26 July 2013, 17:43
1916 |

The Crime and the Acquittal

Seeing the ghost of his father entirely changed the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet’s perception of life, forcing him to ponder the question which would later be called eternal: “To be or not to be?” The ghost of his mother that visited Soghomon Tehlirian, the genocide survivor, imposed the same disquieting question. Both heroes made the same choice – to be! To become a “ sword of punishment” against immorality and inhuman cruelty. In the eyes of the law, Hamlet and Soghomon both committed crimes, while in matter of fact – they punished criminals. This thin line between the form of an action and its essence is illuminated in Tehlirian’s words: “I have killed a man, but I am not a murderer.” On June 2 and 3, 1921, the court of jurors of Berlin’s regional court – heard testimony in the murder case of Talaat Pasha, Turkey’s former Minister of Internal Affairs and one of the organizers of the Armenian Genocide; an act committed by Tehlirian. The court’s verdict of acquittal demonstrated the victory of human spirit over the letter of law. This was evident from the defense and prosecuting attorney’s closing arguments, recorded in the trial transcripts.

District attorney gollnick 
To turn to the homicide; as I indicated, the motive of the defendant was to obtain revenge by killing Talaat, who, he was convinced, was the instigator and perpetrator of the massacres of the Armenians. 
Gentlemen, this motive of revenge is not an ignoble one by any means; on the contrary, it is an easy one to comprehend as long as human beings are able to love and hate. 
Later on, when I ask whether the defendant acted with premeditation, it will be easy to see how motives of revenge drove his premeditated killing. When you consider carefully how the defendant, after seeing his parents house in Erzinga in ruins, scoured Europe until he came to Berlin and found Talaat, it will not be difficult to conclude that he was possessed by a fanatical, vengeful notion that drew him like a magnet to the home and doorway of the victim. 
Thus, in my opinion, the statement he made when first interrogated is absolutely truthful. I have no doubt whatsoever that it corresponds with the truth. At the time of his interrogation, the defendant said, «As soon as I saw my parents home in ruins, I wanted to avenge their deaths. In order to do that, I went and bought a pistol...» 
Gentlemen, I do not want to dwell on this point any further. There may be doubts about this. In point of fact, the defendant himself retracted his statements to that effect, saying they had been made when he was weak of mind and under the immediate influence of shock caused by killing. But I would like to emphasize a statement which the defendant made to the police inspector and repeated in this courtroom. According to his statement, the first time he thought of killing Talaat was fourteen days before the actual killing. 
Therefore, we can see how the defendant followed through his intention to the end, with a clear plan and after weighing all factors. We see that he left his previous lodging; how he justified his departure on grounds of poor health; how he followed Talaat and found out what time Talaat normally left his house; how, on March 15th, he put his pistol in his pocket, followed Talaat and then passed in front of him to make sure it was Talaat Pasha; how he let the victim pass him so he would be behind him again and how he fired upon him from behind. His aim was true: death was instantaneous. 
For further proof that this was a premeditated crime, let us look to another statement he made to the police. In answer to the question «Why did you not fire when you were facing him?», he said, «I might not have succeeded. He would have tried to defend himself; he might have moved and I could not be sure that my shot would kill.» 
Gentlemen of the jury, we also see from the evidence that this crime was committed intentionally and very calmly. You may recall how he threw his pistol away and tried to escape. When he was caught and beaten, he said, «The person I killed is not German. I am not German. You Germans have no reason to be saddened on account of this incident. It does not concern you at all.» 
Taking all these circumstances into consideration, we can only conclude that the killing was carried out in a perfectly cold-blooded manner; it was well thought-out and deliberated upon in advance. 
In conclusion, I propose that you give an affirmative answer to the questions put to you by this court, and find the defendant guilty of having killed Talaat Pasha with premeditation.

