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100 years on, Czar Nicholas II’s demise still weighs on Russian history

March 21, 8:35 UTC+3 MOSCOW
The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the Emperor and his family as new confessors and martyrs for faith in 1991
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© Archive/TASS

MOSCOW, March 21. /TASS/. March 21, 2017, marks the centenary anniversary since the watershed event that shook Russia's history to the core in the 20th century, which many people view nowadays as the starting point in a long chain of calamities that befell Russia in past one hundred years: the arrest of the last Emperor Nicholas II.

On March 16 ((under the New Style calendar (March 3 Old Style, still in effect in Russia when the events in question were unfolding)), the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies passed a decision "to arrest [members of] the Romanov dynasty." This happened one week after Nicholas II’s voluntary abdication that had marked the peak of what would be branded later as the ‘February revolution’.

The Soviet, de facto the City Council, delegated the powers to arrest the Royal Family to the provisional government but said it would enforce the arrests independently should the newly-formed government fail to do so.

Members of the provisional government held a number of private meetings in the first days following the February revolution. Alexander Kerensky, who was then Justice Minister, insisted on capital punishment for Nicholas II, according to the memoirs of his deputy Alexander Zarudny.

It was exactly the plans to execute the former Emperor that caused a delay in the publication of the provisional government’s decree on abolishing capital punishment in Russia. The latter was eventually published on March 25.

The cabinet also tampered with the idea of a general trial for the ‘old regime’, where upon the outcome they would decide the fate of the dethroned Emperor. On March 17, a specialized Extraordinary Investigative Commission was set up to investigate the activities the former Russian Empire’s top officials.

By a decree adopted on March 20, the provisional government ruled that the "deposed Emperor Nicholas II and his spouse were deprived of freedom and should be taken to Tsarskoye Selo." To put the decision into effect, a group of deputies led by a certain Alexander Bublikov was dispatched to the city of Mogilev where the Czar and his family were staying at the time.

Newspaper published the decree on March 21. The fate of the Imperial Family remained very unclear.

Nicholas II arrived at the Main Headquarters of the Russian Army in Mogilev, a city in today’s eastern Belarus, on March 16, the next day after the signing of abdication in Pskov. Upon arrival, he met with the Chief of Main Staff of the Armed Forces, General Mikhail Alexeyev, to whom he handed a list of requirements to be immediately passed on to the provisional government.

The requirements were to grant him unimpeded transit to Tsarskoye Selo where his sick family was staying and to ensure their safe sojourn there until the children’s recovery. Later down the road, Nicholas II planned to leave for Great Britain via the port of Murmansk and to sit out the war in Europe.

As for the future, the former Czar proposed that the provisional government permit him to return to Russia after the end of the war and to allow him to settle in Livadia, Crimea.
For some unclear reason, General Alexeyev did not relay the latter request to the provisional government.

On March 18, the Emperor’s mother, Dowager Empress Maria, came to Mogilev where she had her last meeting with her son. The delegation of the provisional government arrived at the Army Headquarters on March 20 but its members failed to summon their courage and to tell the Emperor his was arrested. They relegated the duty to do so to General Alexeyev, who told Nicholas II "he could consider himself to be arrested in a certain way."

A ceremony to bid farewell to the former Commander-in-Chief took place at the headquarters prior to Nicholas II’s departure. Staff officers and soldiers from the regiments stationed nearby took part in it.

In the meantime, Czarina Alexandra and her children, who had come down with measles, stayed at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. On March 21, General Lavr Kornilov, the commander of forces of the Petrograd Military District arrived to Tsarskoye Selo to tell the Empress she was arrested. Nicholas II came there the next day.

The Emperor and his family lived in Tsarskoye Selo, the place they all adored, through to August 14, 1917. By that time, the Extraordinary Investigative Commission established that practically all the charges issued to the Imperial Family were groundless and the provisional government officials had to scrap their plans for an open public trial in the autumn of the same year.

The new authorities sent the Imperial Family into exile in Siberia, first to Tobolsk and then to Yekaterinburg, in August 1917.

Czar Nicholas II, Czarina Alexandra, Crown Prince Alexis, Princesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, their court physician Yevgeny Botkin, chambermaid Anna Demidova, cook Ivan Kharitonov, and valet Alexei Trupp were executed in the basement floor of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg in the small hours of July 17, 1918. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized them as new confessors and martyrs for faith in 1991.

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