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.
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Voices and Legacy of the Armenian Operation Nemesis, which includes narratives, selections from memoirs, and previously unpublished letters, to the graphic novel Operation Nemesis: A Story of Genocide & Revenge by Josh Blaylock (author), Mark Powers (editor), and Hoyt Silva (illustrator),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.