The discovery of the intact corpse of a czarist Russian officer in northeastern Turkey is fueling a debate over his identity, both in Russia and Turkey and an investigation is underway while experts dispute claims that the body was a famed Russian general, with some pointing out that it might even be a Greek working for the Russians.
The body was discovered during excavations to lay the foundation for a new building in Ardahan, a northeastern city once occupied by Russians before it was annexed to modern-day Turkey. The corpse was largely decomposed while the military uniform it wore and the corpse's unmistakably Russian beard remained intact. The discovery was followed by a barrage of speculation both in Turkey and Russia regarding his identity, with some claiming it was a captain in the czar's army while others were quick to raise him to the rank of general.
The debate over his identity is underway with Turkish and Russian historians browsing the annals of Russian history in modern-day Turkish territories for clues.
"He might be a Greek officer who served in the Russian army," associate professor Levent Küçük from Ardahan University said, going on to note that he deducted this after hearing the argument of Bingür Sönmez, an expert on Russian incursion into Ottoman territories in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. "He says that the body was found in some sort of catacomb, something fitting for a 'Rum' burial," Küçük says, referring to the Turkish name for Greeks who once lived in Anatolia. He says he corresponded with a Russian expert who told him that the body might be that of Vassily Geiman, a general who died in 1878 of disease during an epidemic while he was assigned to the Caucasian Front during the Ottoman-Russian War.
Russian news agency Sputnik spoke to the grandson of Vasily Geyman, who thinks the coffin belongs to his relative. Boris Akimov, who is a historian himself, says that he became very excited when he first heard the news and that he conducted extensive research early on in order to find the burial place of his grandfather. He had last looked for the remains of Vasily Geyman in Gyumri in Armenia, as he had obtained information that his grandfather had been buried there in a mass grave, he told Sputnik. However, Akimov had been unable to find his grandfather's name on the list of the deceased.
Akimov says he got in touch with the Russian Embassy in Ankara by phone after he heard about the discovery of the coffin and says that he is ready to give a DNA example.
Necmettin Alp, who runs the museum in nearby city of Kars where the body is currently under preservation, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the researchers were working on identifying the body and they also believe that it is indeed Geiman, despite having not reached a final conclusion yet. Alp says they planned to preserve the body in the museum as part of an exhibition on local history. He also dismissed rumors that the body would be returned to Russia, telling reporters that "Under the current laws, this is a relic that should be preserved in Turkey. We will keep it in the museum."