Shahan Natalie

A Biography

Shahan Natalie

Shahan Natalie

Shahan Natalie (né Hagop Der Hagopian) was born in December 1884, in the village of Husenik, Kharberd province, Western Armenia, the only son of the seven-member family, along with four sisters.He received his primary education in the local St. Varvar Church Armenian school.

His father, mother’s brother, and numerous other relatives were among the first of more than 300,000 Armenians who fell victim during the 1894-1896 massacres in Western Armenia.

He was separated from his family during the slaughter. Hagop’s life was spared thanks to a neighboring Greek family, who hid him for several days, knowing that he too would be slaughtered. The 11-year-old orphaned wandered for three days before being reunited with the surviving members of his family. He found his mother mourning over his father’s corpse, which they dragged together and buried under a walnut tree. He would write about this event later, adding, “The living began to bury the dead.” The scene of his mother, sobbing on her husband’s lifeless body, left a deep and indelible impression on the young boy at both subconscious and conscious levels.

After studying for a year at the famed Kharberd’s Euphrates College, together with other orphans, Hagop was sent to the St. James Orphanage in Constantinople. He did not want to stay there, so he himself found an Armenian rug merchant living in New York to adopt him so he could attend the famed Berberian Academy. where he studied until 1900. His teacher was the Academy’s director, Reteos Berberian, the noted pedagogue and philosopher. It was out of respect for this great man that Hagop chose the name Shahan as his own, because it  was also Reteos’ son’s first name. The reason for choice of Natalie as a surname is still unknown.

The young Hagop’s love of culture, art, beauty, goodness, and truth and the concept of justice were imprinted in his very being. In 1901, he returned to his birthplace, where for three years he served on the local school’s teaching staff, at the same time studying the provincial dialect of Kharberd. This philological study earned him special honor in Patriarch Madteos Izmirlian’s literary competition.

In 1904, in Kharberd, Hagop joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, in whose ranks he would serve with true patriotic spirit for a quarter century. The same year, he immigrated to the United States, where for three years he worked as a laborer in a shoe factory. In 1908, after the proclamation of the Ottoman Constitution, he returned home to Husenik, where he remained barely one year. The 1909 massacres of Armenians in Cilicia drove him back into exile in America. From 1910 to 1912, he attended Boston University, where he studied literature, philosophy (particularly Plato), and theater (particularly Shakespeare).

In 1912, he decided to return home once again and boarded a ship headed for Turkey. However, during that period war had erupted in the Balkans, and the Turkish passport-bearing Shahan Natalie was ejected from the ship by Greek authorities as a citizen of an enemy nation. His attempts to explain his Armenian identity proved fruitless. He was put aboard another ship, leaving for the United States and was deported from the country.

An unwilling returnee to America, he undertook responsible work within the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s United States district. He became a member of the party’s “Hairenik” monthly editorial staff, serving as its editor-in-chief from 1912 to 1915. He was also elected a member of the party’s United States Central Committee, as an officer of its Executive Body.

During this period, the First World War began, providing an opportunity for the Turkish authorities to finally and totally exterminate the Armenian people. Receiving the news of the Great Atrocity[1], like all exiles, Shahan Natalie experienced nightmarish moments of anguish and rage. And he, the orphaned boy and vengeful youth, made “his vow” not to leave the Genocide perpetrators unpunished, even if the world should choose to ignore their crime.

Shahan Natalie’s doubts became reality after the War. The Ottoman military tribunal convened in Constantinople condemned to death the principal perpetrators who had been extradited to Malta by British authorities. However, the British placed no value whatsoever on the sentence and secretly released the enemies of Armenians and humanity.

From September 27 to the end of October 1919, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s 9th General Congress was convened in Yerevan. Shahan Natalie participated as the United States District delegate. On the Congress agenda was also placed the issue of retribution against those Turks principally responsible for the Great Atrocity. Here, Shahan Natalie experienced the first serious embitterment of his political life, when some of the delegates deemed this policy wrong. They rationalized that the newly created Armenian Republic needed Turkey’s friendship (such justifications have proliferated today also, within the new Armenian Republic). In opposition to many of the Eastern Armenian delegates’ vociferous objections, it was decided by by a majority vote to deem the Armenian nation as reconciled with the Turk perpetrators. It is assumed that at this meeting the Responsible Body was also organized to realize the work, known as “Operation Nemesis,” whose primary motivator, planner and spirit was Shahan Natalie, with Grigor Merjanov as his principal collaborator. ARF Bureau members, specifically Simon Vratsian, Ruben Ter-Minasian, and Ruben Darbinian, decided to prevent Shahan Natalie’s determined efforts. But Natalie had delivered the verdict, on behalf of more than one and a half million martyrs.

The work of eliminating the Turk executioners was organized and the preliminary steps (surveillance, arms-gathering and transport, etc.) were carried out under the most clandestine circumstances. A “black list” of targeted executioners, contained approximately 200 names. The executioners of the Armenian people were moving freely and boldly in Berlin, Rome, Baku, Tbilisi and other city streets. They still posed a threat as they had regrouped and were planning their next move to finish the work they had begun — to put an end to the Armenian question once and for all. Their next target was to be the Armenian population of Artsakh (Nargorno-Karabagh) and then Armenia, thus realizing their dream of the all-Turkish state. Some among them were enjoying local secret and overt police protection.

