The following article is an account of the convoluted history of Soghomon Tehlirian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide who assassinated one of the architects of that genocide in Berlin in 1921. Many thanks to JLH for the translation from Der Tagsespiegel.
Soghomon Tehlirian and the Armenian Genocide of 1915: Revenge Six Years Later
Julia Prosinger April 20, 2015
Crime Scene Berlin, March 15, 1921: Hardenbergstrasse — An Armenian kills the architect of the 1915 genocide. The ending of his trial in Moabit is spectacular. The whole truth comes out later.
He sees the slaughterer of his parents taking a sunbath on the balcony. He sees him start his morning walk. He picks up his suitcase, puts on his hat, crosses Hardenberg Street. Their eyes meet briefly, then he shoots him in the back of the head with a nine-millimeter pistol. The dead man’s body splats on the sunny sidewalk on March 15, 1921.
Soghomon Tehlirian drops the weapon. He shouts: “I am an Armenian, He is a Turk. No harm to Germany.”
The dead man is Mehmet Talaat Pasha, guiding spirit of the Young Turk Committee, Interior Minister of the Ottoman Empire, Grand Vizier, and lately a guest of the Weimar Republic under a false name.
His killer is an Armenian avenger. And that is how the genocide whose hundredth anniversary Armenians are commemorating now came to Berlin in 1921; to the “Berlin suburb” of Charlottenburg, as The New York Times writes.
Passers-by crowd around the young man. One of them hits him on the head with a key-ring, another picks up a stick — the wound on the back of Tehlirian’s neck measure 20 centimeters. He runs down Fasanen Street with the police behind him.
The trial begins on June 2nd, in Moabit Provincial Court III, Criminal Division 6. The world is watching. And it is not only about the defendant’s guilt of a murder on German soil.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs senses this and urges the court to make haste. Germans have better things to do than become involved with the Armenians — a people no one knows. They are already quarreling with the Poles about Upper Silesia. And they must prevent anyone learning how deeply involved in the massacre they were.*
24-year-old Tehlirian faces the court, pale and calm. The newspapers write about his high cheekbones — sign of an intellectual, and about many “darkly attractive” people in the courtroom audience. Berlin has received telegrams from all over the world, urging that the young student be released.
“I killed him, but I am not a murderer,” Tehlirian says softly. Then he relates how he grew up in a well-to-do merchant family in Erzincan in the present northeast of Turkey. How his people, like many minorities in the Ottoman Empire, were repressed, and subject to repeated pogroms, most recently under Sultan Hamid. How in 1915, when the Young Turk Committee had overthrown the sultan and entered the First World War, his school was closed and then the order for deportation came.
“I would rather die than continue to describe that black day.” Faltering, Tehlirian tells of the rape of his sister, his brother’s split skull, the odor of the corpse of his other brother when he regained consciousness underneath it. In a few sentences, Tehlirian the perpetrator becomes Tehlirian the victim. Kurds give the weakened youth barley bread; starving, he escapes to Persia. Completely alone in the world, he finally reaches Berlin, to study mechanical engineering, and there he happens to see Talaat Pasha on the street.
That man, born 1874, who advanced from telegrapher to cunning statesman and cold strategist, who then overthrew the Sultan and continued his work of annihilation. That Talaat Pasha who had admitted to the German consul: “We want an Armenia without Armenians.” Who had signed a writ which contained the phrase: “The goal of annihilation is nothingness.”
It has become even quieter in the courtroom. Since that day, says the defendant, his murdered mother had repeatedly appeared to him and asked him to kill Talaat Pasha. He rented a room, Hardenbergstrasse 37, across from Talaat’s number 44, and shot him. “I felt a contentment in my heart. Still today, I am satisfied with what I did.”
Tehlirian’s landlady describes him as polite and respectable. At night, he had played the mandolin and sung sad accompaniment. His friends report how shy he was with women at dancing lessons. His German tutor says he could never concentrate. There are five reports from experts. Does he have epilepsy or psychosomatic attacks when he thinks of his murdered family? Only one of them finds him not responsible.
Tehlirian’s strongest defense is not his illness, but Talaat Pasha’s past. The German Armenian expert Professor Johannes Lepsius is allowed to tell about that. The German public learns of: wounds doused in vinegar, body parts stuffed into mouths, starving infants thrown into the Euphrates by their mothers, which later runs red with Armenian blood, mass shootings, priests driven naked and tarred through villages, dogs and vultures feasting on clusters of corpses, skulls scattered along deserted paths, plundering of billions. Up to 1.4 million dead. “The facts are indisputable,” says Lepsius.