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Talaat Pasha and Petliura killings

Talaat Pasha and Petliura killings

Inspiring example of revenge

The Armenian Genocide and Jewish Holocaust are often being compared, especially in terms of responsibility and punishment for the grave crimes committed against the two nations. However, unlike Jews, Armenians have not got their Nuremberg yet…

PanARMENIAN.Net - There is one example how the revenge of the Armenian people on the Genocide masterminds, particularly the killing of Talaat Pasha by Soghomon Tehlerian encouraged Jewish poet Shalom Schwartzbard to assassinate Symon Petliura, the exiled Ukrainian leader, whom he held responsible for pogroms against Jews in 1918-1920.

Tehlerian was born in April 1896 in the village of Nerkin Bagarij, in the Erzurum vilayet of the Ottoman Empire. After graduation at the Central Lyceum of Constantinople, he went to study engineering in Serbia and had plans to continue his education in Germany. In June 1915, the Ottoman local police ordered the deportation of all the Armenians in Yerznka (Erzincan), where his family lived. Tehlerian's mother, three sisters, his sister's husband, his two brothers, and a two-year-old niece were deported. Tehlerian lost 85 family members during the Genocide.

In 1921 he joined Operation Nemesis, a covert assassination program that would target the architects of the Armenian Genocide. Tehlerian assassinated Talaat Pasha, who lived in Germany under assumed name Ali Salih.

As soon as Tehlerian found Talaat Pasha's address in Hardenbergstraße in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, Tehlerian rented an apartment near his house so that he could study his everyday routine. On March 15, as Tehlerian was reading in his room, he glanced out his window and saw Talaat on the balcony of his apartment. He explained to the court that he recognized the man from having seen his picture in the newspapers. Tehlerian grabbed the loaded pistol he kept with his underclothes in a trunk, ran after Talaat, and fatally shot him. He readily admitted that he killed Talaat Pasha, but did not consider himself a murderer.

“I saw Talaat, the man who was responsible for the deaths of my parents, my brothers, and my sisters,” he explained.

“Tehlerian was a melancholy man,” his former landlady would testify at his murder trial. “He would sit in his room in the dark playing sad songs on his mandolin.” She said she learned that his entire family had been killed in 1915, but thought it best not to ask too many questions about it.

Tehlerian was tried for murder, but was eventually acquitted by the twelve-man jury.

U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau, who was also a prominent Jewish activist, noted of the Armenians: “There has been considerable intermarrying with Jews and that by this time there is a decided strain of Jewish blood in them. I asked about this because they all look like Jews and have the same characteristics, the same stubborn adherence to their past and religion and a strong race pride.” Morgenthau was the first major international figure to alert the world to the Armenian Genocide.

In 1919 he would also head a commission to Poland to investigate the pogroms against Jews.

In that same year, on the opposite bank of the Black Sea, in newly independent Ukraine, anti-Jewish pogroms erupted in a manner parallel to what had happened in Anatolia. The list of pogrom perpetrators was expansive and diverse, encompassing foreign armed fighters, Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary organizations, ordinary Ukrainian peasants, military units loyal to the deposed Russian tsar, and Red Army soldiers. But popular memory put the blame for the bloodshed on the figure of Symon Petliura, the leader of the so-called “Directory” government that tried in vain to rule over Ukraine and establish a left-leaning national republic. Despite offering broad autonomy to the Jewish population—the Directory even printed currency in Yiddish and promised Yiddish-speaking telephone operators—the government was unable or unwilling to stem the violence. In total, over one thousand separate incidents of anti-Jewish violence were recorded; a Soviet investigation put the death toll at over 100,194. Other observers estimated that up to 200,000 Jews were murdered.

In an eerie echo of Tehlerian’s assassination of Talaat Pasha, the Yiddish poet and watchmaker Shalom Schwartzbard took his revenge on Petliura, who had fled Ukraine and was living in Parisian exile. Throughout the spring of 1926, Schwartzbard would wander through the streets of Paris’ Latin Quarter with a pistol in his pocket and a photo of Petliura he had clipped out of the Grand Larousse encyclopédique. The blond 31-year-old poet, who courtroom reporters would later comment looked more like a clerk than a murderer, short and “undistinguished in appearance,” drew no attention to himself as he sought out Petliura from among the crowd, comparing the features of likely candidates to the photo in his hands. Schwartzbard found his target on several occasions, but each time Petliura was surrounded by his wife and children.

Finally, on May 25, Schwartzbard encountered Petliura alone on the corner of Rue Racine and Boulevard St. Michel. Still unsure if he matched the photo, Schwartzbard asked the man, “Are you Petliura?” He didn’t answer. The poet took a chance and shot the former head of state five times. When police arrived at the scene, Schwartzbard was waiting for them: “I have killed a great assassin,” he declared. The crowd began running toward Schwartzbard, beating him, but the gendarme took Schwartzbard by cab to the station. Upon learning that the man he had shot was, in fact, Petliura, Schwartzbard was overjoyed.

Schwartzbard’s act of vengeance threw him into headlines around the world and brought global attention to the pogroms and the fate of the Jewish people in Ukraine.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt argued that both Tehlerian and Schwartzbard sought justice, not revenge.

Juries acquitted both the Armenian student and the Jewish poet, and the public trials of the two brought the crimes they were avenging to global attention.

One Jewish law student in Warsaw at the time, Raphael Lemkin, followed both trials with rapt attention. Tehlerian, he wrote, “upheld the moral order of mankind,” and Schwartzbard’s act was “a beautiful crime.” Lemkin, who later coined the term “genocide” and lobbied for its recognition at the United Nations, was one of the first to publicly link the Ottoman attacks against Armenians with both the pogroms and the Holocaust. When CBS commentator Quincy Howe asked him in 1949 how he became interested in the topic, Lemkin replied, “Because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, and after the Armenians, Hitler took action.”

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, “A Tale of Two Assassins,” Tablet, April 24, 2015

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