The Murder of Talat Pasha and the Judgment Process of the Murderer

After the First World War ended for the Ottoman Empire and its allies, Prime Minister Talat Pasha resigned from his position at the beginning of October 1918. Then, he had decided with his friends for the elimination of the party by making the last congress of Union and Progress Party on 1 November 1918. In the evening of the same day, he left Istanbul with Enver, Cemal and Bahattin Şakir. Talat Pasha started to live in Berlin after various adventures. He did not stay away from politics during the period he lived here as well and carried out important activities by founding the East Club where he gathered Union and Progress members living abroad and young people from other Muslim countries.

Talat Pasha changed houses a few times after coming to Berlin. Though he maintained a very thrifty and simple life, he asked for money from his friends in other cities of Europe by writing to them when his money got low and he had financial troubles (Babacan, 2014: 244).

In the meantime, the Armenians thought that especially Talat Pasha and significant Union and Progress members in the last period of the Ottoman administration were responsible for the deportation law for Armenians and its implementation during the First World War. For this reason, Armenian defenders decided to commit assassinations on Union and Progress leaders with the thought of taking revenge for the Armenians who died in 1915 deportations (Özdemir 2014: 17). They called the project of wiping out these leaders “Operation Nemesis.” The organization to carry out this operation, of which its name was inspired by the Ancient Greek goddess of justice and revenge, Nemesis, was a sub-branch of Dashnaksutyun (Karataş 2007: 31). For directing the operations, Shahan Natali (Hagop Der Hagopian), who was an Ottoman Armenian from the USA, was assigned to the duty. The Nemesis Operation was the name for a series of murders of Ottoman statesmen and Turkish citizens of Armenian origin by an Armenian team of assassins. It is understood that the “special operations” discussed and planned in many conferences in the records of Armenians, were essentially carried out by the American Central Committee, the Istanbul Central Committee and the Armenian Revolutionist Federation (Avcı, 2012: 96).

Talat Pasha (on the left) Servet-i Fünun No 1029

Talat Pasha (on the left) Servet-i Fünun No 1029

The country which saw Union and Progress leaders as the greatest obstacle within its own political plans, in terms of the things they had done so far and they could do afterwards, was Britain. For this reason, it is understood that, in the event of the murder of Talat Pasha, Britain had roles such as guidance and preparing the informative infrastructure just as it was the case for the murder of other leaders. Behind these events, which seemed to be carried out by the so-called patriotic feelings of Armenian Dashnaksutyun, there was Britain and British interests as we will mention below. Dashnaksutyun was again used here as a sub-contractor.

British intelligence initially planned to catch Talat Pasha on his way to Berlin and then thought of arresting him in Berlin, but they gave up both of the plans with the concern that this would result in some problems in Germany. The British intelligence decided to learn what Talat Pasha and “the Unionists” were aiming at by following both foreign contacts and the people they were meeting. The British intelligence had information that Talat Pasha and “the Unionists” were trying to obtain support for the War of Independence started by Mustafa Kemal Pasha from Muslim countries on the one hand and they intended to ask for shelter from the Ankara government (Avcı, 2012: 97).

A British spy Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert, who made trips and interviews in the Balkans and Anatolia to confirm this information and made “unseen contributions” to the events breaking out in almost every place he stopped at, asked for appointment to interview Talat Pasha. Aubrey Herbert who met Pasha only nine days before his murder, caught clues confirming this information in his interview with the Pasha. Also beyond these clues, the fact that the Pasha threatened Britain to start both a Pan-Turanist and Pan-Islamist movement in British colonies if Britain does not make a fair agreement with Turkey must have led the British to decide on the execution of the Pasha. The biggest fear of Britain and the points seen as the biggest treats was the unification of Muslims against British rule or Turkey’s unification with “Muslim Turks” in Central Asia. Britain was planning to cut the contact between Turkey and Central Asia to be able to prevent this. In the report called “Source and Development of Pan-Islamism, Current Threat” prepared by Colonel Schieffer, the facts that the establishment of Armenia would be the biggest obstacle before Turkey’s foundation of a Turkish-Islam Union, the link of Turkey with Central Asia would be cut and the authority of a caliphate would be prevented to be used against Britain, were pointed out (Avcı, 2012: 98).

In the meantime, a convergence started with Russia which was so-called the enemy of Britain and all “imperialist powers.” The things that Talat Pasha said in his interview with Aubrey Herbert also disturbed Russia and this resulted in a convergence between British intelligence and Russian intelligence. Both the institutions sent their spies to Berlin by giving the information on the physical features of Talat Pasha to them. On 15 March 1921 Solomon Teilirian carried out the assassination. It should not be coincidental that the British-Soviet Trade Agreement was signed on 16 March 1921, one day after the murder of Talat Pasha, who was one of the leaders of Union and Progress, as a result of a British-Soviet union of interests (Avcı, 2012: 99).

