Book Review: ‘Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide’

Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide 

By Eric Bogosian
Little, Brown and Company, New York (April 21, 2015), 384 pages
ISBN 978-0316292085; Hardcover, $28.00

Special for the Armenian Weekly

Over the years, the story of Operation Nemesis, the clandestine plot to assassinate the chief architects of the Armenian Genocide, had been told with a certain cloud of mystery and ambiguity hanging over it. While the topic had been discussed and written about in parts, authors were generally hesitant to present an all-encompassing understanding of the often-ignored, true story of Nemesis. Moreover, nearly a century after the project was carried out, the topic continues to remain somewhat taboo in the Armenian community.

Cover of Operation Nemesis
Cover of Operation Nemesis

Fast forward to 2015, the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, which has already seen the publication of several books and volumes that deal with various aspects of the operation. From Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy’s Sacred Justice: The Voices and Legacy of the Armenian Operation Nemesis, which includes narratives, selections from memoirs, and previously unpublished letters, to the graphic novel Operation Nemesis: A Story of Genocide & Revenge by Josh Blaylock (author), Mark Powers (editor), and Hoyt Silva (illustrator), the 100th anniversary of the genocide seems to have provided the perfect opportunity for authors to shed light on the sometimes-murky details of this historical quest for justice.

Renowned actor, novelist, and playwright Eric Bogosian first heard about the assassination of Talaat Pasha about two decades ago. According to Bogosian, the story struck him as “wishful thinking,” which was far from the truth—an Armenian urban legend, of sorts. After some research and investigation, though, Bogosian quickly realized that not only had the assassination taken place, but that it was part of a much more complicated history of secrecy.

Bogosian thought Tehlirian’s story would make a good film, so he decided to dedicate a few months to writing the screenplay. The few months would snowball into more than seven years of meticulous research and study. The result: Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide, a 384-page, in-depth history of the conspiracy.

Published in April by Little, Brown and Company, Bogosian’s book aims to go “beyond simply telling the story of this cadre of Armenian assassins by setting the killings in the context of Ottoman and Armenian history.” And it holds true to this promise.

In part one of the three-part book, Bogosian brilliantly paints a thorough picture of Armenian history, with a particular focus on the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire before and during the Armenian Genocide. By drawing on a number of academic and non-academic sources, including several primary sources, such as newspaper articles, memoirs, and letters from the time, Bogosian provides his reader a concise, yet wide-ranging historical context for the operation.

While some may feel that Bogosian dedicates too much of the book to historical background, it seems to be a wise decision on the part of the author, as most readers do not have a sufficient understanding of Armenian history.

In part two of the book, Bogosian details the origins of Nemesis, the story of the assassination of Talaat Pasha, and gives insight into its immediate aftermath. Bogosian does this fiercely, sparing little detail. By employing Tehlirian as his protagonist, he vividly describes the inner-workings of the covert operation, while giving readers an intimate look into a young survivor’s post-traumatic inner world.

Bogosian’s description of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) role as the parent organization of Operation Nemesis is refreshing and crucial, considering it is often ignored or discussed in passing in other English-language works examining the operation. Bogosian openly writes about how the ARF aimed to exploit the assassination strategically to bring international attention to the Armenian Genocide, a reality rarely written about in the past.

Finally, Bogosian brings in a completely ignored facet of the Nemesis story: international intelligence in the context of the plot. Bogosian provides much evidence, for example, that British Intelligence at the time knew exactly where Talaat Pasha was, while in hiding in Berlin.

While part two of the book is captivating to read, it is also straightforward and balanced. Bogosian is careful not to follow the traditional typecast of heroizing Tehlirian (and later, his co-conspirators). Instead, he is able to provide a sober description of the operation in an in-depth and well-explained context.

Many critics, especially those from the Armenian community, will be quick to point to Bogosian’s overuse of the term “assassin” to characterize Tehlirian and his fellow collaborators, and may accuse him of trying to downplay their significance in history. However, Bogosian’s choice to characterize them as such can be considered fair, considering the word “assassin” is defined as “a murderer of an important person in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons.” And that’s exactly what Tehlirian and the rest of the gang were.

In his conclusion, Bogosian points out that the members of Operation Nemesis saw themselves as “holy warriors” carrying out more of a spiritual, rather than strictly political, calling to exact “some fraction of justice” for the destruction of a nation.

Bogosian closes off his masterpiece with the hopes that more serious scholarship examines the “memories we are losing” and the “history we’ve lost,” including the story of Operation Nemesis. What he ignores, however, is the fact that he himself has made a substantial and lasting contribution to the history of Operation Nemesis.

Bogosian’s Operation Nemesis is the result of painstaking and thorough investigation and research. Not only does he offer a comprehensive historical account of the plot, but also successfully changes the traditional narrative on one of the most important and most ignored aspects of post-genocide Armenian history.

