On the Centenary of the Assassination of Behbud Khan Javanshir

One hundred years ago, on 18th July 1921, a Dashnaksutyun terrorist, Misak Torlakian, assassinated the Azerbaijani statesman, Behbud Khan Javanshir, outside the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul.

Behbud Khan Javanshir was born in 1877 in the village of Azad Qaraqoyunlu, which was situated in the Javanshir Uyezd of the Elisabethpol Governorate. His father Azad Khan Javanshir was the great-grandson of the founder of the Karabakh Khanate, Panah Ali Khan, which was dissolved by the Russian occupation in the 1830s. Behbud Khan was a learned man, skilled in languages, including German, English, French, Russian, Georgian and Armenian. From 1890 to 1898, he attended the Realny School in Tiflis where he studied German. In 1902, he enrolled in the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, the first-ever technical college, graduating in 1906. He was the first ever Azerbaijani to graduate from this important institution. He moved to London afterwards and quickly learned English.

Behbud Khan joined the Difai Party, founded secretly by Ahmad Bey Aghayev in 1905. This included such notables as Garay Bey Garaybeyov, Mammad Hasan Hajinski, Isa Bey Ashurbeyov and Niftali Bey Behbudov. Difai was established as a consequence of the 1905-6 troubles, to provide Azerbaijanis with the necessary political and military organisation to defend themselves against the well-organized and militarized Armenians who were aggressively asserting themselves against the poorly organised and unmilitarised Caucasian Muslims at the time. Difai aimed to develop the national consciousness of the Azerbaijani masses – something that was necessary to save them from the threat of eradication from the Dashnaksutyun. Behbud Khan was a member of its Central Committee and helped found the Difai party in Shusha, in August 1906.

Upon returning to Azerbaijan, Behbud Khan was employed as a senior engineer in the Baku oil industry, working in the Shibayev fields. He was a member of a charitable society which distributed aid to the poor and also a participant in the Nijat educational society. After a visit to Germany, Behbud Khan brought German wheat to Karabakh which was afterwards acclimatized by local farmers and is still grown today. He worked on improving roads in Karabakh and developing the science of cattle breeding there.

Later on, during the Russian February Revolution of 1917 he was elected a member of the Interim Executive Committee of the National Muslim Council. On June 17th 1918 Behbud Khan Javanshir was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs to the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, a member of the second cabinet. It operated in Ganja at that time, having moved from Tiflis. Baku was still held by the Bolsheviks under Stephan Shaumyan, who had cleared out most of the surviving Azerbaijani population after a great massacre at the end of March 1918 and smashed the Musavat, its main political expression.

Behbud Khan was an independent rather than a member of the Musavat Party. As part of his role as Minister of the Interior he was involved in the construction of an embryonic state, prior to the securing of all the national territory. The Azerbaijani national police was formed on July 2nd 1918, when Behbud Khan signed the “Circular on Police Appointments”. On September 17th 1918, after the battle for Baku, when the Azerbaijan Government moved from Ganja to the capital, some changes took place in the second cabinet. From October 6th Behbud Khan became Minister of Trade, Industry and Internal Affairs. In his role he established a police college for 1,200 cadets, later opened in Icherisheher. During Javanshir’s tenure as Interior Minister, much of the foundation work was carried out to establish the rule of law in the country and establish much needed order. He greeted General Thomson, on November 17th 1918, as representative of the Azerbaijan Republic, when he landed in Baku Bay with the British occupation forces, on the conclusion of the Great War. Shortly after, Behbud Khan resigned his post after the resignation of the cabinet of Fatali Khan Khoyski, on December 26th handing his portfolio over to Khalil Bey Khasmammadov, in the third cabinet. From then onwards he served as a Deputy in the National Assembly of Azerbaijan during 1919.

After the demise of the Azerbaijan Republic in April 1920 and the establishment of Soviet rule in Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijani communist leader Nariman Narimanov, managed to secure a position for Javanshir working in the nationalized oil fields in Baku. He was then assigned to represent the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic’s Government in Berlin, and from the summer of 1921, in Istanbul. At that time the Ottoman capital was under heavy Allied occupation, with its fate still to be determined by the British and French. That was before it was liberated by Mustafa Kemal’s forces.

In July 1921 Behbud Khan was staying in occupied Istanbul, at Ahmed bey Aghayev’s house. Aghayev had been previously interned by the British on the island of Malta. Accompanied by his wife Tamara, and his brothers Jumshud and Surkhay, Behbud Khan left a Tepebashi restaurant going to the Pera Palace Hotel through the park, after an evening at the theatre. However, a Dashnak cell was following him and one of its members, Misak Torlakian shot Javanshir with a Mauser pistol, once in his face and twice in the chest. His two accomplices in this operation were Yervant Fundukian and Harutiun Harutiunian. The assassin, Torlakian, sporting a Hitler-style moustache, fled the scene, but returned when he heard the cries of pain of his victim. Torlakian then proceeded to shoot one of Behbud Khan’s brothers in the face, blinding him, before finishing off the badly wounded Behbud Khan with a shot to the head.

