View Full Version : The Ottoman sultan lives above a restaurant in the east 70s

March 26th, 2006, 07:35 PM

Not Quite a Castle, but It's Home


IF the Ottoman Empire were restored, it would make one New York City landlord very happy.

His tenant, Ertugrul Osman, would become the Ottoman sultan the head of a dynasty that ruled from 1299 to 1924, when the Turkish Republic was established. The job would come with a house in Istanbul, the 285-room Dolmabahce Palace, now a museum.

New York law, not to mention noblesse oblige, would require the sultan to surrender his two-bedroom apartment over a restaurant on Lexington Avenue in the 70's. He has lived there since 1945, and his rent is $350 a month.

But the empire isn't coming back. "I'm a very practical person," said the prince, trim, sharp and well dressed at 93. "Democracy works well in Turkey."

(Titles are not coming back either: the tenant on Lexington Avenue is technically His Imperial Highness Prince Osman Ertugrul, but after six decades in the United States, he has learned to answer to just plain Osman.)

Ali Tayar, an architect from Istanbul who became friends with Osman in the early 1990's, put the prince's status in perspective. "He has no ambitions to return, and he doesn't want anyone to think he does," Mr. Tayar said. "But he's an incredibly important link to Turkey's past."

Since they don't plan to go anywhere, Osman and his wife, Zeynep, a niece of the last king of Afghanistan, expect their landlord, Stephen Kirschenbaum, to maintain their current home in safe condition.

In 2005, part of the couple's bathroom ceiling collapsed moments after the princess had left the room.

"I could have died," she said.

"I could have sued," said her husband, his comic timing sharpened by nearly a century of practice.

The princess is so courtly that she phones a reporter in advance of a visit to ask whether he would like coffee or tea. So imagine how she feels warning the reporter to be careful, because there aren't any light bulbs in the narrow stairway leading to the third-floor apartment.

Illuminated or not, the stairs are so steep that it's hard for anyone, much less anyone who's 93, to climb them. Still, Osman and Zeynep (who is nearly 30 years his junior) descend and ascend daily. Their haunts include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and their favorite restaurant, Swifty's. They speak knowledgeably in English, Turkish and French about music, art and politics.

"When I first met him, I didn't know how to address him," Mr. Tayar said. "Even the formal 'you' in Turkish seemed too meager. But he made things easy."

Mr. Tayar said that Osman, a devotee of contemporary architecture, visited Pop and Waterloo, downtown restaurants Mr. Tayar designed. "He really gets it."

The pair are not above poking fun at themselves. A needlepoint pillow in the couple's bedroom says, "It's not easy being a princess."

Indeed. After the ceiling collapsed, the couple wrote to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Soon the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development was rebuilding their roof, while the couple lived in a hotel.

Mr. Kirschenbaum, who practiced law in New York for nearly 30 years but now owns a resort in Santa Fe, N.M., said that he was preparing to rebuild the roof when the city stepped in. (A spokesman for the city confirmed that the Housing Department had made the repairs to the apartment.)

Although New York State considers the apartment to be rent-controlled, Mr. Kirschenbaum said he was not sure it qualified for that status, because it was the only residential unit in a commercial building. He added that the couple's lease, originally drafted 60 years ago, requires them to make repairs to the apartment.

Maddy Tarnofsky, the couple's lawyer, disagreed. "There is an ancient lease that does provide for the tenant to make certain repairs, but not structural repairs," she said, adding that she did not believe the provision would be enforceable in any event.

Ms. Tarnofsky contends that the rent sounds better than it is. "If you add in the amount they have spent over the years to keep the boiler running, and to do the types of repairs that are the responsibility of the landlord, it has actually been a very expensive apartment," she said.

The couple is now suing Mr. Kirschenbaum to force him to make further repairs to the apartment.

