.
Later in life, when a journalist would press Bayezid to say if he held any grudges about his family's treatment, this is the only incident he would talk about. "I don't understand why the family was given only 24 hours to leave," he told Turk of America magazine in a July 2015 interview. After going into exile, the descendants of the once-mighty dynasty lived in relative obscurity.
Traditionally, the oldest male member of the family, which is scattered around the world, is the patriarch. He automatically takes over after the death of the current heir. Bayezid assumed the title in 2009, after his cousin Ertugrul Osman Efendi died. The title of head of the family has now passed on to 85-year-old Dundar Efendi, who lives in Damascus, Syria.
Among those who made the long train journey from Istanbul to Paris that March nearly a century ago were Bayezid's father Prince Ibrahim Tevfik Efendi, his mother Princess Sadiye Hanim, and his elder brother Cem.
At the time of their exile, Sadiye was six months pregnant with Bayezid. He was born on June 23 of that year, but without the customary 40-gunshot salute at the Dolmabahce Palace. Bayezid was the first family heir to open his eyes in exile. The tragedy wasn't enough to dampen his spirits though. "At least I am fortunate to be conceived in my homeland," he would say.
Bayezid was probably named after the 15th century sultan renowned for consolidating the Ottoman Empire. That Bayezid also happened to have a brother called Cem, with whom he famously fought for control of the throne for decades. Osman Bayezid, however, was poles apart from his predecessors.
He wasn’t interested in titles or how he was received, says Ibrahim Pazan, who has authored two books on the Ottoman family. "When he was coming to Istanbul in 2011, I wanted to arrange a car for him out of respect," he said. "Osman Bay refused and took a cab by himself." Bayezid's attitude was shaped by a disciplinary upbringing and by the dominant influence of his mother, his relatives say.
Life wasn’t easy for the family when they first went into the exile. Each member was given one thousand pounds and a one-way ticket out of the new republic. The money was spent quickly.
"They went into exile in spring [of 1924]," says Kerime Senyucel, who produced a TV documentary on the exiles for TRT. "And they told their servants to prepare the residences [in Istanbul] because they expected to come back by autumn."
In reality, the exile would last 30 years for the women and 50 years for the men of the family. Most of those who did come back did so only after the 1970s. Suddenly, the privileged royal life with inherited titles meant nothing. Princes were forced to work by taking up odd jobs – one drove a taxi, another pressed clothes. Many survived on the charity of others.
"Some even starved to death in their hotel rooms. It was a terrible time for the family," says a second-generation descendant Arzu Enver Erogan, the granddaughter of Enver Pasha, the last commander of the Ottoman military.
Bayezid's father Prince Tevfik could play piano and was even offered the chance to perform a concert, but he was too shy to appear before an audience.
The couple with their two young sons soon ran into financial hardship. And their relationship was souring under the strain, too.
Princess Sadiye divorced him in 1930 and moved out, taking Cem and Bayezid with her."It was quite a scandal…who leaves a prince?" remarked a family member, asking to remain anonymous. Prince Tevfik passed away on December 31, 1931.
Princess Sadiye was extraordinarily beautiful. The prince of Egypt was so madly in love with her that he wrote a poem that was later turned into a famous song "Ada Sahilleri'nde Bekliyorum [I am waiting on the Island's shore]." Her father, Curuksulu Bahri Pasha, was a loyal Ottoman soldier who rose to the office of provincial governor.
A fiercely dominant woman, she forced Prince Tevfik to divorce his previous wives when he proposed to her, at a time when polygamy was a common practice among Ottoman princes. "People in the family never liked her. The Caliph [the Ottoman ruler who was also the head of Muslims] at the time even declared their reunion as a morganatic marriage [not approved by family head]," says Princess Zeynep Ertugrul, the wife of a previous Ottoman heir and an Afghan princess.
Following her divorce, Sadiye met American businessman William Thallon Daus in Paris. They married in 1932, and had two sons, Rudolph Halouk and Bahri Lawrence. Daus was rich enough to have a country home in Connecticut, a villa in Cannes and a residence across from Paris’ chic Rue le Sueur, where France's most notorious serial killer Dr Petiot murdered two dozen people. He is also said to have been the Daus family's doctor.
The new couple mostly travelled between the US and Europe in the 1930s, while the boys were initially home schooled under the guidance of a trusted Turkish nanny. Life was good, by all accounts. Pictures from the family albums show the parents and their four boys vacationing at beach resorts in France. By the late 1930s, Bayezid had finished high school and was enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But in his own words, he was never good at sketching. He soon quit.
Sadiye and the boys were at Royan, on France’s southwestern coast, when Germany invaded its neighbour in June 1940 during World War II. Daus was in New York on a business trip, leaving it up to Sadiye to find a way out.