Defense Attorney Adolf Von Gordon
(Private Legal Counselor, Berlin)
The defendant was born in Pakarij and came to Erzinga when he was four years old. This city, one of the largest in the region, is 100 to 150 kilometers west of Garin, on one of the two branches of the Euphrates River which extends nearly as far as Erzerum. There is a long, wide valley here which opens southward, in the direction of the Middle Euphrates and the desert, to which Armenians were to be exiled.
In Erzinga, there were some 20,000 Armenians and approximately 25,000-30,000 Turks. The defendant’s parents were middle-class. His father was a fairly successful merchant.
His parents had accumulated modest savings. They were a large and peaceful family. They had suffered somewhat from the war but, until June 1915, everything about their life was quiet and orderly.
Then came the disastrous news from Constantinople that the Armenians were being deported. An announcement was made: You should get together everything that you can carry within a few days, as you will be deported. On June 10th, the deportations began. First the rich and the well-to-do, who had horses and carriages, were deported. The defendant and his parents were in the second group. The defendant is not in a position to testify as to how numerous his group was. There were many other groups that followed un succession. Outside the city limits they were joined by the Armenians rounded up from the neighboring villages. The defendant was unable to see the end of the caravan; he walked in the middle of the caravan with his fifteen year-old sister. I believe his sixteen year-old sister was with him as well. His twenty-six year-old sister and her child were there too. In addition his two brothers, aged twenty-two and twenty-four years respectively, and his mother and father, fifty and fifty-five years old joined the procession. In this way, the entire family walked beside their oxcart, filled with their wordly posessions.
They had not gone far before they were attacked. Who attacked them? Initially, the gendarmes attacked — General Liman von Sanders described them as they were at that time— as well as mobs of Kurds, Turks, and others. First they took any weapons the Armenians had, even to the point of taking their umbrellas; they then took the Armenians’s money, gold, and food. They took the most precious possession of the women to satisfy their bestial passions. Young girls, among whom were the defendants fifteen and sixteen year-old sisters, were dragged into the bushes. Their parents and the defendant who were in a ditch heard their shrieks and realized what was happening to them. They never saw the girls again. The defendant was able to see the corpse of one of his sisters when he regained consciousness. The defendant’s twenty-two year old brother’s head — and this was the most shocking sight — was split in two by a gleaming axe. Even to this date, the defendant sees this horrifying image when he loses emotional control. Before his eyes he saw his mother fall, probably hit by a bullet. The others disappeared without a trace, even though the defendant continually tried to determine their whereabouts by means of missing persons advertisements.
The defendant was unable to see more than this as he too was hit from behind on the head by a blunt object. Doctors, even now, can establish the existence of the resulting wound. This horrible blow is the only thing he still remembers. He fell to the ground unconscious and it was evening by the time he regained consciousness. Surrounded by thousands of corpses, he discovered he had been struck by a bullet in his arm and by a sword in his knee. The scars of those wounds are still visible. In the semi-darkness he was able to determine where he was and even tried to find the bodies of his parents, brothers, and sisters. There was not a single survivor of the massacre in his vicinity. He tried to find sanctuary by escaping from that place. He went to the mountains, which he knew quite well. A kind Kurdish woman gave him shelter until his wounds healed. He then continued his escape until finally, after a months wandering, he reached the borders of Russia. He was apprehended by the border patrol and then released. He was warmly received by the Russian Armenians, who helped him go to Persia where he was able to find employment with a merchant and earn his livelihood.
In 1917 the Russian Revolution occurred. Having captured Garin (in the province of Erzerum), the Russians advanced as far as Erzinga. The defendant, who was living and working in Persia at the time, heard of the advance of the Russians and decided to return to Erzinga to see if any members of his family were alive and generally to investigate the situation there. He arrived in Erzinga and saw his parent’s home in ruins, but with sufficient evidence to remind him of the loved ones with whom he had lived and spent his youth. He remembered his happy home as it used to be and when he looked at the ruins, he recalled the events of the massacre and fell unconscious.
There, for the first time, he suffered what later were diagnosed as epileptic convulsions. These fits came on with more frequency later, accompanied by memories of the stench from the corpses, mental images of the massacres, emotional upheavals, nervous weakness, and fainting spells.
What did he see when he came to Erzinga? Out of 20,000 Armenians, three families were left, who were saved only because they had become Mohammedans, as well as a few individuals scattered here and there.
In total, there were some twenty Armenian survivors of the massacre.
Gentlemen of the jury, these are impressions that one can never forget. The defendant eventually remembered that his parents had hidden their hard earned savings. He began to search for whatever was left. Everything in their home was stolen or broken, but over 4,000 gold pieces were still there, buried. He took the money for himself and his family in the hope that one or more members would be found, and gave it to one of his relatives in Serbia for safekeeping. That relative is here; we had asked him to come to testify about the defendant’s family. We no further need to interrogate the defendant’s relation. After a month, the defendant went from Erzinga to Tiflis with the Russian Army, which was withdrawing to the border. There he again engaged in commerce and it was there that he bought his pistol, in 1918.