The assassination took place like this: the gunman, Solomon Teilirian, followed Talat Pasha who was going to the zoo on the pavement and his friends followed him from a five-ten steps distance with an automobile.

Talat Pasha who had a grey-coloured coat on him sat in Şark Kahvesi after walking around the garden once. He started to walk towards his home after drinking his coffee. He entered Hardenberg Street, where his house was situated at, around house #11. When he came to the front of the house with the number 17, Teilirian touched the shoulder of the Pasha and called “Talat, Talat.” When he turned, the murderer fired a bullet in his head and escaped by leaving the gun there. When Talat Pasha died there right away, the people present there caught the murderer and submitted him to the police. He was not recognized at first as he had a fake ID with the name of Ali Sai. For this reason, the body was left on the scene for 2 hours. After Salim Bey, who saw the event from 200-300 metres away, came and recognized the Pasha, the news of the murder of Talat Pasha was recorded in police reports. The body of the Pasha was taken to a morgue after the autopsy. It was taken under protection in a special place in a Muslim graveyard in Berlin by being stuffed to then be brought to the homeland after the funeral on 19 March Saturday.

In his questioning done in the police station through a translator, the murderer Teilirian said that, “I came to Germany only to kill Talat Pasha. My family died in Armenian deportations, I coincidentally escaped death. Even from that time I had sworn to kill Talat Pasha. Some citizens of Armenian origin gave me money to kill Talat Pasha. I have been in Berlin for a long time. I stayed in various pensions. I learnt a few weeks ago that Talat Pasha lived in the second floor of house with the number 24 on Hardenberg Street. I hired a room in the building right across to his to be able to follow him well and memorize his habits.” The murderer told of his reason for murder and of his state of mind: “My citizens who hear that the mass killer Talat Pasha died will have a sigh of relief and they will be proud of me for this success of mine. When I think of this I get happy. I committed the murder only to taste this feeling. I confess that I committed this murder coldly and by planning and being prepared from before. I hold all the responsibility with a clear conscience”(Zaptçıoğlu 1993: 14). Solomon Teilirian was put in jail by being taken to the Sharlottenburg court on the same day.

The trial of “Talat Pasha Case” started on 2 June 1921 in Berlin. The judge of heavy penalties, Dr Lehmberg, was the chair of the court and his assistants were the penalty judges Bathe and Dr Lachs (Zaptçıoğlu 1993: 12).

The implementation of Article 211 of the German Penalty Code dated 31 May 1870 was in question for the suspect. The text of Article 211 is as follows: “The person who kills another person will be punished by the death penalty if he committed the murder deliberately,” this meant that the court would punish Teilirian by death penalty if they had concluded that he killed Talat Pasha deliberately and with his free will and as planned before. German Penalty Code also had other articles about murder. According to Article 212 of the law, if there is no deliberateness, the murderer will be punished by heavy imprisonment not to be less than 5 years for the crime of “murder.” Article 213 included the “provocation” element. If the deceased, Talat Pasha, provoked the suspect, murderer, by torturing or abusing him or his kinsmen and if there were other extenuating causes, the element of “provocation” in the murder would be accepted. The penalty for murder as a result of provocation was heavy imprisonment not to be less than six months (Babacan 2014: 152).

On the other hand, it is very interesting that the criminal charge was prepared on 29 March, the second week after the assassination. The attorney general did not need international prosecution and the criminal charge was prepared in the shortest time to be able to close the case as soon as possible. The suspect in the criminal charge was accused of “deliberately killing former Turkish Prime Minister Talat Pasha on 15 March 1921 in Charlottenburg and committing the murder after planning it” (Babacan 2014: 255).

All of the proof present in the criminal charge depended on the confessions of the suspect, which was unusual. There was no possibility for the murderer to behave differently as he was caught in the act.

The criminal charge demanded the invitation of eight experts, two expert witnesses and nine witnesses including police officers, landowner of the suspect and the wife of Talat Pasha. It was peculiarly striking that all witnesses, except the real witnesses, were countrymen of the suspect. The attendance of Talat Pasha’s wife, who was the only person to really say something as a response to the suspect, was not allowed even as a witness in the case. Under these circumstances, it didn’t seem that the trial would possibly follow the legal process (Ünal 2004: 14-15).