She took the boys to Lisbon, paying bribes along the way for safe passage. After remaining stranded there for seven months, they travelled to New York aboard the SS Excalibur, which was sunk by a German U-boat on its return journey.
An unforgettable friend
The family moved into the upscale Tudor Apartments in New York. While the younger boys were enrolled at a missionary school, Bayezid soon followed his elder brother Cem to the US military in his early 20s.
After two years of military service, he returned to New York and joined his stepfather’s company International Selectar, which supplied plastic components for radios to the US military.
The company was already in bad shape, and in the early 1950s it went bankrupt. This had an immediate impact on Sadiye, who had to move to a relatively modest apartment. In the end, Daus died with a lot of debt.
While the three brothers – Cem, Rudolph and Bahri – moved to different cities in the US to pursue their careers, Bayezid stayed with his mother. "He was really devoted to his mother," Princess Zeynep told TRT World.
Around 1954, Bayezid joined the foreign languages section of the New York Library known as the Donnell Center. He would work there for more than four decades. The fact he could read and write six languages including French, Turkish, Persian, and Portuguese made him suitable for the job. Bayezid wrote descriptions for foreign language books and periodicals for their readers and other libraries.
"French was one of his favourite languages," says Peter Constantine, an award winning literary translator and a family friend. Unlike many of the third generation of dynasty members in exile, Bayezid remained close to his Turkish heritage. "He was perhaps one of the last speakers of Ottoman palace Turkish, using words like geloorum instead of geliyorum [I am coming] and gidoorum instead of gidiyorum [I am going]," Constantine said. Colleagues from the New York Library remember him for other reasons.
"Bayezid would make puppets and then do shows for kids at the library," said Stevanovic, who joined the library in 1978. Tales of his generosity are legendary among friends. When a former supervisor was old and sick, Bayezid took leave from work to take care of her. He spent hours each day answering questions from the public in several languages, and read books to blind people.
He loved to socialise and often went out with friends to enjoy life in New York. "Having grown up in Paris, Mr Bay [as friends called him] had a particular fondness for music of Edith Piaf," said Brigid Cahalan, another colleague. "He also loved to throw parties for every holiday, including Halloween [his favourite], Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, and St. Patrick's Day."
It took the Turkish Republic some 80 years to come to terms with its Ottoman past. In 2004, the then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first senior government official to meet head of the Ottoman family, Ertugrul Osman Efendi, who preceded Bayezid as heir. "Erdogan was astounded when he found out Osman Effendi didn't have a Turkish passport," recalls Zeynep, who was present at that breakfast meeting.
Two months later, Ertugrul Osman, who had been 11 years old when the family was exiled, received his crescent-and-star printed passport. While many other family members had already obtained their Turkish passports and nationalities years before, it is only during the last 15 years that people have been able to freely discuss Ottoman history. "I had to sit through the classes in school where they taught us that my grandfather [Enver Pasha] was a traitor," recalls Arzu.
"They taught us that Sultan Abdul Hamid [II] was a Red Sultan," she said, referring to the critical name ascribed by European historians to the sultan, who was last to have effective control over the empire. While in exile, Osman Bayezid was sometimes cold shouldered by Turkish officials.
Once, members of a delegation from the Turkish embassy in the US were visiting the New York Library. They left after finding out Bayezid was an Ottoman descendent. "But he never expressed any grudge," says Constantine. "He never felt that he was robbed of his title or fortune."
His views on Kemal Ataturk, who pursued extensive policies to erase the Ottoman past, such as replacing the Arabic-Persian script with a Latin alphabet, were also categorical. "He saved Turkey from being reduced to a tiny piece of land in Anatolia," Bayezid said in the Turk of America interview.
Bayezid remained close to his Ottoman roots, especially when it came to royal etiquette. In the mid-2000s, when Senyucel interviewed him for her documentary, he was living in a public housing apartment. Yet despite his humble surroundings, he still carried himself like royalty.
"He served tea and desserts on nice china and silver that he inherited," she said. "It was a bit contradictory when you are sitting in a small apartment and being served with such cutlery." Bayezid began visiting Turkey regularly in the 1980s. The only time he came close to the privilege into which he had been born was when he was given a private tour of Topkapi Palace in 2011.
His final days were spent in hospitals and in the care of nurses paid for by two relatives. And even on his deathbed, he couldn’t help but pass remarks that would make people around him laugh. Not happy with intravenous medication, he refused to cooperate with the doctor days before his death.
"Come back later," Zeynep remembers Bayezid telling the doctor. When, the doctor asked?
"In about six months time."
(Saad Hasan - TRT World's Murat Sofuoglu contributed reporting for the article.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07
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