Hassan Durrani, New Yorker Who Claimed Afghan Throne, Dies

Darulaman Palace in Afghanistan
Pedestrians pass by Darulaman Palace on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, September 13, 2011. The building, built during the 1920s by King Amanullah Khan and later destroyed during the civil war, once housed the Ministry of Defense. Photographer: Jonathan Saruk/Getty Images

Hassan Durrani, a New Yorker who claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne of Afghanistan as the son of Amanullah Khan, ruler of the nation when it declared independence from the U.K., has died. He was 83 or 84.

He died on April 2 at his home in New York, “surrounded by close friends and his beloved dogs,” according to a paid notice in the New York Times.

Durrani lived in an apartment on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx borough of New York City, based on telephone listings. A call to the residence went unanswered.

His claim to the Afghan monarchy was disputed through the years. The Times, in a 1967 article, described him as the 36-year-old son of Amanullah, the leader who went to war with the British to gain Afghanistan’s independence in 1919, reigning as an emir before becoming king in 1926.

Five weeks after the story appeared, the Times printed a correction. It said Afghanistan’s permanent mission to the United Nations had informed the newspaper that Durrani “is in no way related to any Afghan royal family.”

In the article, the Times called him “a prince of a fellow who sells ties.” It said Durrani -- full name, Syed Hassan Osman Durrani -- was born in Rome and educated in the U.K. at the King’s School in Canterbury, and had arrived in New York to market silk neckwear for J.M. Bacchus, a British menswear maker.

Lost Inheritance

He said he lost his inheritance four years earlier when he had turned down an arranged marriage with a sister of the king of Morocco, according to the Times story.

New York became his home, and challenges to his lineage didn’t prevent him from attaching himself to the city’s elite.

A 1979 society column in the Times noted the presence of Durrani -- “pretender to the throne of Afghanistan” -- among the 400 “socially prominent New Yorkers,” including the first wife of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who were invited to the annual Spring Party fundraiser at the New York Botanical Garden.

In 1981, the now-defunct Miami News reported Durrani had visited Miami “to bestow royal honors on some of his supporters.” The article said he preferred to be called King Hassan I and wasn’t troubled by critics who called him an illegitimate heir to the long-vacant Afghan throne.

Asserts Identity

“I am who I say I am,” he said, according to the newspaper. “I have satisfied the powers to be.”

Monik Markus, public affairs director at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, said today in an e-mail that the embassy has no information about Durrani.

King Amanullah was forced to abdicate in a non-violent coup in 1929 and went into exile in Zurich, where he died in 1960.

Afghanistan’s last king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, ruled from 1933 to 1973, when he was overthrown. He lived in exile in Italy until 2002 when he returned to Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion forced the Taliban from power. He died in Kabul five years later, at age 92. In 2004, the nation revised its constitution, banning the monarchy.

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