Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Assassination of Jemal Azmi and Behaeddin Shakir - April 17, 1922

An April 18, 1922 dispatch from Berlin, published the next day in The New York Times, reported that “the criminal police arrested today fifteen Armenians in a big round-up, seeking to destroy what is alleged to be a secret murder organization whose headquarters, the Berlin police say, is in America, whence the Berlin branch is financed.”

Aram Yerganian
Arshavir Shiragian
The reason for these arrests was that on April 17, a double “political murder” had been committed. Two of the main Turkish executors of the Armenian genocide, Dr. Behaeddin Shakir, a member of the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihad ve Terakke) and head of the Special Organization (Teshkilat-i-Mahsusa), and Jemal Azmi, former Turkish governor of Trebizonda, were passing through Uhlandstrasse, a fashionable district, with their wives and the widow of Turkey’s former Minister of Interior, Talaat Pasha (assassinated in March 1921 by Soghomon Tehlirian), when “two slim, undersized, swarthy men lurking in a doorway rushed out, thrust the women aside and fired several rounds pointblank at the two objects of their vengeance and made their escape under cover of revolver fire which was directed at the Turkish party by confederates across the street,” the newspaper added.

The police had offered an unusually large reward of 50,000 marks for the apprehension of the killers. However, they were not found, and the fifteen arrested Armenians were released.

The German police were on the right track, but were unable to follow through. The “secret murder organization” directed from America was in charge of Operation Nemesis, that was created by the Ninth General Congress of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in Yerevan (1919) to liquidate the chief Turkish leaders responsible for the Armenian Genocide. The details of the operation and its various ramifications, from Constantinople to Rome and from Berlin to Tiflis, started to come to light some thirty years later, in the memoirs of the commandos who were entrusted with the mission. Their identity and the code name of their operation would become more widely known after the publication of Operation Nemesis by the French journalist Jacques Derogy in 1986. It was published in English under the title Resistance and Revenge, in 1990.

The two so-called “swarthy men” entrusted with the second Berlin operation were Arshavir Shiragian (1900-1973) and Aram Yerganian (1900-1934). In March 1920, Shiragian had assassinated Vahe Ihsan (Yesayan), an Armenian informant who had helped draw up the list of prominent Armenians arrested and deported in April 1915. He followed up with the assassination of Said Halim Pasha, former Great Vezir of the Ottoman Empire, in December 1921. In June 1920, Aram Yerganian assassinated Fatali Khan Khoyski in Tiflis, former Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, who was mainly responsible for the Baku massacres of September 1918. In Berlin, Shiragian’s fire killed Jemal Azmi and wounded Behaeddin Shakir, and Yerganian finished the job.

After disappearing from the scene, the Armenian avengers took different routes and had quite divergent fates. Aram Yerganian moved to Austria, Bulgaria, and Romania, and finally settled in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1927, where he married and had a daughter, Maria. He continued to be actively involved in public life, but nobody knew at the time about his exploits. He contracted tuberculosis in 1931 and moved to the Argentinean city of Cordoba looking for a cure, but passed away three years later at the age of 34. His memoirs of the operation, «Այսպէս սպաննեցինք» (“We Killed in This Way”), were posthumously published by Shahan Natalie (1884-1983), one of the main organizers, in 1949. In 1959 Yerganian’s remains were exhumed and reburied at the A.R.F. “Antranig” Club of Cordoba.

Arshavir Shiragian married and moved to New York in 1923, where he had a daughter, Sonia. He also was active in public life in the New York/New Jersey area. He published his memoirs in 1965 with the title «Կտակն էր նահատակներուն» (“It Was the Legacy of the Martyrs”), later translated into French (La dette du sang, 1982 and 1984) and into English (The Legacy, 1976, by Sonia Shiragian). In his later years he was recognized and honored as a national hero. He passed away in 1973 and was buried in New Jersey’s Hackensack Cemetery.