It could be the plot of an old B-movie. Certainly one of the worst. But this year we confirmed that reality transcends fiction. That explains what happened in Russia in the 1920s. The Army of Apemen isn’t a bad movie. It’s a mad scientist’s idea … from real life.
Who was Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov? He was a founding Soviet scientist in veterinary artificial insemination. At the beginning of the 20th century, hybridization was a technique that was considered a “rarity”. He did not have the approval of the church. The scientists also suspected that an “essential” biological factor was lost during artificial insemination.
Ivanov conducted investigations in Paris and St. Petersburg. He created species such as the «zebroide» (a mixture of zebra and donkey. Or the «zubrón» (a cross between a cow and a bison). This method tried to “perfect” nature.
Ivanov managed to inseminate 7,000 mares and more than 1,000 sheep. He has become the world’s leading expert in artificial insemination. He has been consulted by horse breeders around the world.
Until 1924 he engaged the support of Nikolai Gorbunov, a Soviet politician and official. So began a new project in the African region of Kindia. He wanted to develop hybrids between humans and chimpanzees. The official recommended Ivanov’s investigation. He believed in “the possibility that an army of ape-men would successfully advance against the fascist and liberal forces of Europe and the United States”. The bureaucrat affirmed, “Whoever rules the beasts will rule the earth.”
After the racism of the time, it was believed that black monkeys were closer. Because of this, they were better suited for this experiment. During his stay in Africa, the Soviet scientist experimented with three female chimpanzees. He inseminated them with human sperm from unidentified human donors. Ivanov attributed the failure to the difficulty of working with chimpanzees.
After returning to the Soviet Union, Ivanov continued his experiments with an unknown number of female prisoners. Those he visited in their cells in Lubyanka prison. He wanted to fertilize them with monkey semen. This time he attributed his failure to the dubious involvement of the political prisoners.
He was given permission to move to the city of Sukhumi on the shores of the Black Sea. Four chimpanzees and an orangutan that Gorbunov received for him would be used for his experiments.
Fall from grace
Ivanov was looking for candidates who wanted to get pregnant. Most of the women in Sukhumi were illiterate. He told them that their contribution to science would earn them the respect of Stalin himself. Eventually he got five volunteers between the ages of 16 and 20.
But only one orangutan survived under their care. And not for long. This meant a new mistake. And the loss of the trust of his superiors. In 1930 the scientist was arrested by the NKVD, the secret police. The man who dreamed of the ape-men army was exiled to Kazakhstan. Gorbunov was faced with a summary judgment. There was no reflection: he was shot. Weeks later, the NKVD invaded Abkhazia. All five of Ivanov’s volunteers were found and executed. Nobody wanted the memory of this experiment anymore.