As was already mentioned, the defendant went back to Erzinga in 1917; that is, two years after the massacres. He remained in Tiflis until 1919. Then, the situation in Turkey having changed, he went to Salonika and from there to Serbia, not to see his relatives or for pleasure, but to find suitable work for himself. He then returned to Salonika and, in the early part of 1920, he went to Paris to learn French, as this was the official commercial language in Turkey. He remained in Paris for ten months and studied very diligently. He was able to read French papers and converse in French very well, considering the short period of study. He then decided that a commercial career with all its traveling did not suit him and he felt it would be better if he were to go to Berlin and learn to become a machinist. He wanted to go directly from Paris to Berlin, but he was told that it was very difficult to obtain a visa. An elderly Armenian told him that it would be easier if he went to Geneva, where this man had a home and by pretending to be a Swiss resident, he would be able to obtain a visa from the German Consulate to travel to Germany.
Tehlirian thus went to Geneva and from there to Berlin on an eight-day visa. The visa was extended in Berlin, as he was told it would be when he was in Geneva.
He had with him the address of the Armenian Consulate in Berlin as well as other addresses. It was recommended that he stay at the Tiergarten Hotel, which he did for a few weeks. Tehlerian then visited his friend from Paris, Mr. Eftian, who is present here as a witness. He met Mr. Eftian's sister and her husband Mr. and Mrs. Terzibashian, the husband a tobacconist. They looked for a room for the defendant and introduced him to Mr. Apelian who lived on Augsburgerstrasse. Apelian was happy to see that a countryman of his was renting a room in the same building and because the defendant did not speak German, Apelian assumed the responsibility of helping him. Mrs. Stellbaum, Mr. Apelian's landlady, rented a room to Tehlirian until the month of May.The defendant moved in and lived a normal life, like any young man. He concentrated on studying German and eventually began to meet other Armenians.
During this period, an incident occurred which pierced the tranquility like a bolt of lightning. This was the defendant’s encounter with three Turkish-speaking individuals on Hardenbergstrasse. The two Turks called a third, who was walking between them, Pasha. Tehlirian's attention was drawn to this individual; he looked at him more closely. He compared him to the picture he had seen of Talaat Pasha and came to the conclusion that this must be same man. He saw one of the other gentlemen enter the house at No. 4 Hardenbergstrasse with Talaat Pasha, while the third reverentially took his leave of them. Tehlirian concluded that Talaat lived there. This happened in the middle of January of this year.
He carried on as before until five to six weeks later, when he saw a dream, materially almost like a vision. His mother’s corpse arose before him. He told her, “I saw Talaat.” His mother answered, “You saw Talaat and you did not avenge your mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters murders? You are no longer my son.”
This is the moment when the defendant thought, «I have to do something. I want to be my mother’s son again. She cannot turn me away when I go to be with her in heaven. I want her to clasp me to her bosom as before.» As the doctors explained, the dream ended when he woke up.
The very next morning he went to work without mentioning the incident or his dream to his countryman Apelian. He found the President of the Armenian Students' Association, who spoke f luent German, and with his help went to Hardenbergstrasse deliberately, not, as the District Attorney put it, because he was «drawn like a magnet» — to rent a room from which he could keep an eye on Talaat. He found such a room on the ground floor of 37 Hardenbergstrasse.
Well then, at eleven o'clock, Tehlirian saw Talaat standing in the sunlight on the balcony. He too opened his window. He walked back and forth across the room reading and translating from his German textbook. At that instant, seeing what appeared to be a happy man calmly enjoying the sun's rays on the balcony, the blood rushed to his head. But even then, Tehlirian rejected the notion of killing Talaat.
Talaat Pasha went back to his room from the balcony and, for all practical purposes the matter was over for the day.
Suddenly, a quarter of an hour later, Talaat left his house. Tehlirian was standing at the window and saw him leave. All the horrors of the massacres came over him. He recalled his parents, rushed over to his trunk, took out his revolver, threw on his coat, grabbed his hat, rushed down to the street, darted toward Talaat, and fired.
As to whether he fired from the front or the back, that does not concern me.
Gentlemen, according to the District Attorney, all this proves premeditation. In my opinion, at that instant, an emotional storm overcame that man.
Subsequently, he did not throw away his revolver, as the District Attorney stated, like a man who does not want to look at all suspicious; rather, he let the revolver drop from his hand, like a man who saying, “Now I have paid my debt.” Naturally, he fled to get away from the passersby but was quickly apprehended.
Five seconds after the incident, Tehlirian said, “This does not concern the Germans. He is a foreigner and I am a foreigner”. He repeated this. I am not inclined to find anything premeditated in this entire occurrence.
Gentlemen, this is the incident. This is what happened prior to the incident. This is the man. Now, I in turn shall give my legal opinion on the question, How is the act to be judged?

The Verdict
“ In accordance with the decision of the jury, the defendant is not guilty of the punishable act with which he has been charged.»… «The order of imprisonment as regards the defendant is hereby annulled.»

Yerevan Magazine, Summer, N1, 2008

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