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Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly. His writings primarily focus on politics, human rights, community, literature, and Armenian culture. He has reported from Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), Turkey, Canada, the United States, and Western Armenia. He has served on the local and national executives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada and Hamazkayin Toronto, and served as the administrator of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Toronto. Janbazian also taught Armenian History and Creative Writing at the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto, and has worked on several translations.
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Moments ago in #Yerevan. A number peaceful protesters arrested. https://t.co/XiZ3LGaKS4 - 1 day ago
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12 Comments

  1. I only just picked up my copy of this book a few days ago and have been reading it (and rereading certain passages) since. I’ve listened to many interviews on the radio (CBC and others) and online of author Eric Bogosian. It is very obvious that he has an incredible attention to the details, and for me that is making my read come alive with the images of what took place almost a century ago. I have to thank Eric Bogosian for setting so many details out for all of us, whether we’re descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide or not connected by blood or family to the Genocide of 1915-1923, so that we may learn of what really happened.

  2. I’m glad Mr Bogosian researched the book and wrote his findings. History will benefit from his work .
    I knew of the assassination, but was not aware it was a co-ordinated effort. I look forward to reading this book, and learning more.

    Jack Kananian

  3. The Armenian schools should make Operation Nemesis part of the school’s curriculum so that present and future generations would know that Soghomon Tehlirian and other heroes punished the murderers, that the European powers elected to free and use them. Also, be vigilant and never ever let the Turks have an upper hand ever again.

    • Arshag,
      I was lucky enough to learn about Operation Nemesis in my Armenian high school in Toronto. It was a part of our Հայ Դատ (Hai Tad/Armenian Cause) curriculum. Rubina Peroomian’s Հայ Դատ texts (grades 9-12 – http://www.sardarabad.org/haytad12.aspx) have a great section on Nemesis.
      -Rupen

  4. Bravo Eric Boghossian for writing the book in great detail! Bravo Rupen for the review! Very nicely done!

  5. I just finished reading this book. It’s definitely a great read. I am one of those who found the pre-genocide section to be quite long – I guess I had assumed that (mostly) Armenians would read this book and didn’t think of ‘odars’ reading it and thus the necessity to provide the background. I also found the post-Tehlirian-acquittal disagreement between the Nemesis leadership (Natali/Ohan) and the ARF leadership very interesting – I wasn’t aware of that previously.

    Now, Bogosian needs to go back to the original plan and make this a script for a movie (the assassinations’ stories, specifically). The equivalent of Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ for Armenians!

  6. As a family member and one that bleeds true armenian blood, I am most appreciative of the effort put into the book, certainly we have ket and continue to keep certain aspects “in family” as it has been relayed to us by our family members, mainly my father. Yet I am anxious to read the book searching for new evidence or truths that may have escaped or kept from us because of emotional reasons…Thank you Eirc !!

  7. I would certainly welcome further research of archives, be that Armenian (i.e. ARF), British / Russian, as well as Turkish ( Did Kemalist Nationalists play any role in keeping the old-school CUP far from returning and assuming / sharing leadership in Turkey?). Were the British orchestrating their return against Kemalist / Leninist ambitions?

  8. I finished Operation Nemesis last week. If one is looking for the perfect book to read that best depicts the Armenian genocide in a concise, historical manner, this is the book. What impresses me about Bogosian–and others of Armenian descent who I know–is how he objectively presents the facts of his years of research without injecting personal commentary. Bogosian understands the facts of the genocide speak for themselves.

  9. Eric Boghosian’s project must be shared with our young generation.The future must include Eric;s investigative reporting. We are at the top of the hilltop to justice. Eric Operation Nemesis is must reading by every Armenian and turned into an international film. Eric;s film talent will make it the anchor of the film industry. It’s time fr the weath of Armenians to step and urge Eric to complete the project.

  10. I look forward to reading this book soon, but I can’t imagine anything, no amount of revenge killings or financial reparations, ever truly avenging the Armenian Genocide.

  11. I read, or actually listened on audio, as Eric Bogosian reads the audio book himself and does so with excellence. As a third generation Armenian who was raised in the Armenian Church, and grew up at the knee’s of survivors; From Tomarza and Chomaklou respectively. Interestingly having grown up with the Genocide as part of my “family story” the details were vague, my grandparents were peasants, victims who did not know or I think care about the geo-political reasons for the Genocide. Nonetheless they like many victims they were the ones who ultimately suffered. As to the justice of dealt out to the Turkish leaders? Well it is impossible not to side with the German jury.. and like a comment above no amount of revenge will ever account for the brutality humanity deals out to it’s brothers and sisters.

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