Torlakian was captured at the scene by French officers. He informed his French and British interrogators that he had assassinated Behbud Khan because his family in Baku had been liquidated on Javanshir’s orders. He also claimed to have suffered a serious wound in the battle for Baku in September 1918 and witnessed a great massacre of Armenians there. These was blatant lies because Torlakian was from Trabzon and had no family in the Azerbaijan capital. He had not been present in Baku either at the battle. It was all a concocted story to make his captors feel sorry for him and show clemency. An Armenian neurologist who examined Torlakian in prison claimed he had had epileptic seizures due to “the emotional crises to which he is subject” making him “not responsible for his actions” in murdering a man. His epileptic fit brought on by the sight of the Azerbaijani, allegedly responsible for his family’s death suddenly converted him into a murderer, quite out of character!

It was a very similar story to that advanced by the Dashnak terrorist, Soghomon Tehlirian, who had assassinated Talaat Pasha in Berlin only 4 months before. Tehlirian admitted to the shooting of Talaat, but, after a short trial, he was found innocent by a German court on grounds of temporary insanity due to the traumatic experience he had claimed to have gone through during the Armenian massacres. This was also a false story. Tehlirian had not witnessed the extermination of his entire family. Most of his family were, in fact, very much alive. Tehlirian himself could not have witnessed such a thing because he had joined a volunteer regiment under the Russians in 1914, served under Andranik, entered Van and later Bitlis, Mus and Erzurum, where he was present at the scene of terrible massacres of Muslims.

Like Tehlirian, Misak Torlakian, the killer of Behbud Khan Javanshir, was a hardened guerrilla fighter and terrorist. He had joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation at 18 years of age, before the Great War and then become a Russian scout in Eastern Anatolia in late 1914, aiding Tsarist forces in the Ottoman Sarikamis disaster. Torlakian had even personally attempted to assassinate Enver Pasha in the Caucasus in January 1915, before the Ottoman relocations had been ordered. After the Russian withdrawal from the Ottoman front in early 1918, which allowed the Turks to advance towards Yerevan, Torlakian joined the Armenian army forces and participated in the battle of Bash Abaran, under the leadership of General Dro. In August 1918, by General Dro’s orders, 60 Muslim villages were destroyed in the Igdir and Echmiedzin uyezds and many of their inhabitants massacred. Torlakian was presumably a participant in that.

Both Tehlirian and Torlakian were actually part of “Operation Nemesis” – an assassination campaign directed by the Dashnaksutyun at Ottoman and Azerbaijani statesmen. It was masterminded and supervised by “Armen Garo”, aka Garegin Pasdermadjian.  Pasdermadjian had mounted one of the first acts of urban terrorism in the world, in August 1896, by assaulting the Ottoman Bank in Istanbul and demanding Armenian independence in six provinces. Generously pardoned by the Sultan, he later became a Dashnak Deputy to the Ottoman Parliament before reverting to be an insurrectionary in 1914. He represented Armenia at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.  

“Operation Nemesis” had claimed its first victim, Fatali Khan Khoyski, former Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, who was murdered during June 1920, in Tiflis, by Aram Yerganian and Misak Kirakosyan. Former Ottoman Prime Minister Said Halim Pasha was assassinated in Rome on December 5th  1921 and Jemal Pasha was murdered in Tbilisi on July 21, 1922. It claimed at least 7 prominent individuals before being wound down in July 1922.

“Operation Nemesis” seems to have been largely about guilt and retribution. The Dashnaks had mounted an insurrection in 1915, in conjunction with the Tsarist invasion of eastern Anatolia. This high stakes gamble led to the destruction of the Armenian community in the war zone, and ultimately the demise of the Ottoman Armenians. In 1919 this enormous sacrifice of people for nationalist objectives seems to have been seen as worth it from the Dashnak point of view. Pasdermadjian says so in his writings in late 1918/early 1919. However, from 1920 things start to go wrong: the Imperialists do not reward the Armenians for their services in helping to destroy the Ottoman State and the Turks start to recover. Then the Bolsheviks conquer Armenia. All that is left out of this Armenian disaster is revenge and terrorism. The pattern is set for the future.

Torlakian portrayed Behbud Khan Javanshir as the “Talaat of Azerbaijan.” That was a ridiculous assertion, but not surprising in relation to the Armenian proclivity for gross distortion and exaggeration.

Talaat Pasha ordered the Armenian relocations as one of the triumvirate commanding the Ottoman State as a counter-insurgency operation in an existential crisis. Behbud Khan Javanshir never held such a position in the Azerbaijan Republic, which was really only a state in embryo during the period he was Minister for Internal Affairs. He had no responsibility for any killings that occurred in the aftermath of the battle for Baku in September 1918. These took place outside the control of the liberating Ottoman/Azerbaijani army and against strict orders issued by the commanding officer, Nuri Pasha. The British later arrested Nuri Pasha in connection with these deaths. A few months before the killings in Baku around 12,000 Azerbaijanis had been massacred by Armenians in late March 1918. There was much score settling by the local population when they got a chance, before order was established. It was Interior Minister Javanshir who had the Armenians suspected of the March massacres in Baku detained. General Thomson met Behbud Khan Javanshir and he served in the Azerbaijan administration overseen by the British. The British, despite arresting many others in connection with the Armenian issue, never expressed any interest in him in relation to anything that had previously occurred in Baku in September. The Armenian charges were bogus and a fabrication. Western writers have never challenged them.