If the geopolitical situation were different, the prince and princess, who married in 1991, would have servants to handle such matters. Twelve years ago, Osman became the oldest male member of his family and thus the 45th head of the dynasty founded by Osman I in 1299. He is the last living grandson of any Ottoman emperor (his grandfather, Abdul Hamid II, ruled from 1876 to 1909). After him, Zeynep said, "the tradition of the family will disappear because the rest of the members were born abroad."

Their annual visits to Turkey are front-page news there. Turkey is seeking admission to the European Union, hat in hand, a process that some Turks find humiliating. By contrast, Osman symbolizes a time when the Ottomans exercised vast power.

He also represents a moderate approach to Islam. "If the caliphate were restored," Zeynep said, referring to the sultan's traditional role as the leader of Sunni Muslims, "the world would be a better place."

Born in 1912, Osman was sent to school in Vienna as a child. In 1924, the royal family was expelled by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. "The men had one day to leave," he said. "The women were given a week."

Osman, who was already studying in Europe, remained there until he moved to New York in 1939. His first trip back to Turkey was 53 years later, in August 1992, at the invitation of the prime minister.

Of course, he wanted to see Dolmabahce Palace. Eschewing the red-carpet treatment, he insisted on joining a tour group, despite the summer heat. "I didn't want a fuss," he said. "I'm not that kind of person."

Still, even he was ruffled when a guard told him he couldn't step up off a plastic mat onto the parquet floors, which he had played on as a child.

As a young man, Osman, who is now retired, was in the mining business and often traveled to South America. Because he claimed to be a citizen of the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire did not exist, he refused the passport of any nation. For years, he traveled with a homemade passport, and then a permit issued by the United States government. Incredibly, that worked for decades, and might have continued to work had Sept. 11 not led to tighter security. In 2004, he received a Turkish passport for the first time.

Zeynep had also led the life of an exile. Her family left Afghanistan after King Amanullah, her uncle, was forced from power in 1929. In Istanbul, her mother, who was Turkish, worked as a surgeon and ran her own hospital. "But she never lost her femininity," Zeynep said. "I never even heard her raise her voice."

After moving to New York in 1971, Zeynep supported herself by selling Turkish-made clothing under the brand name Zana. (She has recently begun marketing some of the same clothes at www.fashionmodem.com.) At a party in 1989, she met Osman, then a widower with no children. She was smitten, but he worried that the age difference between them was too great. "Eventually," she recalled, "'I told him, 'If you won't marry me, I'll marry someone else.' It was an empty threat, but it worked."

After they married in 1991, Osman's apartment, with its 25-by-40-foot living room and huge terrace facing a leafy backyard, was the obvious place for them to live.

At one time, Osman said, he had 12 dogs in the apartment and kept neighborhood children busy as dog walkers. These days, the couple are down to two cats, Dodo and Silvermix.

The furnishings are comfortable but modest. In one corner of the living room, a collection of silver objects that belonged to Osman's family evokes past grandeur. He is too modest to show them off, so Zeynep does the honors.

An ornately framed mirror bears a portrait of a long-ago sultan. "He's the one who laid siege to Vienna," Osman said matter-of-factly.

Then, seeing the reporter admire the silver, Zeynep announced, "Everyone who visits us leaves with a token." There was a long pause, and then she pointed to the visitor's jacket. "Cat hairs."

Osman offered reassurance. "The hairs," he said, "are silvery in the right light."

And in the right light, this is Dolmabahce Palace.

March 26th, 2006, 08:25 PM
Nice story. Thanks.

If he were the Caliph, could he call off the suicide bombers?

March 26th, 2006, 08:32 PM
Well, he'd probably have more luck than Bush.

March 26th, 2006, 11:57 PM
If he were the Caliph, could he call off the suicide bombers?
Doubt it.