Various experts and witnesses, most importantly Liman Von Sanders, were listened to in the court. After the court board decided not to listen to any other witness, the turn had come for the reports of the doctors about the mental stability of Teilirian. Article 51 of the German Penalty Code said that, “if the suspect does not have mental stability, he cannot be responsible for his crime.” Five reputable doctors, experts in their fields, read their reports in the court. From the experts, court doctor Rober Stoermer said, “As for me, the suspect has epilepsy sickness and the horrors he went through caused traumas in him.” However, there was no possibility that this sickness directly affected his free will. Teilirian had a great power of will and resistance. He had drunk brandy to take courage in the day of murder. The doctor had concluded that he had been planning the act for a long time from his statements. In short, “mental unbalance” was not applicable to Teilirian. He was responsible for the murder he committed (Babacan 2014: 260).

After long negotiations in the courts, it was the time for the conclusion speech. First the attorney general and then the three lawyers of Teilirian gave their speeches. Each of the lawyers took two turns to speak separately.

The attorney general demanded, “Teilirian to be found guilty of the murder” and said: “The victim of this murder is a special person. A hand from an unknown mass stretched and knocked this man down. The deceased was also a people’s child. He influenced the destiny of the country in a period when the nations fought and walked around the highest positions of history as a loyal ally of the German nation. There is not even a single doubt that this was a political murder. The suspect behaved with political hatred and political ambition. Those done to the Armenian nation are really horrific. The suspect and his family faced horrific events. In this way, the thought of revenge appeared in him. It is no doubt that the suspect thought Talat Pasha to be responsible. It indisputably appeared here that Armenians and their friends see Talat Pasha guilty.”

The jury chair Otto Reinicke declared the decision on 3 June 1921: “Is the suspect, Solomon Teilirian, guilty of deliberately murdering Talat Pasha in Charlottenburg on 15 March 1921? No.” After the decision of acquittal by the jury, the court stood. The majority of audience clapped for the decision. The judge declared that Teilirian was released and the costs for court would be paid by the state. The lawyers of the suspect, translators and Armenian audience congratulated and embraced Teilirian.

No matter how the attorney general warned that the progress of the court is wrong and that the judgment was turning political, his speech did not influence the jury. The lawyers managed to acquit Teilirian with their fervent speeches and by showing Talat Pasha as the “chief responsible for the massacres.” The attorney general applied for discrimination right after the decision, but withdrew it himself a few days later (Zaptçıoğlu 1993: 15).

The rejection of the guiltiness of Teilirian in German court meant the rejection of the guilt of Germany as well and saved Germany from participation in the crime. With the decision, this murder was announced to be a moral act committed by the suspect to take the revenge of his family members. As the defence emphasized on the personal importance of the crime, the organizational aspect of the assassination was ignored and other murders to be carried out by Armenian terrorist organizations were encouraged (Ünal 2004: 65-66).

Muslims living in Berlin reacted immensely to the decision of the Talat Pasha Case. The first written reaction came from the Oriental Club (Orientalischen Club) on 4 June 1921, one day after the declaration of the decision. In the explanation, it was emphasized that the Armenian problem was first created by Allied Forces and the purpose of this was to obtain their imperialist goals by making Turks and Armenians enemies and it was said that “it is not easy to find which people of these two people and who are from these people are responsible for the bloodshed and the feelings of revenge and which people is under suppression today. The real answer for this will be only given by history.” It was therefore stated, that the Armenian Problem was made tangled and the Allied Forces were responsible for this and also the responsibility for the events was not the Turks, as it was already accepted, but it was with the Armenians (Ünal 2004: 77).

Talat Pasha had become a sitting target for Armenians because of the deportations law which he tried to implement in the most humanitarian way in the conditions of the time when he is compared to other people similar to him in the world. The winner of the war, Britain, had planned to eliminate some obstacles when it was determining the role of Turks and the Ottoman Empire while shaping the world for the benefit of its interests with its political and military dominion. As Britain did not approve the things Talat Pasha did abroad, his political activities and attempts for Turkey and its benefits, it made him as the target. Armenian organizations and militants were ready to kill him. Though Armenian organizations being led by British guidance, encouragement and provocations appeared to have killed Talat Pasha for their own ideals, they were carrying out the demands of the British.

The political identity of Talat Pasha and the events he was involved in made the case after his death also political. New Turkey politics, created by the changes of governments and internal political conflicts happening in Germany, made themselves obvious during the judgment of the murderer of the Pasha. The Talat Pasha case and the decision of the jury have been regarded as “the proof for the crime of Talat Pasha” in the Western world till today. The case in Germany has been a subject even to books with the title “Genocide before the Court” for years.


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