All news

Century without a czar: the investigation into Nicholas II's murder continues

Historians and clergymen have spoken to TASS about the course of investigation

MOSCOW, July 18. /TASS/. Investigation of the death of Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II, and his family goes on for many years and the cornerstone problem the identity of the human remains found near Yekaterinburg in the Urals and placed to rest at the St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral in St Petersburg by the side of other members of the Romanov dynasty still stays at the top of the agenda.

The issue became even more explosive after 2000 when the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Czar Nicholas, Czarina Alexandra, Crown Prince Alexis, and Grand Princesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. Its topicality stems from the fact the presence of fragments of a saint’s body means they should be venerated as holy relics.

In the meantime, many believers and some historians, including the quite influential, highly conservative thinker Oleg Platonov believe the bodies of the ‘regal new martyrs for faith’ - the title given to the Czar and his family during canonization - were fully destroyed through a special chemical process presumably based on the use of large amounts of concentrated sulfuric acid.

Nonetheless up-to-date methods of testing inspire the hope that the problem causing much debate will finally be settled.

Historians and clergymen have spoken to TASS about the course of investigation.

On the night from July 17 and July 18, 1918, the Czar, his family and their closest assistants - family physician Yevgeny Botkin, court chef Ivan Kharitonov, the Czarina’s room maid Anna Demidova, and the Czar’s personal attendant Alexei (Aloiz) Trupp were executed in the basement floor of the house that had belonged to the mining engineer Nikolai Ipatyev. As the theory goes, the executors then took the victims' bodies out of the city and dumped them in a place where the remains were discovered several decades later.

"Investigation continues for almost a hundred years - a case that doesn’t have a precedent in history," Bishop Tikhon of Yegoryevsk, the secretary of the Patriarchal Commission in charge of scrutinizing the results of expert studies told TASS.

"Quite naturally, everyone would like to understand in the final run what happened then," he said. "That’s one of the mysteries of history and it’s drawing the bulk of public attention. Specialists will present all the versions without exception to the Patriarch and to commission members to enable them to make further decisions."

Dr. Vladimir Legoida, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for relations between the Church and society said the Russians’ broad interest to the problem testifies to the presence of morality in society on the whole.

"The desire to learn more about our own history, about the death of new regal martyrs shows that our nation is morally healthy," he said. "A frank discussion of the events of a hundred years ago, a discussion free of insults and accusations is much needed now and it will be useful for our society."

Dr. Legoida added that only an unbiased and fair investigation will help bridge differences in the outlooks at a tragedy that occurred a hundred years ago.

"Huge amounts of lies have accumulated around this disdainful crime during the Soviet era and investigators, medics, anthropologists and historians are yet to rid the issue of them," he said.

"The Church gives its blessing to the efforts of specialists, who are working to untangle the problem and it expects truth from them because truth is the only thing that can unite people whatever their outlooks," Dr. Legoida said.

In 1979, a team of investigators found the site of a presumable burial of the remains of Nicholas II’s family in the vicinity of an old road leading to the township of Koptyaki but the official breakup the of the grave took place only in 1991. The investigators found the remains of nine people there and Russia’s Office of the Prosecutor General instituted a case in 1993 over the death of the Czarist Family.

After several major genetic studies done in the UK, the U.S., and Russia, a specialized State Commission said the fragments found were those of the bodies of Nicholas’s family members with a big degree of probability. But the remains of Crown Prince Alexis and Grand Princess Anastasia were not identified among the initially found fragments.

Entombment of the relics of Czar Nicholas, Czarina Alexandra, and Grand Princess Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia was held in the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg in 1998. The organizers of the action took account of the historical tradition and buried Nicholas II separately from other Russian Emperors, as he had abdicated the throne of his own free will.

The Russian Orthodox Church, however, voiced strong enough doubts over the identity of the remains found near Yekaterinburg and refused to take part the burial ceremony.

The Church canonized Nicholas II and all members of his family in 2000 when it undertook a sweeping canonization action, which embraced hundreds of clerics and the lay who had to go through ordeals and repressions in the first half of the 20th century because of their commitment to faith and Christian tradition.

