Akcam: Talat Pasha Has Been Avenged

The Armenian Weekly publishes below an article by Prof. Taner Akcam arguing that Hrant Dink’s murder was implemented in such a way so as to resemble the assassination of Talat Pasha, the mastermind of the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish version of this article appeared in Taraf newspaper on Jan. 23. Since the appearance of the article, new revelations related to the Dink case have reinforced Prof. Akcam’s argument. We thank Fatima Sakarya for the English translation.

Yasin hayal: Did you know that the man who killed Talat Pasha was never punished, and that he was released?

The ruling coming out of the Hrant Dink trial has shocked all of us. Shock is a good thing, a beautiful thing actually. It’s a sign of innocence and clarity. It shows that people’s consciences are still clear, and reflects their belief that the most natural thing in the world is to expect, at a minimum, something very ordinary and humane from one another. In fact, there’s no reason for us to be so shocked. If we knew where the people who are hiding Hrant’s murderers stand; if we knew how they view us; and, more importantly, if we were able to make that connection between Hrant Dink’s murder and the genocide of 1915, we wouldn’t have been so shocked. We would have heard them say, “Are they crazy? Have they lost their minds? Would this state ever give up one single brick of its foundation?” Our shock is caused by the mistake of not seeing the strong connection between this murder and the Armenian Genocide. What is shocking is the fact that we were shocked in the first place. It’s a pity that we can’t see what they see, or know what they know.

Hrant Dink was murdered in order to avenge Talat Pasha’s murder. Everything, and I mean everything, was organized in a way to seek revenge for the assassination that occurred in 1921. Upon his release after serving time in prison for his role in the McDonalds bombing of 2004 in Trabzon, Yasin Hayal, the person who planned Hrant’s murder, spoke about Talat Pasha with his father. He asked his father, “Dad, do you know how Talat Pasha was killed?” Yasin Hayal himself knew a thing or two about it, and added, “Did you know that the man who killed Talat Pasha was never punished, and that he was released?”

Why didn’t they kill Hrant Dink in front of his home? Or why didn’t they kidnap him, kill him, and dump his body in some remote location, just like the many crimes designated “perpetrator unknown” in Turkey? If they had wanted to, they could have, but they preferred not to. Instead, they killed him in front of Agos, on the street, in broad daylight, with a bullet to the back of his head. Why? Because through Hrant, they wanted to take Talat Pasha’s revenge from the Armenians. Talat Pasha was murdered by Soghoman Tehlirian, a survivor of the genocide, in Berlin on March 15, 1921. Tehlirian approached Talat Pasha from behind and shot him in the head. On June 3, after a two-day trial, the assassin was found not guilty of murder.

But the murder has another similarity that we’re not aware of. Those who planned Talat Pasha’s assassination had decided that Tehlirian shouldn’t escape, that he should remain at the scene and submit himself to arrest. Likewise, according to evidence from the Hrant Dink investigations, gunman Ogun Samast was to remain at the scene, or submit to arrest elsewhere in Istanbul. Everything was supposed to occur the way it had in 1921. The goal was not only to avenge Talat Pasha’s assasination, but to remind us of the genocide of 1915, of the strangling of the voices of Armenians. They were trying to say, “We will not give a single Armenian the chance to speak freely on this soil after 1915.” Oh, if only we had known what they knew, seen what they saw…

God came to the rescue of those among us who were shocked and could not see the connection between the genocide of 1915 and Hrant Dink’s murder. Rauf Denktas died around the same time. It was as if God was telling us, “Are you blind? Open your eyes, observe. Are your brains so dull? See and understand.” He wanted us to see the line of government-VIPs standing at Rauf Denktas’s funeral, to open our eyes and understand the connection between Hrant and 1915.