In October 1921, after a 2 month trial, Misak Torlakian was found guilty of the murder of Behbud Khan Javanshir. The prosecutor called for the death penalty for the guilty man. However, the false stories Torlakian was briefed with by the Dashnak planners of the assassination operations and which he told to his interrogators worked on the sympathies of the Allied Military Court. The prosecutor was mysteriously removed from the case and sent away. He was replaced by a more malleable character and Torlakian was released and deported to Greece for his punishment.

This is where the story ends for Armenian writers writing their accounts in the West. It is stated that Torlakian made his way to California where he died peacefully. But Torlakian did not go to California. He had another career that rather spoils his reputation as a “Genocide Avenger” as gullible Westerners would like to see him. Other Armenian accounts, written for internal consumption, tell us this.

Misak Torlakian went to Romania (perhaps via France) after leaving Greece. He went to work, along with other high-profile Dashnaks, for the notorious ethnic cleanser of Turks, General Dro (Drastamat Kanayan), in his Ghukassian oil company. The group around Dro, which closely associated with the Romanian Fascist Iron Guard, went into active collaboration with the Nazis upon the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Torlakian served as a member of the official cadre of Abwehrgruppe (AG)-114 “Dromedar”. This was a select group of Dashnaks formed by the Nazis after Stalingrad for special operations in the Caucasus. The assistant to Dro, the commander of the elite unit, was Kuro (Nikolai Tarhanian), and his chief of staff was Tigran Bagdasarian. Misak Torlakian assumed the responsibility of director of intelligence and sabotage activities. The intelligence team of AG-114 was comprised of members of Dashnak fighters from 1918-1920.

Dromedar members wore a unique type of German uniform and carried a mixture of German and Soviet weapons. All ranks wore a badge showing the three colours of the Dashnak Republic, inscribed with “ARMENIEN” on the right sleeve of their coat uniforms. At first, the Dashnak legionaries used the figure of the Ararat Mountain or the symbol of the State of Dashnak Armenia on their badges. Dromedar members captured by the Soviet forces revealed that Dro had established a school of espionage to serve the Nazis.

Accompanying Dro, Misak Torlakian arrived in the Crimea in 1942, where he directed the Dashnak bureau. The Dashnak-led Armenian National Committee published magazines in Crimea entitled “Asat Hayastan” (Free Armenia) and “Hay Azk” (Armenian Nation), and urged the male population to fight alongside the Nazis. Volunteer troops recruited under the leadership of the Dashnaks hunted down Soviet partisans and resistance fighters. The collaboration of Crimean Armenians with the Nazis led to the deportation of nearly 10,000 local Armenians at the beginning of May 1944, when the Red Army finally entered the Crimea.

Torlakian also presented intelligence documents about Turkey’s Caucasus plans to Alfred Rosenberg, the famous propagator of the Aryan racial superiority doctrine. The Dashnaks wanted to undermine Turkish neutrality in the war and ensure Armenians were admitted to the Nazi racial category of full Aryans. Rosenberg told Hitler that it was vitally important to support an Armenian wedge between the “Asiatic Turks” of Azerbaijan and Turkey.

After leaving the Crimea Torlakian went to the Balkans with the German armies in 1944. He escaped the Soviets by fleeing to the US, where he was given sanctuary along with many other Armenians, and war criminals, who had fought alongside the Nazis. From 1952, Torlakian lived in California. There, he wrote his memoirs entitled “With My Days” which would be republished several times from 1953 for the Armenian diaspora. His memoirs were dedicated to the assassination of Behbud Khan Javanshir.

Torlakian passed away peacefully in Montebello, California in 1968 and was given the last blessing by Vazgen I, Catholicos of All Armenians, who had previously met Torlakian in Romania in his Fascist period. On November 18th 2012, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, presided over a Divine Liturgy and delivered the sermon at Holy Cross Cathedral in Montebello in honour of Torlakian. The Archbishop praised him as a “hero for Armenians” among those whose efforts “became a symbol which was transformed into a timeless message. We are overcome with these sentiments as we bow our heads in tribute to our national hero Misak Torlakian… whose spirit remains alive as an eternal flame.”

It is unfortunate that a reckless terrorist who fought for the Nazis is remembered more than his victim, a responsible and able statesman. That surely should not be the case.

One comment

  1. Khan’s learning multiple languages is very commendable on the surface but we live in a better, and more straightforward, time when English is the only language you need to know. Every second you spend learning a new word is a moment you could have been learning science or technology or math or business commerce. Time is finite, and learning 6 languages could have been better spent elsewhere.

    — Catxman



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