Assassination of Talaat Pasha

On 15 March 1921, Armenian student Soghomon Tehlirian assassinated Talaat Pasha—former grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire and the main architect of the Armenian genocide—in Berlin. At his trial, Tehlirian argued, "I have killed a man, but I am not a murderer";[1] the jury acquitted him.

Assassination of Talaat Pasha
Part of Operation Nemesis
Courtroom during the trial
LocationHardenbergstraße 27, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Germany
Date15 March 1921
DeathsTalaat Pasha
MotiveRevenge for the Armenian genocide
AccusedSoghomon Tehlirian
VerdictAcquittal

Tehlirian came from Erzindjan in the Ottoman Empire but moved to Serbia before the war. He served in the Armenian volunteer units of the Russian army and lost most of his family in the genocide. Deciding to take revenge, he assassinated Harutian Mgrditichian, who helped the Ottoman secret police, in Constantinople. Tehlirian joined Operation Nemesis, a clandestine program carried out by the Dashnaktsutyun (the Armenian Revolutionary Federation); he was chosen for the mission to assassinate Talaat due to his previous success. Talaat had already been convicted and sentenced to death by an Ottoman court-martial, but was living in Berlin with the permission of the Government of Germany. Many prominent Germans attended Talaat's funeral; the German Foreign Office sent a wreath saying, "To a great statesman and a faithful friend."[2]

Tehlirian's trial was held 2–3 June 1921, and the defense strategy was to put Talaat on trial for the Armenian genocide. Extensive evidence on the genocide was heard, resulting in "one of the most spectacular trials of the twentieth century", according to Stefan Ihrig.[3] Tehlirian claimed he had acted alone and that the killing was not premeditated, telling a dramatic and realistic, but untrue, story of surviving the genocide and witnessing the deaths of his family members. The international media widely reported on the trial, which brought attention and recognition of the facts of the Armenian genocide; Tehlirian's acquittal brought mostly favorable reactions.

Both Talaat and Tehlirian are considered by their respective sides to be heroes; historian Alp Yenen refers to this relationship as the "Talat–Tehlirian complex". Talaat was buried in Germany, but Turkey repatriated his remains in 1943 and gave him a state funeral. Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin read about the trial in the news and was inspired to conceptualize the crime of genocide in international law.


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