Turkey may have to bury 19th century soldier: Culture minister

Turkey may have to bury 19th century soldier: Culture minister

Turan Yılmaz – ANKARA
Turkey may have to bury 19th century soldier: Culture minister

Culture Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has said a 19th-century military officer who was found last year inside an unearthed coffin in the eastern Turkish province of Ardahan, may “have to be buried” in Turkey due to a disagreement between Russia and Poland, as to the legal rights over ownership of the corpse. 

“Until now, the contact maintained between the two countries has not had a result. Since they have been unable to overcome this problem, the coffin is still being kept at the Kars museum [in the eastern province of Kars]. The corpse has not decomposed in the grave for many years, but it will rot away in the museum, and that is the saddest part. It seems we may have to bury him here [in Turkey], because he cannot be kept in the museum forever,” Kurtulmuş told daily Hürriyet on May 10.

The coffin hit headlines in Turkey after it was unearthed on April 26, 2017 during excavations before the laying of the foundation for a construction project in Ardahan.

The soldier inside, who had a long beard and was dressed in full military regalia, was identified as Lt. Col. Karl Karlovich Rjepetsky, a member of the 78th Navaginsky regiment of the 20th infantry division of the First Caucasian Army Corps.

Rjepetsky’s remains were subsequently put under protection at the nearby Kars Museum. But since then, his fate has been straining ties between Russian and Poland.

Kurtulmuş previously said Poland demanded the return of the coffin as the officer was of Polish origin, but Russia had opposed, as the soldier had died fighting for the Imperial Russian Army.

“The Russian side said Poland had not existed when the military officer died. The land, which is now Poland, belonged to the Russian Empire at the time, so they said the dead soldier was a Russian subject,” Kurtulmuş had said previously during a special meeting at the Turkish Parliament.

The culture minister added that the Russian side did not demand the coffin be returned to Russia but requested the soldier’s burial in a Christian cemetery in Ardahan.

“The man was Polish. His family is living in Poland. We are trying to solve the problem without causing a disagreement between the two countries,” Kurtulmuş said.