Soghomon Tehlirian (Armenian:
Սողոմոն Թեհլերյան) (April 2,
1897, Pakarish near Erzincan, Ottoman Empire – May 23, 1960, San
Francisco, California, United States) was a native of Yerznka, an
Armenian Evangelical (Protestant) and Armenian Genocide survivor.
He assassinated the former Grand Vizir Talat Pasha
in the Charlottenburg District of Berlin, Germany in broad daylight
and in the presence of many witnesses on March 15, 1921 as an act of
vengeance for his role in orchestrating the Armenian Genocide. This
assassination was a part of the Dashnak Party's Operation Nemesis.
Tehlirian was tried for murder, but was eventually
acquitted by the German court. The trial of Tehlirian was a rather
sensationalized event at the time, with Tehlirian being defended by
three defense attorneys, including Dr. Theodor Niemeyer, professor of
Law at Kiel University.
The trial examined not only Tehlirian’s actions but
also Tehlirian's conviction that Talat Pasha was the main author of
the Armenian Genocide. The defense attorneys made no attempt to deny
the fact that Tehlirian had killed a man, and instead focused on the
influence of the Armenian Genocide on Tehlirian's mental state. It
took the jury slightly over an hour to render a verdict of "not guilty"
on grounds of temporary insanity.
The trial influenced Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin,
who later reflected on the trial, "Why is a man punished when he kills
another man? Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the
killing of a single individual?" Lemkin would later coin the term "genocide".
Hannah Arendt, in her 1963 Eichmann in Jerusalem,
compares Tehlirian to Shalom Schwartzbard, who assassinated Ukrainian
statesman Simon Petlyura in Paris in 1925, for what Schwartzbard
believed to be Petlyura's culpability in the anti-Jewish pogroms in
the Ukraine. Arendt suggests that each man "insisted on being tried",
in order "to show the world through court procedure what crimes
against his people had been committed and gone unpunished."
[T]he one in the center of the play, on whom all
eyes are fastened, is now the true hero, while at the same time the
trial character of the proceedings is safeguarded, because it is not
"a spectacle with prearranged results" but contains that element of
"irreducible risk" which... is an indispensable factor in all
criminal trials. Also, the J'accuse, so indispensable from
the viewpoint of the victim, sounds, of course, much more convincing
in the mouth of a man who has been forced to take the law into his
own hands than in the voice of a government-appointed agent who
risks nothing. And yet... it is more than doubtful that this
solution would have been justifiable in Eichmann's case, and it is
obvious that it would have been altogether unjustifiable if carried
out by government agents. 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 and his wife Anahit Tatikian.
Portrait of Mehmet Talaat Pasha, Minister of
Interior of the Ottoman Empire between 1913 and 1917, and primary
executor of the Armenian Genocide.