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 Mudania 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.
Read more: Greek Genocide