Who was Rauf Denktas? He was on the team that paved the road leading to Hrant Dink’s murder. Denktas was the president of the Executive Board of the Talat Pasha Committee, which was responsible for the Talat Pasha meetings and activities in Europe—Lausanne in 2005, Berlin in 2006, and Paris and North Cyprus in 2007. It was formed to organioze actions against Armenians in Europe and Turkey under the slogan, “The Armenian Genocide is an international lie.” It was one of the most important mass organizations of Ergenekon. A number of its founding members are now defendants or detainees of the Ergenekon prosecution. During the investigations, defendants were questioned over the Talat Pasha Committee and its activities. Ferit Ilsever, a defendant and member of the Talat Pasha Committee, complained that 17 of the 49 questions directed at him were about the committee. He believed, rather innocently, that the investigation being conducted over “the veil of the Ergenekon terror organization” was actually against the struggle they were waging “against the ‘Armenian Genocide’ lie.”

While Hrant Dink’s real murderers remained free in Istanbul, all these state VIPs were getting in line to attend Rauf Denktas’s funeral. They were sending us, the shocked ones, the following message: “We built up this state on 1915. To shed light on the Hrant Dink murder means to question the establishment of this state, to pull bricks out of its foundation. Why would you expect us to reveal the truth of Hrant Dink’s murder? Don’t you get it? We are all Rauf Denktas, and we will always be on Talat Pasha’s side.”

Ninety years of denial policies have blinded our eyes, dulled our brains, and atrophied our brains. We can’t see the link between the genocide of 1915 and Hrant’s murder the way they can and do. They made us forget 1915, but they never forgot it. They’ve dulled our memory of 1915, but they themselves never forgot it. We’ve been so dumbed down that some of us get spooked by the very word “genocide,” especially when someone says, “The genocide ought to be recognized.” Some of us still don’t want to link Hrant’s death with confronting our history, the history of 1915. In fact, Hrant is what we were forced to forget, the thing that was hidden from us.

Remember the fairy tales where the hero is given a key to the 40th room that is never to be opened? Think of a room in an old house where the trunk that holds our deepest secrets is hidden away. Hrant is the key. To unlock the secrets of his murder is to open all the secrets behind the formation of our republic. But this government doesn’t have the guts or the will to do this because they are “partners of the secret.”

Our Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan], our President [Abdullah Gul], [Deputy Prime Minister] Bulent Arinc, and other members of the administration have stated that they are unhappy with the ruling and that the public conscience has been wounded. There’s no better way to mock someone than this. As an old politician once said, “Did someone tie your hands, that you weren’t able to capture the murderers?” Are you telling me that the same people who have access into the “cosmic room” (top-secret room) of the general staff can’t find those who planned Hrant Dink’s murder when even the public has a good idea of who might be behind it? It isn’t just crocodile tears you’re shedding; it’s beyond that! You realize, don’t you, that your behavior is an example of supreme disrespect towards those who have not let go of this prosecution for five years.

Once his sentencing was official, Hrant intended to take his entire family and walk the deportation route from his birthplace Malatya to Der Zor; he wanted to abandon Turkey. He used to say, “They don’t want me here, just like they didn’t want my ancestors. And if that’s the case then there’s no point in my staying here. I’m going to follow their path out.” Hrant wasn’t ignorant about 1915, the way we are. He experienced the connection between the 1915 genocide and what was being done to him, every single day; he felt it in his bones. Before he died he told me that he wanted to turn the courtroom, where he was being prosecuted for the use of the word genocide, into a scene out of history. He said, “Yes, I’m going to come out and say that 1915 was a genocide and I’m going to turn the courtroom into a tribunal of history.” They didn’t give him the chance.

We need to open our eyes and shed light onto our dulled minds. Hrant Dink was murdered to avenge Talat Pasha. Hrant is “1.5 million + 1.” Without seeing that and knowing that, we will never understand this murder nor reveal the truth about it. During the days leading up to 2015, we will never learn the truth about this murder without saying, “Yes, 1915 was a genocide and it must be recognized,” and “Hrant was murdered because he reminded you of all the Hrants from 1915.” This is the only way to save our Muslim faith and our Turkishness from the past and from the hands of today’s murderers.

