In 2013, historian Vlassis Agzidis unearthed three newspaper reports from 1924 describing how the administration of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk shipped 400 tons of human remains (about 50,000 human bodies) to the port of Marseille, France, on a British flag ship. The reports were published in the New York Times, the French newspaper Midi and the Greek newspaper Macedonia. News reports describe how the human remains came from the port of Moudania on the Sea of Marmara in Turkey.
Agzidis argues that the remains of these dead may have been intended for industrial use. The practice of turning human bones into compost was not uncommon in the early 19th century. It actually happened after the Battle of Waterloo (1815). In The Independent of 3 August 2014, Robert Fisk wrote:“After Waterloo, the bones of the dead were taken back to Hull to be used as fertilizer for England's green and pleasant land, while the teeth were used in artificial dentures for the alive".
Research by Joe Turner in March 2015 based on archival news reports also revealed reliable evidence that there was indeed an international trade in bones during the 19th century. According to Agzidis, France was pro-Turkish during the period in question, so it would not be a moral issue for the French to buy the bones of dead Greeks and Armenians for industrial use. A December 23, 1924 New York Times article stated:
Marseille is excited by a strange story of the arrival in this port of a ship bearing the British flag and the name Jean carrying a mysterious cargo of 400 tons of human bones to be sent to the manufacturers there. The bones are said to have been loaded at Moudania on the Sea of Marmara and to be the remains of the victims of the massacres in Asia Minor. In view of the rumors circulating, an investigation is expected to be conducted.
Regarding the cargo in question, the French newspaper Midi published a story titled “A Sad Cargo” in which it said:“There is much discussion at present in Marseilles about the imminent arrival on the freighter Zan of a cargo of human remains which transports 400 tons of human remains for industries in Marseille. These human remains come from Armenian extermination camps in Turkey and in particular from Asia Minor".