New discoveries at a site to the south of the place where the Romanovs’ remains were found initially came about on July 29, 2007, when experts found the fragments of bones and teeth of two persons - a woman and a child. They contained evidence exposure very high temperatures.

The prosecutors reopened preliminary investigation to establish more circumstances of the death and burial of members of the Czarist family.

Russian investigators sent samples of the remains to leading laboratories in Russia and abroad, including the U.S. and Austria and submitted the results to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. On this occasion, too, the Russian Church expressed doubts over the conclusions suggesting that the remains were those of the son and daughter of the last Russian Czar.

In order to establish the genuine identity of the remains, an expansive research is underway. Historian Anatoly Stepanov, the editor-in-chief of the Russkaya Narodnaya Liniya (Russian People’s Line) portal who communicates with experts at Bishop Tikhon’s request and edits the investigators’ materials from publication says there are the facts that point with a big degree of probability that the remains found near Yekaterinburg were those of Nicholas II and his family.

"I’ve spoken to Prof. Vyacheslav Popov, one of the leading experts in the area, a forensic anthropologist who took part in the first investigation," Stepanov said. "He said his group had found traces of a saber strike on skull No. 4 which supposedly is that of Czar Nicholas (in 1891, when still in the position of Russia’s Crown Prince, he traveled in Japan where he was assaulted by a local policeman who struck him several times with a saber on the head - TASS)."

"Doubts arose after the first forensic study because they didn’t find those traces then," the historian said. "Now Prof. Popov is confident the remains from Yekaterinburg belong to the Czar and his family."

"Quite a few expert studies have been held," he went on. "For instance, a ballistic study that involved the handguns, from which the Bolsheviks supposedly shot and killed the Czar’s family. Then there is a dentist study, and archival study and even a probe into authorship, which concerns a not by Yakov Yurovsky (a document ascribed to the coordinator of the Czarist family’s execution that contains the details of their death and subsequent burial - TASS)."

"It was typewritten but it contains some marks on it," Stepanov said. "It’s fairly well known that Yurovsky was illiterate and that’s why there are many questions as regards this document."

Leonid Bolotin, the science editor of the Tsarskoye Selo information and research service, calls the results of expert studies into question. He refers to the results of investigation done by Nikolai Sokolov, the investigator for special cases at the Omsk District Court under the anti-Bolshevist White Guard forces who investigated the murder in 1919, hot on the heels of the events and who drew the conclusion that the victims’ bodies had been fully destroyed by flames and the concentrated sulfuric acid.

"I view the insistence on the fairness of materials and conclusions left by the special cases investigator Sokolov as the main objective of my position as a citizen and a believer," Bolotin told TASS. "He investigated the case from January 1919 and until his highly mysterious death in 1924."

He said the current expert studies would gain value only after a full publication of Sokolov’s materials that have been published in a fragmentary form so far.

"If you take the current expert studies, I think they will have scientific value and will look convincing only after the publication of related documents," Bolotin said. "I think it’s important to publish the full scope of documents related to Nikolai Sokolov’s investigation, as only fragments out of them have been published to date."

Bishop Tikhon promised that public quarters would have access to the results of all the expert studies.

"The Criminal Code says experts don’t have the right to disclose the results of their findings until the investigation is over but we’ve asked the Investigative Committee and it has given us permission to bring the finished studies to public discussion," the Most Rev Tikhon said. "I think quite a few studies, interviews and articles will be published before the yearend."

He said specialists had found the documents shedding lights on the details of the Czarist Family’s death in the course of the investigation. One of them contained evidence by Pyotr Yermakov, the chief guard and an accomplice in the murder, that the order to eliminate the family, including its underage members, had come from Jacob Sverdlov, the chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee (VCIK).

Upon completion of the investigation, all the materials will be submitted to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Church, which will take the final decision on whether to consider the remains found near Yekaterinburg as holy relics, the Most Rev Tikhon said.