In 1839 Ertegrul Osman's great grandfather, Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid I ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abd-ul-Mejid ) enacted the Hatt-i Sharif of Gulhane (Noble Edict of the Rose Chamber) which included reforms to make certain "that all should have full religious liberty and equal civil rights" -- not exactly big causes among the suiciders. Another of his reforms would probably be as equally unpopular with that group: "... the turban (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turban) was officially outlawed for the first time during Abd-ul-Mejid's reign, in favour of the fez (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fez_%28clothing%29)."

Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid I made another fateful decision that affected both his country and the future of his family -- something that perhaps Americans can learn from: "During his reign the reckless system of foreign loans began, carried to excess in the ensuing reign and culminating in default, which led to the alienation of European sympathy ..."

Another interesting point for wirednewyorkers regarding Osman's grandfather:

Sultan Hamid commissioned thousands of photographs of his empire. Fearful of assassination he did not travel and so photographs provided visual evidence of what was taking place in his realm. The Sultan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultan) presented large gift albums of photographs to various governments and heads of state, including the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States) (William Allen, "The Abdul Hamid II Collection," History of Photography 8 (1984): 119-45.) and Great Britain (M. I. Waley and British Library., Sultan Abdulhamid II Early Turkish Photographs in 51 Albums from the British Library on Microfiche (Zug, Switzerland: IDC, 1987). The American collection is housed in the Library of Congress (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_of_Congress) and has been digitized [1] (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pp/ahiiquery.html)

That collection -- a quick glance reveals 1,800 + photos -- can be accessed here: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pp/ahiiquery.html (enter The Abdul Hamid II Collection and click "search")

Some of the collection ...

The Mecidiye Camii (mosque)

The Torpedo

Students, imperial high school, Baghdad

Galata Tower

Ottoman Helmets

A cafe at Masarburnu

The Shores of Kandilli

March 27th, 2006, 01:28 AM
A friend of mine just informed me that when the Ottomans overtook Constantinople in 1453, the sultan proclaimed himself by right of conquest the Qaysar-i-Rum (Caesar of Rome, or Roman Emperor). By direct patrilineal descent that would make Mr. Osman of Lexington Avenue the last Roman emperor.

March 27th, 2006, 02:10 AM
Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul not Constantinople
Been a long time gone
Old Constantinople's still has Turkish delight
On a moonlight night

Evr'y gal in Constantinople
Is a Miss-stanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it, I can't say
(People just liked it better that way)

Take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks'


(Huge hit in 1953)


I loved Turkish food as a kid:


March 27th, 2006, 07:08 AM
Also Joyva halvah and Turkish delight.

Especially good when chocolate-coated.

April 1st, 2006, 11:50 PM
Ertugrul Osman's great-great grandfather ...

http://a1259.g.akamai.net/f/1259/5586/1d/images.art.com/images/-/John-Young/Mahmud-II-Sultan-1808-39-from-A-Series-of-Portraits-of-The-Emperors-of-Turkey-1815-Giclee-Print-C12059853.jpeg (http://www.art.com/asp/sp-asp/_/PD--12059853/SP--A/IGID--1508278/Mahmud_II_Sultan_180839_from_A_Series_of_Portraits _of_The_Emperors_of_Turkey'_1815.htm?sOrig=CRT&sOrigId=25053&ui=F4FAEE1C606F435FB115AAE08CE701A1#)
Mahmud_II_Sultan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmud_II) 1808-39,

from 'A Series of Portraits of The Emperors of Turkey', 1815

Print from John Young (http://www.art.com/asp/display_artist-asp/_/CRID--25053/JohnYoung.htm?ui=F4FAEE1C606F435FB115AAE08CE701A1)

April 3rd, 2006, 10:52 AM
I think it is kind of sute that in the furst post we see a pictire of Mrs. Ottoman Sultan sitting on an ottoman.

April 8th, 2006, 03:30 PM
I think it is kind of sute that in the furst post we see a pictire of Mrs. Ottoman Sultan sitting on an ottoman.
She's sittin' on the dock of the bey.

April 8th, 2006, 06:09 PM
Thanks, ablarc ... you just gave me a much need belly laugh