Soghomon Tehlirian, Assassin of Chief Organizer of Armenian Genocide

Soghomon Tehlirian, Assassin of Chief Organizer of Armenian Genocide

“I have killed a man. But I am not a murderer.”

Who he was

Soghomon Tehlirian assassinated Mehmet Talaat Pasha, the architect of the Armenian Genocide. After the assassination in Berlin, Tehlirian was captured, tried in a German court, found not guilty and released. 

He was born in Nerkin Bagarich in the Ottoman Empire. Although he lived abroad for several years, he returned to fight in the Armenian volunteer battalions in the Caucasus. At that time, many of his family members were being deported and killed. Tehlirian was witness to some of these deaths and according to his memoirs, 85 of his family members perished. 

Following the end of World War I, the organizers of the Genocide, including Talaat, were tried by a tribunal and condemned to death in absentia. By that time, they had dispersed to different parts of the world and they could not be subject to the court’s judgment. Insistent that the martyrs of the Genocide must be avenged, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation organized a plan, called “Operation Nemesis” and orchestrated by Shahan Natalie. Tehlirian was assigned the duty of killing Talaat in Berlin and on March 15, 1921 he completed the task. 

Tehlirian was immediately captured and stood trial in Berlin. The short trial was followed by an hour-long deliberation by the jury, which concluded with a “not guilty” verdict.  

He moved to Serbia and then to the United States, where he died. He is buried in Fresno, California, his grave adorned by an obelisk atop which rests a bronze eagle clutching a snake with its talons. 

Interesting fact

Rafael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who invented the word “Genocide,” followed Tehlirian’s trial and was inspired by the proceedings to ask: "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?"

Learn more about him

Soghomon Tehlirian - Hairenik

The Trial of Soghomon Tehlirian (full transcript)