I know how hard it is to live as an Armenian in this country. I understand and feel deep inside of me the emotions behind the words “I can’t live here anymore,” and the wish to abandon the land you were born in. I don’t know if I have the strength to do it but I want to scream out: You are the light that will let us redefine our Turkishness. You are the opportunity to remind the Muslims in Anatolia today of the Muslims of yesterday who, when faced with the annihilation of Armenians, said, “There’s nothing in the Kuran that allows this” and who opposed it and tried as much as they could to save the lives of Armenians. If you go, there is no meaning left to Turkishness or Muslim faith. You give us the opportunity and the possibility to take this country and save it from being the country of murderers and those who protect them.

I’m not saying this to convince you of something. These words are for Hrant Dink’s friends: You are writing history. You are signing on to a principle on this soil. By never letting go of this case for the past five years and saying “This case isn’t over until we say it’s over,” you honor Turkey and you represent its tomorrow. You show us how this republic can be redefined, not as the country of murderers and their protectors, but as the common land of all citizens of diverse religious and ethnic roots.

Let Hrant Dink be our symbol. Let him be our Martin Luther King. If they want to lock arms around Rauf Denktas and Talat Pasha, then let us form a tight circle around Hrant. Let Hrant and “1.5 million +1” be the thing that separates our republic from their republic.

Taner Akcam

Taner Akcam

Taner Akcam is the Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marion Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University.


  1. “I don’t know if I have the strength to do it but I want to scream out: You are the light that will let us redefine our Turkishness.”

    Mr. Akcam, you are also a light that will let is redefine our Turkishness. As long as there are people like you, I will never lose hope in our people.

  2. Thank you, Taner Akcam, for this brilliant analysis. Thank you for pointing out with such clarity the Talat Pasha connection with Hrant Dink’s murder, which I had not seen until reading this article. I am grateful to you for your courage in standing up and revealing it.

  3. Interesting take on things–and I appreciate being reminded that the people’s execution of Talat Pasha went unpunished–but I fail to understand why you think that it is so important to connect this with the murder of Hrant Dink. Once superstition is removed, each of your examples just points to the fact that Hrant Dink was an Armenian Turk who spoke too freely about Armenian causes and that is why the Turksih government commended his murderer. Pretending that this has to be linked to the people’s assassination of a war criminal does two things (i) it equates executing a war criminal with murder of an innocent and (ii) makes us look like crazy conspiracy theorists without one leg of reason to stand upon.

  4. Reading this, one gets the impression that Hrant’s murderer was released and declared a hero just like Talat Pasha’ assasin.

    • Reading your comment, one would get the impression that Ogun Samast planned Hrant Dink’s murder on his own.

  5. The reason why he was acquitted, because so many German missionaries were in the Ottoman Empire. They documented through testimony and newsreels about the Armenian Death Marches. At his trial, their witness is what led to him being acquitted.

  6. This-I presume German-Gentleman Tim Upham is referring to Tehlirian being acquited…indeed there are many newsreels -documentary like- that have to be surfaced not only form German Sources, but Danish, Belgian etc., missionaries that at the time of the Armenians Eviction from millenia old habitat filmed them.
    Europeans in general are very much conservative and do not come forth with such documents and or films…untill real oppertune times.
    Today news had it that Head of EU Parliament Mr. Martin I believe has URGED Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide..
    Which again goes to prove that what was initiated by President Nicola Sarkozy has indeed sparked that little which was needed to start the ongoing quest for Recognition. Also latest Swiss determinatioon to punish denialists, however important personalities they ma be ….
    Looks like finally there may be some hope for more and more who will come FWD and speak up!!!!
    My grandfather ,plus oldest uncle also were put on THE DEATH MARCH

  7. Grant Izmirlian has touched upon something, few would probably notice and poner on.That of comparing execution of a war criminal(after his govt. conveniently shut eyes on is escape to Europe),after being condemned to death by his own Ottoman Military Tribunals..
    with an inn ocent journalist Hrant Dink.
    I personally find-like Grant-that some pro Armenian or pro justice advocates words ,must be meausred VERY MITICULOUSLY…
    for sublte hints are -like ,masterfull craftsmanship-rather hard to understand and appreciate in depth…
    Tact, caution and actually doubtfullness are requirements in analyzing works of art-and/or critiques ,essays , articles etc.,
    I think you have got something there Mr. izmirlian!!!!!

