Posts Tagged ‘Soghomon Tehlirian’

 

 

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

Birth of Soghomon Tehlirian
(April 2, 1896)

soghomon_tehlirian

In her remarkable work on the trial of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann, political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote, referring to the assassination of Talaat Pasha and Ukrainian statesman Simon Petliura—responsible of Jewish pogroms in Ukraine–by Soghomon Tehlirian (1921) and Sholom Schwartzbard (1925), that “the point in favor of Schwartzbard and Tehlirian was that each was a member of an ethnic group that did not possess its own state and legal system, that there was no tribunal in the world to which either group could have brought its victims.”

Soghomon Tehlirian, the avenger of the Armenian Genocide, was born on April 2, 1896, in the village of Nerkin Pakarij, in the vilayet of Erzerum. He was the youngest of five brothers. His father left for Serbia, planning to bring his family after him, which moved to Erzinga in the meantime. Tehlirian, who had started his schooling at the village, continued his education at the Evangelical elementary school of Erzinga (1905-1906) and the Getronagan (Central) Lyceum of the city (1907-1912). He went to Serbia in 1913 and settled in the town of Valjevo, where his father was in the coffee business.

He got ready to move to Germany, where he would study engineering, but his plans totally changed after the beginning of World War I. In the fall of 1914 he went to Bulgaria and enrolled in the Armenian volunteer battalions that would fight in the Caucasus. He traveled to Tiflis in October 1914 and entered General Antranig’s battalion. He participated in the battle of Dilman and in May 1915 entered Van. The retreat of the Russian army forced him to go back to the Caucasus, where he worked in Echmiadzin and Yerevan collecting orphans and placing them in orphanages.

In June 1915, the Ottoman government ordered the deportation of all Armenians from Erzinga. From the 85 members of the Tehlirian extended family (Tehlirian’s immediate family had 17 members), besides his father, two brothers, and an uncle, only his niece was saved after a ransom was paid to Kurds.

After the Russian troops occupied Erzerum in March and Erzinga in July, Tehlirian, like many members of the already dissolved volunteer battalions, joined the Russian army. He reached Erzinga, only to find that his family had vanished. His obsession to punish the mastermind of the plan of annihilation, Talaat, was born here. He joined Mourad of Sepastia’s group, which was rescuing Armenians, especially children kidnapped by Kurdish tribes, and continued fighting in the front until April 1918, when he was wounded.

In December 1918 he went to Constantinople to look for Talaat, who had abandoned the city a month before. By orders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Central Committee, he killed spy Harutiun Mgrdichian, an Armenian traitor who had designed the lists of intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915. Tehlirian went to Paris and in 1920 he was summoned to the United States, where Operation Nemesis—the plan to liquidate the Turkish leaders responsible for the genocide, decided by the A.R.F. in its ninth congress in Yerevan (November 1919)—had its headquarters. He received instructions and returned to Europe, first to Geneva, and then, in December 1920, to Berlin.

On March 15, 1921, after three months of surveillance with the logistical support of a small A.R.F. cell, Tehlirian killed Talaat in Hardenbergstrasse, a street in the district of Charlottenburg. The assassination took place in broad daylight and Tehlirian, who had been told by his handlers not to run from the crime scene, was immediately arrested by German police.

Tehlirian was tried for murder on June 2-3, 1921, but eventually acquitted. The trial examined his actions, but also his conviction that Talaat was the orchestrator of the genocide, despite the efforts of the tribunal to not politicize the issue, since the defense attorneys focused on the influence of the deportations and massacres on Tehlirian’s mental state. The proceedings of the trial were published in German in 1921, and later translated into several languages.

After the acquittal, Tehlirian traveled to the United States and then returned to the former Yugoslavia, where he married his sweetheart Anahid Tatikian (formerly from Erzinga), and settled in Valjevo, where he continued the coffee business. To avoid Turkish retaliation, he changed his name to Saro Melikian, and the surviving members of the family also changed their identity. (At his death, the New York Times would run his obituary as “Saro Melikian”). They later moved to Belgrad, where Tehlirian dictated his memoirs to Vahan Minakhorian, a genocide survivor.

