Talaat Pasha, Mehmet

Mehmet Talaat Pasha (1874-1921) (also known as Talaat Bey) was the principal architect of the Armenian Genocide. Born in Edirne (Adrianople), Talaat became a telegrapher at a young age. He was active in the Young Turk movement seeking to overthrow Sultan Abdul Hamid (Abdulhamit) II. He joined the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) and quickly emerged a leader in the secret organization. His profession gave him access to the principal means of communication in his era and his assignment as Chief Secretary of Posts and Telegraphs in Salonika (now Thessaloniki, Greece) placed him at the hub of Turkish revolutionary plotting. After the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, Talaat became one of the most influential politicians of the Ottoman Empire. In 1909 he was appointed Minister of the Interior and then Minister of Posts. By 1912 he was Secretary General of the CUP, which the following year seized complete power in the Ottoman Empire. The 1913 coup saw the rise of the so-called Young Turk triumvirate consisting of Talaat as Minister of the Interior, Enver as Minister of War, and Jemal as Minister of the Marine.

Talaat was one of the main advocates of the Turkification of the Ottoman Empire. As Minister of the Interior, he assumed primary responsibility for planning and implementing the Armenian Genocide. He employed the system of provincial administration subordinate to his direct authority as the main instrument for carrying out the deportations. The 1915 orders for the eviction of the Armenians from their homes carried his signature, much as subsequent orders clarifying the originally disguised intentions of the deportations as annihilation also bear his name. Talaat personally supervised the process and his ability to operate a telegraph machine enhanced his capacity to carry out the policies of his government through direct and secret communications to other CUP cohorts specifically assigned provincial administrative posts to receive and carry out the orders. This method of operation circumvented the machinery of the central government and permitted a handful of CUP fanatics to subvert the state in order to carry out their criminal conspiracy. The organized and scheduled depopulation of Armenians from one town after another carried out with complete surprise and minimal cost, their systematic liquidation once moved to remote locations, and the methodical plunder of their properties demonstrated Talaat's capacity for calculated cruelty and only increased his power and prestige in the CUP. Talaat went so far as to expressly order the destruction of young Armenian orphans. In February 1917 Talaat became Grand Vizier, earning him the title Pasha. He resigned his post in October 1918 as the empire neared total defeat.

Aware of the consequences he faced because of the declared intentions of the Allied Powers to hold him and his associates responsible for the extermination of the Armenians, Talaat fled to Germany where he lived under an assumed name. During the tribunal convened in Constantinople by the post-war Ottoman government, Talaat was tried in absentia, found guilty of capital crimes, including massacre, and was condemned to death. Whereas Germany refused to extradite him, Talaat was identified and gunned down in Berlin in 1921 by Soghomon Tehlirian, an Armenian whose extended family had disappeared from its native town of Erzinjan. Talaat's assassination caused a furor, and Tehlirian's trial became a major media event exposing the knowledge of the German government about the Armenian massacres, which had been kept from the German public during the war. The jury, hearing the eyewitness testimony of German officers, acquitted Tehlirian. As for Talaat's remains, they were returned to Istanbul in 1943 by Nazi Germany and given burial with full honors.

--Rouben Paul Adalian