Yarn of a Cargo of Human Bones: The New York Times (Dec 23, 1924)
In 2013, historian Vlassis Agtzidis uncovered three newspaper reports from 1924 which describe how the administration of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk sent 400 tonnes of human remains (approximately 50,000 human bodies) to the port of Marseilles, France aboard a British flagged ship. The reports appeared in The New York Times, the French newspaper Midi and the Greek newspaper Macedonia. The news reports describe how the human remains originated from the port of Mudanya on the Sea of Marmara in Turkey. Agtzidis argues that the remains of these dead bodies may have been destined for industrial use.
The practice of turning human bones into fertilizer was not an uncommon one in the early part of the 19th century. In fact it occurred following the battle of Waterloo (1815). In The Independent newspaper of 3 Aug 2014, Robert Fisk wrote:
After Waterloo, the bones of the dead – Wellington’s Britons and Napoleon’s French and Blücher’s Prussians – were freighted back to Hull to use as fertilizer for England’s green and pleasant land, military mulch from the 1815 battlefields which also yielded fresh teeth to be reused as dentures for the living.
Research by Joe Turner in March 2015 based on archival news reports also revealed credible evidence that an international bone trade did in fact exist during the 19th century. According to Agtzidis, France was pro-Turkish during the period in question so therefore it would not have been an ethical issue for the French to purchase the bones of dead Greeks and Armenians for industrial use. A New York Times article of December 23, 1924 wrote:
Marseilles is excited by a weird story of the arrival in that port of a ship flying the British flag and named the Zan carrying a mysterious cargo of 400 tons of human bones consigned to manufacturers there. The bones are said to have been loaded at Mudania on the Sea of Marmora and to be the remains of the victims of massacres in Asia Minor. In view of the rumors circulating it is expected that an inquiry will be instigated.
About the load in question, the French newspaper Midi published a news report titled A Mournful Load in which it stated:
There is much debate happening at present in Marseille about the forthcoming arrival aboard the cargo ship Zan of a cargo of human remains which is transporting 400 tonnes of human remains for the industries in Marseilles. These human remains are coming from Armenian massacre camps in Turkey and from Asia Minor in particular.
Midi Newspaper,Cargaison funebre (A Mournful Load).
On the 24th of December 1924 the Greek newspaper Macedonia reported that the Zan did in fact arrive at the port of Thessaloniki, however the contents of the cargo were not publicly reported. Thessaloniki at the time was overflowing with genocide survivors, so it is possible that authorities chose to keep the cargo's contents a secret so as not to aggrieve the survivors of the genocide. Despite this, workers at the Thessaloniki port were aware of the cargo. In his book titled Chronicles of the Great Tragedy, Christos Angelomatis states that workers at the port reacted to the cargo’s contents but Greek authorities weren't allowed to take action due to British intervention. Angelomatis wrote:
Athenian newspapers published the news as follows: 'The docking into the port of Thessaloniki of the English ship Zan from Mudania has transferred four hundred tons of dead Greek bodies. The workers at the port who made the revelation prevented the ship from sailing away, but the British consul intervened and the ship was allowed to sail on'.
They were the bones of Greek heroes ... they were the bones of our Greek soldiers who were either killed en masse or were made to die slowly in extermination camps, the worst of which was the camp of Usak.
The presence of a large number of human remains in Asia Minor was witnessed by Elias Venezis. In September 1922 at the age of 18, Venezis was arrested, taken prisoner and enslaved in a labor battalion. Of the 3,000 conscripted into his labor brigade only 23 survived. Venezis later penned his memoire describing his experience. In chapter 18 of his memoire, Venezis recounted how a group of prisoners were taken to a ravine just out of Magnesia (today Manisa) and were ordered to hide the remains of tens of thousands of Christians who had been slaughtered. Venezis wrote:
One morning they took about 60 prisoners out to do a job at a place just outside of Magnesia (today Manisa). Opposite the railroad tracks near Sipilos is the end point of a large ravine. They call it Kirtik-Dere. Inside this ravine it was estimated that they'd killed about forty thousand Christians from Smyrna (Izmir) and Magnesia during the early days of the Smyrna Holocaust; males and females. The bodies had melted over winter and the water of the gorge which descended from above pushed the corpses further down. Our job all day was to push the corpses back in so that they couldn't be seen.
Brandon Daily Sun, 28 April 1924.
Another news report during that period indicated that bones from Greek soldiers and civilians were also sent to Holland for use in chemical fertilizers. The published news report in the Brandon Daily Sun on April 28, 1924 stated:
The accusations seem to be founded on facts, as the newspapers print full details of the sale of Greek bones in large lots by the Turkish authorities in Anatolia, to Dutch merchant ships. The steamer Venus, registered as from Amsterdam, is now carrying 1,000 sacks of the bones of Greek soldiers and civilians from Anatolia to Holland.
The report continued:
The Greek soldiers and civilians exterminated by the Turks in their victorious march to Constantinople a year ago last autumn numbered more than 100,000, according to reliable estimates. It has been estimated that one-third of these already have been commercialized by the local Turkish authorities charged with the reconstruction of Anatolia.