After the Communist regime was established in Yugoslavia, Tehlirian and his wife moved to Casablanca (Morocco) from 1950-1955, and after a short sojourn in Paris, in 1957 they migrated to the United States. They settled in San Francisco, where Tehlirian worked at George Mardikian’s famed “Omar Khayyam” restaurant as an accountant.

The Armenian hero passed away on May 23, 1960, and was buried in the Ararat Cemetery, in Fresno, California. A monument was erected on his grave.

Several statues and busts of Tehlirian were erected in Armenia in the waning days of the Soviet regime (Mastara, 1990, and later Yerevan, 2003; Maralik, 2015). A bust of him was inaugurated in 2017 in an A.R.F. club of Beirut. In the same year, a square in Marseilles was named after him. Hrayr Toukhanian’s film, Assignment Berlin (1982), chronicled Talaat Pasha’s assassination, the same as the graphic novel Special Mission: Nemesis (2014). There are several novels and plays in Armenian dealing with Tehlirian’s exploits.

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])

March 15, 1921: Assassination of Talaat Pasha

On March 16, 1921, one of the headlines of The New York Times read: “Talaat Pasha Slain in Berlin Suburb.” After giving the details of the killing the day before, the report noted: “Talaat, whose name was on the second Entente list of Turkish war criminals, left Constantinople two years ago and had been living as a fugitive ever since under assumed names, first in Switzerland and later in Germany. He evidently feared the fate which has now overtaken him, for he had frequently changed his address in Berlin and at the time of his death was living at a pension in the West End.” The correspondent for the American newspaper added that the killer had been identified as an Armenian student (“Solomon Tellirian,” according to the Associated Press) and that “it is assumed that the deed was an act of revenge for the massacres of his compatriots.”
Jagadamard

On the front page of the daily paper, Jagadamard, the headline in Armenian below the banner reads, "An Armenian student kills Talaat Pasha."

In July 1919, the Turkish martial court of Constantinople had condemned to death in absentia, among others, the “Three Pashas,” the members of the Young Turk triumvirate that had led the Ottoman Empire during the war: Talaat (Minister of Interior and Great Vizir in 1917-1918), Enver (Minister of War), and Djemal (Minister of Navy). The three had already fled Turkey, and the sentences were never carried out either by Turkey or by the allies.

The 9th General Assembly of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation convened in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia, between September and October 1919, and adopted a resolution to punish those responsible for the genocide. A list of 200 names was prepared. The secret operation received the code name “Nemesis” (the name of the Greek god of vengeance). It was led by Shahan Natalie (Hagop Der-Hagopian, 1884-1983) and Armen Garo (Bastermadjian, 1873-1923), the latter being the Armenian ambassador to the United States.
SoghomonTehlerian

The number one target of the operation was Talaat, who the U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau had called the “Big Boss” of Turkey and already considered responsible of the extermination in his memoirs.

Soghomon Tehlirian (1897-1960), a 23-year-old student who had survived the Armenian Genocide in Erzinga, was selected to execute the mission. Some of the personnel in the Armenian diplomatic mission in Berlin gave logistic support, and other A.R.F. members worked from outside. Once Talaat’s whereabouts were established, Tehlirian arrived in the German capital in December 1920. For the next three months, he carried a surveillance task with his associates. He rented an apartment near the Turkish leader’s house in order to study his everyday movements. Talaat was killed by Tehlirian with a single shot on March 15, 1921, as he came out of his house in the Charlottenburg district. The assassination took place in broad daylight and led to Tehlirian’s immediate arrest by German police.

The young avenger was tried for murder on June 2-3, 1921. The three German defense attorneys focused on the influence of the genocide on Tehlirian’s mental state. When asked by the judge if he felt any sort of guilt, Tehlirian remarked, “I do not consider myself guilty because my conscience is clear … I have killed a man. But I am not a murderer.” It took the jury slightly over an hour to render a verdict of “not guilty.”

Operation Nemesis, which continued until 1922, went totally unnoticed at the time. The partial story of Talaat’s liquidation was told by Tehlirian in his memoirs, published in 1953. The main details of the operation were not uncovered until the 1980s.

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