Soghomon Tehlirian : The Armenian Avenger

The film 588 Rue Paradis starts with news of the acquittal of Soghomon Tehlirian, who had killed Talaat Pasha in Berlin. The announcement is greeted with elation and everybody is rejoicing because Talaat Pasha, who was the Minister Of Interior and later the de facto Head Of The Turkish Government, had set and overseen the execution of the policy which had made the Armenian dispensable and had resulted in widespread massacres between 1915 and 1921. Soghomon was one of the Armenian survivors of that extreme experience, who was still in citizen of Turkey while living in Germany.

It was a very peculiar trial in which the defendant said he was not guilty because ” his conscience was clear !”

He said, ” I have killed a man but I am not a murderer.” He added that he saw his mother’s corpse, done in by the Turkish Government policies drawn by Talaat Pasha and his clique of Young Turks, which (the corpse) just stood up before him and and told him, “You know Talaat is here and yet you do not seem to be concerned. You are no longer my son.”

The events in the background of that trial were very close and important to people of Armenian origin everywhere.

Soghomon Tehlirian had witnessed the 1915 massacre at his hometown, Erzinga, in Asian Turkey. Thereafter, his well – off family went through the hell of displacement and suffered much privation. At his trial, he reported that there had been a massacre in Erzinga in 1894 as well. Some 40,000 Armenians were massacred in Adana in 1909. So, they all lived in fear of a repeat.

In May 1915, word had spread that all schools were to be closed and that the leaders of the Armenian community and the teachers were to be sent elsewhere in groups. In June early, the people were gathered, stripped of their money and valuables, and marched out. His parents were killed on the first day of march and the soldiers robbed them of whatever was left with them. He had no idea how many days it had gone on. They cracked open the skull of his brother, raped and killed his sister. He was left injured in the leg and a bleeding arm. He escaped and found shelter and care with an old Kurdish woman’s family; but that sanctuary was available to him only untill he had healed.

As a fugitive since then, Soghomon came across news of massacres elsewhere : they had been widespread. Without a hat or shoe, he crossed the mountains into Persia and was arrested by Russian soldiers. In 1916, when the Russians captured Erzinga, he returned to his hometown, only to find that just two Armenian families had survived and both had converted to Moslem faith. Of the 20,000 people in the village, only 20 odd had lived. He dug out 4800 gold pieces the family had hidden in the home, which he found shattered and in ruins. He shifted to another town, learnt Russian language for five months and, in 1919, went to Constantinople, where he placed an advertisement for his lost family members. He moved over to Greece, then to Salonika for curing his nervous disorder, and finally to Paris.

At Constantinople, Soghomon had found out the main culprit behind the massacres, the Armenian genocide. It was Talaat Pasha who, along with Kemal and Erver, had been to sentenced to death by a court martial in the city. Kemal was found and hanged. Living in Paris, Soghomon studied French for a year, then went to Geneva before landing in Berlin, where he hired a tutor to teach him German. It was there that he saw Talaat Pasha and discovered the building in which he lived.

Soghomon too moved over to a building in Charlottenburg, just across from Pasha’s residence. He was still a nervous wreck, who played mandolin, took dancing lessons and, as the indictment declared, was a student of Mechanical Engineering. One day, he saw Pasha come out of his building, with all the gruesome images of the massacre in his mind and the wrenching loss of his parents and his family members in his heart. He pulled out the loaded pistol he’d concealed with his underclothes, followed Pasha from across the street untill he came level, then crossed over and shot Talaat Pasha point blank in the head.

Upon arrest, Soghomon admitted to the act of killing the killer of his parents and the Armenian people.

At the trial, one of the witnesses co-habiting the same building described Soghomon thus : The defendant lived in my building. I have only complimentary things to say about him. He was very well behaved and modest. I have no maid and, therefore, I do all the housework. The defendant always did whatever he could to make my job easier. For example, he used to polish his own shoes. In every respect, he was decent and modest.

In her deposition, the landlady said — He was a kind, modest, quiet, and clean young man. He kept everything in order. On the morning of March 15th, day the incident occurred, the maid came in to tell me that the defendant was in his room crying. A little while later, I thought I would go up to see how he was doing. I was surprised to find him sitting in his room, drinking cognac. Soghomon clarified that he a took a measure of cognac with his tea to overcome his weak physical condition.

At the same trial, one of the female survivor of the genocide spoke of the massacre in these terms : — Only the men were killed this way. When it grew somewhat dark, the gendarmes came and selected the most beautiful women and girls and kept them for themselves. A gendarme came and wanted me as his woman. Those who did not obey were pierced with bayonets and had their legs torn apart. They even crushed the pelvic bones of pregnant women, took out the fetuses and threw them away… They split open my brother’s head. My mother dropped dead upon seeing this. A Turk came toward me and wanted to take me as his woman; because I would not consent, he took my son and killed him.

PRESIDING JUSTICE — Is all this really true ? You are not imagining it ?

WITNESS — What I have said is the truth. In reality, it was much more horrible than it is possible for me to relate.

The complete transcript of the trial proceedings is available here. There are undeniable facts on record here, on the religious and political drives that made an entire Armenian population dispensable in the eyes of the Turkish Governement !

Not much different from what the Jews meant to the Nazis during World War II.

____________________________________________________

The above narration is part of a comprehensive review of the films-duo : Mayrig and 588 Rue Paradis.

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