1915 was an epic year in modern Turkish history. In that year, our armies defeated the Western aggressors in Gallipoli. The Entente Powers deployed nearly half a million troops for the attack, which they called the Gallipoli Campaign with some 345,000 British troops were supported by 79,000 French, 50,000 Australian and 15,000 New Zealander troops and 2,000 civil laborers. The Gallipoli Campaign led to nearly 200,000 battlefield casualties for the aggressor. In addition, 110,000 men were evacuated sick while thousands died of disease.
However, that same year was also a great tragedy. Warring on seven fronts, the Ottoman government decided to relocate a great number of the Armenian minority from Istanbul and eastern Anatolia to the south to secure the inner land of the Ottoman Empire. The decision and its practical consequences, both controversial in the field of history, have been continuously discussed for decades.
Recent literature evidently shows that the planner and the decision maker of the Armenian relocation was Talat Pasha, who was the last prime minister during the Committee for Union and Progress rule during World War I. He was the interior minister in 1915. He was the primary politician behind the Temporary Act, which is widely known as the Code of Relocation that came into effect on May 27, 1915.
According to Talat Pasha's own notebooks, the Ottoman government decided to relocate more than 950,000 Armenians, but the exact number relocated to Syria and Iraq was 440,000. The Armenian relocation aroused great reaction in the West and Armenian armed organizations. After the World War I, Talat Pasha was assassinated by a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, also known as Dashnaktsutyun, namely Soghomon Tehlirian, in Berlin on March 15, 1921.
Tehlirian was caught and charged with murder. Although he admitted to the crime before the court, he was found not guilty by a controversial jury and released in hours. He moved to Serbia, Belgium and eventually the U.S. Tehlirian died in 1960. He is buried in a monumental grave in Ararat Cemetery in California. Several other monuments and statues have also been put up in Armenia for his heroic crime.
Talat's early life
Talat Pasha was born Mehmet Talat in Edirne on Sept. 1, 1874. He was the son of Ahmed Vasıf Efendi, an Ottoman judge from Kardzhali, Bulgaria. Mehmet Talat was first educated in Vize, Kırklareli. After that, he graduated from the Military Secondary School in Edirne.
Talat would not become a military officer. He was unable to continue his education after his father's death. He worked for the Postal Service. He also taught Turkish in the Alliance Israelite Universelle School in Edirne. He received French lessons privately. According to his civil servant records, he could speak Greek as well.
İsmail Yürükoğlu, a close relative, introduced him to the Young Turks movement. Talat joined a small group of adversaries in Edirne, which was informed to the government. After that, the committee members were arrested. In 1897, he was sentenced to three years in prison. He lost his civil servant rights as well.
Talat was pardoned and released from prison with other CUP members in 1898. However, he was exiled to Thessaloniki. He returned to his position in the postal service. He worked there until he was finally deposed in 1907.
Various resources say that Talat joined the Freemasons in 1903. He was a member of the Macedonia Risorta lodge. He was also a member of the Bektaşi Sufi order, where he organized political meetings.
Talat established a revolutionary organization called Ottoman Freedom Society in 1906, together with other opponent figures in Thessaloniki. The Union and Progress Society decided to give a hand to their peers in Thessaloniki. Thus, Dr. Nazım Bey visited the city secretly. They decided to unite the two branches of opposition. The Ottoman Freedom Society joined Union and Progress under the name Ottoman Progress and Unity Society Inner Central General.
Talat was the secretary-general of the new organization. He communicated with the Paris branch. He also met members of the Istanbul branch. He was acting as party inspector along with the famous Bahaattin Şakir. These two would act as double secretaries of the CUP both in the Ottoman government and also against Europe after the 1908 revolution.
Revolution, war and exile
After the 1908 revolution, the lives of CUP leaders began flowing like a rapid river. Though they had overthrown Sultan Abdülhamid II, the situation was too ambiguous for them. They were still too young and inexperienced to rule the Ottoman Empire on their own.
The years from 1908 to 1913 passed with gradual changes toward direct rule by the CUP. Talat was one of the most prominent CUP policy makers. He entered parliament in 1908 representing Edirne province and was elected as the first deputy chairman of parliament. In 1909, he was assigned as the interior minister. In 1912, he was assigned as the postal service minister. He joined the Balkan War as a volunteer. However, he was sent to Istanbul since he was making negative propaganda about the Ottoman campaign.
After the Balkan War, he led the Ottoman committee meeting with the Bulgarian side to sign a peace treaty. He was also among the planners of the notorious Sublime Port Raid, which was a CUP coup.
In 1913, Talat Pasha entered the Said Halim Pasha cabinet, which was the first CUPs cabinet ruling directly, as the interior minister for a new go. He played a significant role in the grand strategy of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. He applied a blockade over the Ottoman Greeks to force them to migrate to Greece. He also tried to convince Bulgaria to stand with the Ottoman Empire and Germany against the Entente Powers.
Yet, the most well known decision by Talat Pasha as interior minister is the Armenian Relocation Code made and applied in 1915. He held number one responsibility for the relocation of hundreds of thousand Armenians to Syria and Iraq. This was an edgy decision and had tragic consequences for both the Armenians and Talat Pasha himself, though it helped the Ottomans cut the Russian army and Armenian rebel groups out of Anatolia.
Said Halim Pasha resigned in 1917, and Talat Pasha became the Ottoman grand vizier, equal to the prime minister. Talat Pasha was the first Ottoman grand vizier from parliament.
After World War I, Talat Pasha resigned from office. He also led the last conference of the CUP where they decided to terminate the party. He went into exile in Berlin, where he lived more than two years before Tehlirian assassinated him as he walked out of his house on March 15, 1921.
Talat Pasha's body was buried in the Turkish cemetery in Berlin. In 1943, his grave was moved to Istanbul. His body is now buried on Hürriyet-i Ebediye (Eternal Freedom) hill in the Şişli neighborhood of Istanbul.