  8. Yes indeed. And it is very difficult to imagine even a remote approach to the truth of the Armenian Genocide on Turkey’s part while Talat’s bones remain enshrined in Istanbul’s “Monument of Liberty”.

    • In all fairness though, this is not just a turkish phenomenon. I mean, in Georgia you still see restaurant’s with stalin’s portrait on the wall. He was “their” son of a bich. And similarly, in Austria you have a lot of folks in Braunau Am Inn with hitler’s portrait on the walls, and lots of people attempt to put flowers outside the birth house on April 20th. And in uzbekistan, you have Tamerlane’s tomb as a national shrine. It’s a weird thing about nationalism- brings out the worst in folks sometimes.

  9. Everyday I learn more about our lack of support to those courageous Turks who stand strong in defiance of oppression, by reading Taner Akcam’s analytical insights of Turkish society.

    Taner Akcam is a Turk who envisages a future ‘humane’ Turkey, who has the ability to highlight every crack were we missed to address and fix, Turkish or Armenian.

    • @ Murat,

      Well, you answered yourself without needing to analyze you Sinicism!
      After all, why would be any Armenian to deny Genocide committed against his/her own people? Simple as that!

  10. Izmirlian, it is the murderers–not the author–who made the connection between Talat and Hrant and wanted to murder Hrant in a manner similar to Talat. Did you even bother to look at the article before commenting?
    Gaydzag, come on man! Do not judge an article by one man’s comments. Did you read it yourself?

    • I did read the entire article and very carefully. The only way that one can conclude that the murderers rather than authors are making the connection is by (i) interviewing Dink’s murderers (ii) be willing to believe that their statements are true (iii) willingly pass along statements made by murderers in the form of an article ….OR….. projecting their own beliefs into the minds of said murderers. My comments are predicated upon assumption of the later. OK?

  11. Fortunately for us, Armenian nation in its entire existence did not give birth ”Talats” who slaughtered an entire nation. You cannot kill an honest and bright Armenian journalist and think that you took revenge for a criminal Turk named Talat.

  12. Evolution of social and moral values in Turkey compare to where the US was 50 years ago.
    Thank God for the Taner Ackams, Dinks, and many others that face the machinery of counterfit pride in order to find and develop that missing genuine goodness in our humanity.

  13. Alain, you put it so well. I thank God also for Taner Akcam and those like him, but I don’t forget for a second that those who revere Talaat still exist and plot to prevent us from receiving our long overdue justice. It is still an uphill battle for us.

  14. Dear Sella:
    Of course, you are correct in writing: “Armenian nation in its entire existence did not give birth ”Talats” who slaughtered an entire nation.”
    However, Ackam is not comparing the morality, or character, or justification for the murder of Talat Pasha with the murder of Hrant Dink. He is not equating the validity of the one with the other. He is pointing out the similarities in the methodology of the two murders. In doing so, he is revealing the unchanging persistence of the Turkish position of denial regarding the Armenian Genocide. Ackam is again calling on all Turks to face their history of genocide. This is the leitmotif in all his work. Ackam is a highly regarded scholar whose research is impeccable. He is a humble man with no interest in personal accolades; his focus is always the research, the work. Whether or not we always agree with him, his interpretation of events cannot be lightly disregarded. He knows the landscape. Click on his website.

  15. I wonder still;
    How do Turks not realize that denial,
    shown even more desperate with Dink’s murder,
    simply illustrates a cowardice, to the rest of mankind?

  16. This is some pretty creepy stuff man. I just finished reading dr. akcam’s book. It really was depressing. I liked how much he referenced all his statements in it. In spite of this Dink trial, I am still holding out hope that there are enough sane decent people in turkey to have it come to terms with its history eventually, just like us European- Americans did about the Native Americans. The 100000 people at Hrant’s funeral is the spark that lights that hope.

