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Soghomon Tehlirian – “Nemesis” of March 15 1921

Vigen Avetisyan

On March 15, 1921, Soghomon Tehlirian assassinated the former minister of interior of the Ottoman Empire Talaat Pasha. The elimination of Talaat was the first act in the chain of the punishment of the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide, in particular, the leaders of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress. The plan was called Operation Nemesis.

After the defeat of Turkey as a member of the Central Power (also known as the Quadruple Alliance) in WWI, the leaders of the Young Turks were transported to Germany. In accordance with the decree of 16 December, 1918 issued by the Ottoman Empire, the leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress and key members of the Ottoman government, including Talaat, Enver, Nazim, Djemal, Behaeddin Shakir, and others, underwent trial and were sentenced to death for carrying out the Armenian Genocide and for dragging the Ottoman Empire into WWI.

While today, Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide, the telegrams of the Young Turk government signed by Talaat clearly testify to the direct responsibility of the then Ottoman government for the perpetration of the Genocide.

Armenian student Tehlirian was among the people who lost their families during the death march set up by the order of Talaat during the Genocide. Within the scope of Operation Nemesis, Tehlirian assassinated Talaat on Hardenbergstraße in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin on March 15, 1921. Tehlirian didn’t flee the crime scene and was arrested by the police.

In June 1921, the trial of Tehlirian ended in his exoneration. The testimonies of Tehlirian and of the witnesses to the Armenian Genocide and the death march in particular, lady Terzibashian and an Armenian bishop Palakian, turned the jury against Talaat. Subsequently, the trial entered history as “trial of Talaat Pasha” because the latter’s actions grabbed everyone’s attention much more than the “crime” of Tehlirian.

Human rights activist Armin T. Wegner and a witness to the Armenian Genocide created a transcript of the trial. In the years of WWI, Wegner took photographs that now are considered the most crucial witness images of the Genocide.

The words of one of the advocates of Tehlirian, doctor Niemeyer, are also quite remarkable. During WWI, German officials both within the Ottoman Empire and abroad concealed the Armenian Genocide.  German activists have attempted to prevent the massacres, but Germany is also responsible for the mass killings of Armenians, said Niemeyer. A wide range of literary pieces argued that the Germans in Turkey have been the real Talaats. As a conclusion, Niemeyer said that if the jury exculpates Tehlirian, the view of Germany’s guilt would change throughout the world.


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