A construction crew working in northeastern Turkey revealed the mortal remains of what appears to have been a 19th-century Russian soldier who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. The body of what appears to have been an officer of the Russian army was dressed in the military garments of the period and enclosed in a wooden coffin bearing Russian Orthodox crosses on the lid and sides.
The unusual discovery was made on April 23 in the Karagol neighborhood of Ardahan, a city in the northeastern Turkish province of the same name that borders the Republic of Georgia. Buried for over 150 years, the body is believed to have belonged to a Russian who sought to seize that part of what was then the Ottoman Empire that the Czarist Russian invaders had secured in May 1877. The archaeologist at the site, Mehmet Solaklioglu, said that the Czar’s army was stationed in the area during the war. Ardahan fell to the Russians in May 1877.
“According to the investigation we have done, this coffin belongs to a Russian soldier. We think that it could be dated at the Russians’ arrival to this area, which was around 1878. There is nothing valuable in the coffin. The soldier was buried according to Christian ritual. There was only his body and his clothes [in the coffin]. Nothing else,” Solakioglu said.
“There are three stars and the number 20 is written on his uniform. Probably this figure is his service number,” Necmettin Alp, the director of Kars Museum, said. Alp described it as the body of a “Russian captain who worked in a Russian garrison in Ardahan.” The officer was buried with his boots on.
The Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 was an armed conflict fought over territories in the Balkans and in the Caucasus, between the Ottoman Empire and the various Christian nations fighting to secure their independence. Under Ottoman rule, Muslim sharia law was enforced, which meant that Jews and Christians were considered second-class citizens who could only appeal to the West for aid. After the war of independence that liberated Greece from Muslim rule and created the Kingdom of Greece in 1831, the Ottomans sought to secure its control over a rapidly crumbling empire. The Ottomans brutally suppressed a Bulgarian uprising of 1876, massacring up to 100,000 people.
The Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) was a conflict between countries of the Eastern Orthodox coalition led by the Russian Empire and composed of Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro. Fought in the Balkans and in the Caucasus, it originated in emerging 19th-century Balkan nationalism. Russia hoped to recover territory lost during the Crimean War and re-establish control in the Black Sea and support the political movement attempting to free Balkan nations from the Ottoman Empire.
The war ended with a decisive victory for Russia and meant that Ottoman holdings in Europe declined sharply. Bulgaria was established as an independent principality inside the Ottoman Empire, and then Romania achieved full independence. Serbia and Montenegro finally gained complete independence, but with smaller territories. In 1878, Austria-Hungary unilaterally occupied the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Novi Pazar. Britain took control of Cyprus in 1878 in return for Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's call for the restoration of the Ottoman territories on the Balkan Peninsula during the Congress of Berlin. British troops were sent to sent troops to Egypt in 1882 to put down the Urabi Revolt.
The German Empire thereafter trained Turkish officers as part of a growing strategic relationship that continued after the end of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of the secularist government under dictator Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The two nations would become allies during the First World War and tacit accomplices during the Second World War. From 1894 to 1896, as many as 300,000 Armenians living throughout the Ottoman Empire were killed in what became known as the Hamidian massacres. As the Ottoman Empire gradually shrank in size, approximately 9 million Muslims from its former territories in the Caucasus, Crimea, Balkans, and the Mediterranean islands migrated to the Anatolian peninsula and Eastern Thrace. After the Ottomans lost the First Balkan War (1912–13), all its Balkan territories were lost with the exception of Eastern Thrace (European Turkey). This resulted in around 400,000 Muslims fleeing with the retreating Ottoman armies, while some 400,000 non-Muslims fleeing territory still under Ottoman rule. During and after the First World War, Ottoman government engaged in the systematic extermination of its Armenian and other Christian subjects. The number of killed is an estimated 1.5 million.
In 1915, when the Russian Caucasus Army advanced into eastern Anatolia, the Ottomans began the ethnic cleansing of Armenians. The genocide was carried out in two phases during and after World War I. The first was the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed in the second case by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert to die of exposure, hunger, and thirst. Rape, murder, and deprivation were the policies of the Ottomans. Large-scale massacres were also committed against the Empire's Greek and Assyrian Christian minorities as part of the same campaign of ethnic cleansing.
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