  17. Very interesting article, not so much because of what it states, but how accurate it is in another way.

    Hrant and I are in-laws (I learned this right after his death). His cousin is married to my wife’s sister. What this means is that Hrant, without his knowledge, is an in-law to my grandfather, Shahan Natalie, the man responsible for oecastrating the execution of Talat and many of those responsible and sentenced to death before they fled to Germany.

  18. Murat
    Are you aware that with your question you are exposing a denialst position? As if Armenians have committed genocide like Turks and need an Akcam to expose it.
    I have lost hope on you Murat.

  19. I am finally exposed? My cover is blown? Such a pity! So while every nation and state out there have skeletons in their closets, Armenians in their long history never suffered from such imperfections! What a lucky nation!

    Given millions of descendents of the Ottoman Armenians out there, just the laws of probablity dictate that there will be one or two who have a different opinion and interperetation of the events of 1915. No, this special group does not have any such deviants. Such uniformity of opinion was not seen even in Stalin’s Soviet Russia! Since we are talking about people known for being open minded and tolerant of devaint minds, this uniformity can not be the result of intimidarion or brain washing. So this proves that Armenians, unlike other miserable nations, are as pure as snow flakes!

    This must be the reason for the lack of any Akcams among Armenians!

    • Murat,
      You say “there will be one or two who have a different opinion and interpretation of the events of 1915”. What you still miss to understand is that for us Armenians 1915 is not a matter of opinion. It is a fact. Almost all of us have lost members of our families in 1915 to the barbaric action of Turkish soldiers and sometimes their Kurdish cohorts, who were doing their biding for them. We have felt it on our skin. Therefore, in our minds we have no doubt that this was a genocide, pure and simple. Furthermore, international historians, including genocide scholars, have proven this fact.

  20. I found the entire theme of this article disturbing, especially the title. Who cares even if the murder of Dink was a perfect re-enactment of Tehlirian’s assassination of Talat Pasha?

    The only real similarities between these events are that they are assassinations – nothing more. Assassinations, by definition are political acts designed for maximum propaganda value. It would have done little good
    to have kidnapped Dink, killed him, and put him into a black hole. Both acts are being equated in Ackam’s article as acts of vengeance or retribution, but Talat’s assassination was considered an act of justice in its day (considering the Turkish War Crimes trials sentenced Talat and others to death) because of the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide. The shooting of Dink, on the other hand, is the result of the Turkish socialization process.

    The claim, even metaphorically, that Hrant Dink was murdered in order to
    avenge Talat Pasha’s murder is foolish. What was avenged?

    Let’s take this type of logic to its extreme: “The Armenians were not willing to assimilate into the fascist Turkish model of Ziya Gokalp and others. Armenian resistance to being turkified was manifest by groups such as the so-called Dashnaks. Because Armenians resisted, they themselves were at fault for their own destruction.”

    This is a classic refrain of blaming the victim. Thus, if Tehlirian didn’t
    assassinate Talat Pasha, Hrant Dink wouldn’t have been killed either. What
    a wild imagination and an endless cycle of violence continuing from the
    genocide of 1915!

    The entire thesis of Akcam’s article leaves an uninitiated reader with a feeling of sequential fault, thus diminishing the murder of Dink. As if it was Tehlirian’s fault or the fault of the Armenians that Dink was killed, rather than treating it as the anti-Armenian act of violence it was, and a natural extension of the process that led to the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in the first place.

    This may not have been Akcam’s intent, but this is the result. Akcam is
    repeating the defense of Yasin Hayal and setting the acts of Ogun Samast and Tehlirian as simple murders. The assassination of Talat Pasha, the
    central architect of the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, is much more akin to the hanging of Adolf Eichmann by the Israelis.

    Dink’s assassination has generated shows of public attention from people
    who knew him personally. In sharp contrast, however, none of the
    assassinations of Turkish diplomats a generation ago have received much
    attention at all. Perhaps scholars should redirect their attention and refrain from engaging in Turkish-Armenian diplomacy.

