Tehlirian Trial Comes Alive


By Yeghishe Hajakian

NEW YORK — On April 12, 2015 a mostly Armenian audience followed with utmost attention and emotional involvement watching the play “All Rise, the Court Is in Session” as Soghomon Tehlirian’s court proceedings were evolving on the stage of the Symphony Space, in Manhattan, New York.

Tehlirian gunned down Talaat Pasha, the Ottoman Grand Vizier (Prime Minister), for having been the chief organizer and perpetrator of the Armenian Genocide. The shooting happened in daylight in Berlin on March 15, 1921. He waited with his foot on the fallen Talaat for the German police to arrive to the scene and arrest him. Tehlirian was tried for murder but was acquitted by the German court. He was defended by three prominent lawyers including Theodor Niemeyer, professor of law at Kiel University, and prominent witnesses called to the court like Johannes Lepsius, General Liman von Sanders, Armin Wegner and Genocide survivor, Bishop Grigoris Balakian, great-uncle of Peter Balakian, the American-Armenian writer and poet. The court came reached its verdict in less than an hour.

A full-to-capacity audience stood up to applaud the actors and the technical workers with shouts of bravos for quite a long time. The Armenian audience had never seen such a serious staging from the Tekeyan Theatrical Group. This was the centennial remembrance of our Genocide. And the audience witnessed the revenge of our people and cheered with many tearful eyes.

The Greater New York Tekeyan Cultural Association Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group had invited Gerald Papasian from Paris, France to stage this theatrical piece written by Berj Zeytountsian of Armenia. Papasian is a familiar name in Armenian theatrical circles. He travelled to New York a few times to direct this difficult piece. In addition to the veteran actors of the group, this play included many young actors and young participants of the technical crew. It is of utmost gratification to the Tekeyan Cultural Association that the young are taking control of Armenian affairs including the theater. There were more than30 actors and technical workers involved in this project.

Harout Barsoumian was in the role of Soghomon Tehlirian. His impeccable rendition of the role of Tehlirian in killing Talaat and his soliloquy at the end of the play was moving for the audience who heard how he had lost 85 members of his own family, how the intelligentsia was brutally crushed and how innocent Armenians were buried in the desert of Der Zor, Syria by the hundreds of thousands.

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Karnig Nersessian is a veteran actor with the Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group. He played the role of Talaat Pasha and was very convincing in this role.

The lawyers and the witnesses in the German court displayed their deep sympathy to Tehlirian and the Armenian people thus acquitting him. Let us mention some of them: Henry Morgenthau portrayed by Armenag Kurusyan, whose confident discourse with Talaat was memorable; Dr. Martin Niepage played by Roy Bahian so eloquently; Dr. Johannes Lepsius by Hagop Vartivarian; Otto Liman Von Sanders as portrayed by Sarkis Pilavjian, the long time member of the group; Gollnick, State Prosecutor played by Shemavon Atamian who justly deserved this year’s best actor award by the Tekeyan Cultural Association; Dr. Lehmberg, Presiding Justice played by Harout Chatmajian so self-confident and professional; defending attorneys Missak Boghossian who is the most veteran of all actors and Raffi Gulbenk, a newcomer and yet very impressive in his first role with the group.

Hovannes Kartalian (90 years old) was Nazim Bey. He was born in Van. Khachig Sariminassian portrayed the 80-year-old Armenian priest testifying on Tehlirian’s behalf. He was hard of hearing on stage and this condition created some comic relief.

Elizabeth Akian acted in the role of the deceased mother of Tehlirian who appeared to him, reminding that he had not avenged his family’s and his people’s murders. She was also the sympathetic German landlady Mrs. Dittmann who rented a room to Tehlirian. Her treatment of Tehlirian like her son was greatly appreciated by the audience. Also it should be mentioned that Akian broke her foot during a rehearsal and yet she never gave up.

Arpi Cankar, Talin Bahian and Lena Jinivizian-Guroian portrayed the three Spirits who kept coming to the stage as apparitions to talk to Tehlirian, making suggestions about his actions. These three ladies brought female touch to the stage. Their enthusiasm in taking part in this play was apparent. Talin Karagolian portrayed the wife of Talaat. She is one of the most experienced actors of the theater group. Talar Zokian, Alain Matatian, Sevag Mekhitarian, Kyle Torossian and Garo Shamamian were on the stage also with serious stage presence.

Lighting and sound was a priority for the director and he did not hesitate to perfect them to make the play as communicative as possible. It was the first time ever the American Armenian theater was exposed to electronic translation simultaneously. The audience could read the English translation on the stage and understood the story clearly. Kevork Mourad provided the audiovisual artistic drawings in the background. He is the bona fide professional in this field. Chatmajian is one of the original founders of the Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group and as such he has directed and supervised many pieces on the Greater New York Stage. During the preparation of this play when the director was absent Harout made sure the actors learned their lines and were present during the rehearsals.

Harout Barsoumian developed the music and the sound for the stage. Helen Minassian was the assistant to the director. She worked tirelessly around the stage and around the actors. Baydzig Kalayjian translated the play from Eastern Armenian and Anahid Kurdian translated it into English.

We have to mention the names of the technical crew without whom this play would not have come to fruition. Hratch Zokian, Haig and Anoush Gulians, Haig and Serpouhi Vartivarians. Their technical roles are hugely important despite the fact that they were not visible on the stage. Armine Minassian was the make-up artist. She was the person to present each actor in his and her own character.

A play of this importance attracted attention from all over the United States. The Armenian Ambassador Dikran Sarksian and his wife from Washington DC were present who confessed that they were greatly impressed with this production and became very emotional from this presentation.

Mari Zokian deserves a special mention in this respect for her role in actively managing every actor and every helper. She provided all the wardrobe, props and furniture. Hagop Vartivarian was the general manager of the whole affair. Vartivarian’s total work and commitment rendered this play to be enjoyed in its entirety by the audience.

This presentation on the occasion of the Armenian Genocide Centennial by the Greater New York Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group is destined to remain a unique achievement that will be indelible in the memories of all those who attended it.

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