Freitag, 14. Dezember 2012

A crime in Charlottenburg - a local episode of operation Nemesis

As I am a proud citizen of Charlottenburg, I am always very curious to learn more about my piece of Berlin. And as I commute enough lately to have enough time to read, I have more and more opportunities to improve my knowledge about my city.

Only 20 minutes away by bus from my home, on 14 March 1921, a crime took place. Mehmed Talaat, the former Turkish Interior minister, accused as one of the main architects of the Armenian genocide, was killed by Soghom Tehlirian, an Armenian who went through the nightmare of the killings. 

Hardenbergstrasse 37
Till today, the Armenian case is a topic of high tension in the relations between Turkey and Armenia. Talaat, minister of Interior between 1913 and 1917 and grand Vizier till 1918, was accused of being directly responsible over the killing - by firing squad or starvation - of nearly 1 million Armenian. His discussion with amb. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. would be used soon by another criminal when planning the death of Jew as a sign of the indifference of the world to mass crimes: 'I have accomplished more toward solving the Armenian problem in 3 months than Abdul Hamid accomplished in 30 years'. 'When he was condamned to death for his crimes, in 1919, he was helped to suceed by the German generals who offered him the comfort of a submarine. 

Tehlirian was one of the few who escaped the nightmare and later joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Operation Nemesis, a Bosnot-based Armenian plot aimed to assassinate the Turkish leaders involved in the genocide. Talaat and Tehlirian were almost neighbors: the first was living on Hardenbergstrasse 4 and the former Turkish official at no. 37. Most probably, the buildings were destroyed during the war: at no. 37 you can find today buildings part of the TU campus, and on no. 4, there is a modern building, with glass and steel hosting a couple of shops. The locations are opposite and who knows how often the two of them met accidentally those tensed days. 

Hardenbergstrasse 4
In one of the parks around Charlottenburg, maybe it was Tierpark, who knows, Talaat was explaining to the British agent Aubrey Herbert the polices of the Ottoman Empire. Even though Talaat was exposed to what we call today 'diversity of cultures', apparently he did not have any moral barriers for thinking twice before ordering the killing of the Armenian population. 

The crime from Charlottenburg was followed by a trial attended by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew that will create the term of 'genocide' and who will play a tremendous role in the post-WWII setting of the human rights system. Lemkin was one of the many who knew about the killing camps where the Jews were killed and tried without success to convince the Americans to intervene against the Germans. 

Tehlirian tried for murder by a German court. He was defended by 3 defense attorneys, including Dr. Theodor Niemeyer, professor of law at Kiel University and at the end found 'no guilty' on grounds of temporary insanity. He will futher move to the US, where he died in 1960, in San Franscisco. 

After his death, Talaat's wife left the 3-room apartment in Hardenbergstrasse and moved back in Turkey. Her husband was burried in the Turkish cemetery in Berlin, and his remains were moved to Turkey in 1943. He continues to be keep at high esteem in nowadays Turkey, where many streets and mosques are bearing his name. There were a couple of attempts to keep his memory in Berlin and even to create a memorial place, but the opposition was to strong to make this wish reality.

At the time when the former Vizier was murdered he was writing his memoirs enjoying the fresh Berlin spring. At the other end of the street, Tehlirian was unable to sleep and was having epileptic seizures following the tragic moments he went through. 

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