Early Rivalries for the Mesopotamian Oil Concession 1900–12

  • Marian Kent


In Mesopotamia, as in Persia, certain areas had for thousands of years been known to contain oil springs and seepages, but, apart from primitive local uses, there was no developed industry.1 European interest in the possibility of exploiting Mesopotamian oil commercially had been manifested since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Individuals and expeditions visited the area, and even before the turn of the century numerous reports had been made on its oil potential. As early as 1871 a German expedition reported favourably on the prospects,2 while in the 1890s several reports were made,3 either to the home governments or to learned societies, or, as in the case of C. S. Gulbenkian,4 to the Turkish Government. The Ottoman administration was thus forced to become aware of this possible rich source of of revenue,5 and at the suggestion of Agop Pasha, Director of the Privy Purse, Sultan Abdul Hamid issued firmans in 1888 and 1898 (renewed in 1902) that placed the revenue of the oil properties of the Mosul and Baghdad vilayets (provinces) under the control of the Sultan ’s Civil List. Thenceforth any negotiations for oil concessions in these areas had to be conducted directly with the Civil List authorities. Legal rights to any concession could be obtained by a concession seeker only through an official contract, an imperial firman, or by a permis de recherche.


Draft Convention German Railway British Interest British Embassy German Contract 
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  1. 1.
    For details of the situation in 1900 see S. H. Longrigg, Iraq, 1900–1950, p. 27.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    S. H. Longrigg, Oil in the Middle East: its Discovery and Development, 3rd ed. p. 14, mentions those by A. F. Stahl in 1893, Lt-Col.Google Scholar
  3. T. R. Maunsell in 1897 (see MaunselPs article ‘The Mesopotamian Petroleum Field’, in the Geographical Journal, ix, pp. 523–32), and Baron von Oppenheim in 1899Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    For details of the company and concession, see: J. B. Wolf, ‘The Diplomatic History of the Baghdad Railway’ University of Missouri Studies, chapter 2; H. Feis, Europe the World’s Banker, chapter 15, pp. 343–6; and H. S. W. Corrigan, British, French and German Interests in Asiatic Turkey 1881–1914, Ph.D. thesis, chapter 2. The company was registered under Turkish law on 4 October 1888 as the société du Chemin de Fer d’Anatolie. The line, started in 1889, reached Angora in 1893 and, at the Sultan’s wish, was extended to Konia by 1896, thus becoming the main line of the future Berlin-Baghdad railway. This concession marked the beginning of German financial interest and economic influence in Turkey.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    The convention is to be found in British Parliamentary Papers, Baghdad Railway no. 1, Cd 5635 (1911), pp. 37–48. Also reproduced in J. C. Hurewitz, Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East. A Documentary Record, i, 1535–1914 (Van Nostrand: Princeton, 1956), document 103.Google Scholar
  6. 69.
    The granting to the Baghdad Railway Company of the concession for the branch line to Alexandretta was a death blow to the Chester project. As the FO noted in March 1911, ‘The whole story is eloquent testimony to the strength of German influence at Constantinople’ (FO 371/1242, no. 1003). An even more potent blow came from the fact that by September 1911 the Anatolian Railway Company was negotiating with the Ottoman Government for the construction of lines to link the Angora branch line with the Samsoun-Sivas line, and to extend it to Diarbekir and Harput (see FO 371/1240, no. 37334, which encloses and comments on an article from the Gazette Financière of 5 Sep 1911). After the 1912–14 effort the Chester concession claim was not revived until 1920–2.Google Scholar

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© Marian Kent 1976

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  • Marian Kent

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