    David Davidian

    • I think you have misreading the essay.

      Akcam is explaining the intention of the killers, not defending it, and not saying the grievances of the killers are comparable.

    • I believe Mr. Akcam was a friend of Hrant Dinks. Just because Mr. Akcam is a Turk does not mean you need to approach is words with caution and suspicion.

  21. Murat
    Your are distorting my words. True, every nation does have skeletons in their closet, but few have such horrendous record of crimes against humanity. Armenians doe have Akcams, but not to expose a genocide on their part.
    David Davidian
    Your are terribly missing the point. Read the article again or at least the comments by Falcon and Perouz.

  22. In 1911, when Salonika was part of the Ottoman Empire, and also where Atturk was born, the Young Turks held a party meeting. This meeting was infiltrated by spies from Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, and Great Britain. At this meeting, the Young Turks came up with a plan to annihilate the entire Armenian population, through death marches, as oppose to the massacres of 1894-1896 and 1908. White Hall, Britain Foreign Ministry, found out about this, and it was documented by Arnold Toynbee. That is how genocidal historians, like myself, know about it. Since the Young Turk plan called for the entire annihilation of the Armenian population, under international law, it definitely constitutes as a genocide. But the term was not coined until 1947.

  23. I will not second guess the validity of Professor Akcam’s reasons for his title. That may be something only he and those he is addressing can really understand–and that, at a gut level. We should bear in mind that this is a translation of something addressed to his fellow Turks, not to us, and the fellow Turks he is addressing seem to be the decent, believing, humanistic Muslims he believes are out there to receive his message.

    His basic idea in this piece is rather stunning, coming from someone who usually wants to accentuate persuasion rather than confrontation. What he shows here is that he recognizes a strain in Turkish thinking that is very active and aggressive in its symbolic attack on the Armenian side of history. Therefore, it seems to me that this is evidence that the perceived slow but certain spread of a conciliatory movement in Turkish society has been vastly exaggerated out of wishful thinking. We can clearly see the opposite in Bagis’s recent provocative statements (brazenly denying the Armenian Genocide in Switzerland), and there may be more on the way. Which brings me back to a fundamental point: As long as Talat occupies a key place in the pantheon of Turkish nationalism and his bones remain enshrined and revered in Istanbul’s “Monument of Liberty”, entertaining the idea that Turkey is concurrently getting closer and closer to facing the “dark pages of its past” is a complete illusion. We should be completely realistic about that.

    I don’t know what the implications of this are for the struggle for the recognition of the Genocide, but I hope we do not follow the lead of those who would have us be accomplices with Turkey in diluting its historic Crime back down to “the unfortunate events of 1915”. That will always be on offer for any takers.

    I frankly think that Talat has been amply avenged for the last 97 years with every denial of the Armenian Genocide that has ever been uttered or printed and that it didn’t take Hrant Dink’s assassination to finally accomplish it.

  24. Lack of celebrating diversity; worshipping intolerance; living an uncivilized life full of strict animal instincts, where my belly comes first… is the basis of all evil.
    Where’s the beauty of life, if we all worshipped only one god, spoke only one language, lived under one political system, enjoyed the same economic status, drove the same and only brand of car, flew the same aircraft…? Why the seas have more than one type of swimming animals, different types of birds flying in the skies, many creatures roaming on land? Why should the garden of life have only ONE type of flower? What is it that man cannot share? Why we cannot co-exist? Why to deny mistakes of the past, not learn from them, and live a better future?
    We all are children of nature, of the universe, of a god, of God. And where is the good, if all cultures died, all languages ceased being spoken, all gods succumbed to only ONE?
    I will celebrate life! And no matter what happened to my ancestors, good or bad, worth it or uncalled for, I extend my hand to any Turk, ANY Turk who celebrates the day that will NOT see the last Armenian die! To ANY Turk, who cares for the survival of some Armenianness, of such a race called Armenian!
    After all, what is it that we cannot share? What are those differences that we cannot celebrate?
    TO LIFE!
    succumbed to only one, and all diversity ceased to exist.

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