A square in the French city of Marseille will be officially named after Soghomon Tehlirian—the Armenian who assassinated Talaat Pasha, the former Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, in Berlin on March 15, 1921—in a ceremony on April 21.
Marseille Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, several public and political figures, as well as representatives of the French Armenian community will come together to officially welcome the naming of the square, in an inauguration event organized jointly by the Marseille municipality and the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations in France (CCAF).
Tehlirian was born in the village of Nerkin Bagarich, in the Erzurum region, and grew up in nearby Erzincan (Yerznga). He began his education at an Evangelical school in Erzincan, then attended the Ketronakan School of Constantinople. He began his higher education in engineering at a German university but returned to Erzincan when the First World War broke out.
In June 1915, during the deportation of Erzincan Armenians, Tehlirian witnessed the murder of his mother and brother, along with the rape and murder of his three sisters. He was struck on the head and left for dead. He survived and escaped to Tiflis, where he joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).
He participated in volunteer units commanded by General Andranik and also took part in the Volunteer regiment commanded by Sebouh.
In 1921 he was assigned to the ARF’s Operation Nemesis, which sought to punish Turkish officials guilty of organizing and carrying out the Armenian Genocide.
Tehlirian’s main target was Talaat Pasha, one of the triumvirate of Young Turk leaders who had ruled in the last days of the Ottoman Empire; he was a former minister of the interior and a grand vizier (prime minister). Talaat was killed by Tehlirian with a single bullet on the morning of March 15, 1921, in Berlin, in broad daylight. Tehlirian did not flee the scene and was immediately arrested.
He was tried for murder but was exonerated by the German court. His trial became a highly sensational event, examining not only Tehlirian’s guilt but also that of Talaat Pasha for the Armenian deportations and mass killings.
The trial influenced Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who was later to coin the term “genocide.” He reflected on the trial, “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?”
After the assassination, Tehlirian moved to Serbia and married Anahit Tatikian, who was also from Erzincan. The couple moved to Belgium and lived there until 1945, when they moved to San Francisco.
Tehlirian died in 1960 and is buried at the Ararat Cemetery in Fresno, California.