Petroleum in Ottoman State

Petroleum, which is considered as the most important source of energy today, did not appear in a day.

Petroleum, which is considered as the most important source of energy today, did not appear in a day. It has been used in many areas such as lubricating the lower surface of Prophet Noah’s ship and for the Grejuva Fire of Byzantium which even burned in the water. But, as the engines have started to be used with the Industrial Revolution and the possibility to use petroleum as fuel in these engines has made petroleum the most important element.

Especially, the production of engine transportation vehicles that work with petroleum has increased the pace. During this period, Ottoman Empire controlled most of the petroleum areas. The territories of today’s Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Emirates, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Romania, Bulgaria and the recent petroleum research area, Cyprus, were lands of Ottomans. Search for petroleum has started in that period and important wells were obtained. Even though the ottoman state was not an industrial state, usage of petroleum had historical background.

A Decree was given to the Neftcizade Family as a license to drill for oil and to process it in Iraq in seventeenth century. Almost 1000 people worked at petroleum sector in Istanbul during the same period. Tradesmen received petroleum products from a cave under the government control in Van. After the Industrial Revolution, petrol drill activities in Ottoman territory were conducted by foreigners and foreign capital companies in a secret and rapid way.

It is observed that these people and companies were competing with each other to get the license of places where petroleum was drilled and to keep everyone else out of these areas. According to official records, the first place where petroleum was searched for with the modern conditions was Iskenderun.

The first petroleum license was given to Ahmet Necati Efendi due to his application on June 23, 1889. Licenses for petroleum mines in Van, Erzurum, Sinop, Aydın, Yanya, Tekirdag and Gelibolu provinces followed this. It was also known that Romania had petroleum, but no licenses were provided for this land and it was kept as the private property of Sultan. The most important petroleum area in ottoman lands as Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad.

No special effort was needed to drill out the petroleum in this area during that time. Petroleum was going up to surface by itself and was accumulating as a giant pond. These ponds had size of 300×200 meters, which clearly indicates the high amount of petroleum.

This huge amount has started to attract more competitors into the region. The railway petroleum started with Baghdad Railway Project and the British-German competition continued until the World War. With the First World War, British- French alliance has fought against the Ottoman-German alliance. The share of petroleum regions was always negotiated within the alliances during the war. British and French governments have reviewed the agreements conducted at the beginning of war again through the end of it.

First, the locations which were determined as French colonies (especially Mosul and Kirkuk) have turned to become British colonies as they had huge petroleum reserves. At the end of war, all petroleum regions were left as British colonies or under the British dominance; and the British have started to control the petroleum.