For Shahan Natalie, the primary target was the Armenophobe Talaat Pasha, whom Shahan called “Number One.” The mission of felling Turkey’s Minister of the Interior was entrusted to Soghomon Tehlirian.

The Beirut-based “Nayiri” weekly, v. 12, nos. 1-6 published Shahan’s memoirs about Talaat’s assassination. There, Shahan revealed his orders to Tehlirian: “You blow up the skull of the Number One nation-murderer and you don’t try to flee. You stand there, your foot on the corpse and surrender to the police, who will come and handcuff you.” Shahan Natalie’s purpose was to turn Soghomon Tehlirian’s trial into the political trial of those responsible for the Great Tragedy, which was realized in part. However, there were those in the ARF leadership, Simon Vratsian in particular, who had two chapters, which dealt with Shahan Natalie’s leadership role in the assassination of Talaat, deleted from Tehlirian’s memoirs before their printing.

The fruits of Shahan Natalie’s planning mind were the successive assassinations as follows:


  • Talaat Pasha, member of the Ittihadist Triumvirate and former Prime Minister, 15 March 1921, Berlin. Executor, Soghomon Tehlirian.
  • Pipit Jivanshir Khan, former Internal Affairs Minister of Azerbaijan, rabid pan-Turanian, organizer of Armenian massacres, 18 July 1921, Constantinople. Executor: Misak Torlakian.
  • Saïd Halim Pasha, former Prime Minister, 5 December 1921, Berlin. Organizer: Grigor Merjanov; executor: Arshavir Shiragian.
  • Behaeddin Shakir Bey, principally responsible organizer and executor of the Ittahadist “Special Committee,” 17 April 1922, Berlin. Executor: Aram Yerganian, who in 1919, in Tbilisi, had slain the AzeriGhasik Bekov; and the following year, Sarafov and Khan Khuysk, also in Tbilisi.
  • Jemal Azmi, Ittihadist Armenophobe chief, 17 April 1922, Berlin. Executor: T.; collaborator: Aram Yerganian.
  • Jemal Pasha, Ittihadist Triumvirate member and Defense Minister, 25 July 1922, Tbilisi. Executors, decoys: Stepan Dzaghigian and Bedros D. Boghosian; collaborators: Zareh Melik-Shahnazarian of Artsakh and others.
  • Enver Pasha, the third member of the Triumvirate, was killed in 1922 in Turkmenistan (Central Asia) when he was leading the Basmaji Pan-Turanian movement. It is assumed that Enver’s  assassin was an Armenian soldier in the Red Army.

Shahan Natalie’s avengers also executed several Armenian spies and traitors, who, by denouncing their kinsmen to Turkish authorities, were responsible for their deaths.

The ARF Bureau was against these assassinations because the Bureau, ousted from the homeland, because of their anti-Soviet sentiments, was playing Turkish-spirited politics, which this assassination campaign hindered. And finally, the Bureau succeeded in silencing the sound of the exploding Armenian bullet. Subsequently, when the assassination of Turks proved “profitable” to revitalize party ranks, the Bureau did not hesitate to credit itself alone for the justified assassinations organized by the Armenian Nemesis, Shahan Natalie.

After the Sovietization of Armenia, many of the Armenian Republic’s expatriate revolutionary activists were ready to collaborate with Azeri and Turk Armenophobe activists in order to regain governmental control. This policy was contrary to Shahan Natalie’s conviction that “Over and above the Turk, the Armenian has no enemy.  Armenian revenge is just and godly.” There were deep dissensions on both sides, but not yet to the point of schism.

In 1924, in Paris, the ARF’s 10th General Congress was convened. The revered Western Armenian delegate, Shahan Natalie, was elected as a new Bureau member, along with Shavarsh Misakian and the Jewish “sons-in-law” [their wives were Jews], Ruben Der Minasian and Aram Jamalian. Bureau member Shahan strove in vain to change the party’s Turkish-prone mindset, but failed, due to the trio’s opposition.

The ultimate collision of these divergent directions became inevitable. In 1925, a group of nationalistic revolutionaries applied to the Bureau to establish relationships with Soviet governments in order to try to find ways of helping the homeland. The leadership tabled the examination and response to this issue.

On 29 December 1926, the ARF Bureau, with four votes in favor and one against (Shahan) decided to join the Promethean Alliance, which declared the Turks as defenders of the Caucasian people.

Shahan Natalie’s cup of patience had overflowed. The party’s internal power struggle became evident in 1928. From 1920 to 1929, in Paris, Azadamard (Freedom Fight) was published under the editorship of Haig Kntouni and Shahan Natalie. Azadamard was the expression of outrage of noble revolutionaries toward the anti-national sentiment of the leadership. Shahan Natalie defined the “Freedom Fight” movement thus: “In Yerevan, in 1919 during the Federation’s 9th General Congress, many monuments were going to be destroyed and statues were to crumble within innocent and clean souls … Before the eyes of the members of the “Freedom Fight,” not only was the Revolutionary Federation being horribly transformed, it was also becoming an accomplice against Armenian Revolution. Not only had the Federation, in the person of its leadership, denied the Federation, but by the boorish expression of its traditional feudalism, it had assumed the right to ally itself with the Turk, to plot against Armenian Revolution.”

To forestall the probable victory of the “Freedom Fighters” at the upcoming 11th General Congress (27 March to 2 May 1929), on the eve of the meeting, the Bureau began a “cleansing campaign.” The first to be “removed”[2] from the party was Bureau member Shahan Natalie. “Knowingly” (by his definition) having joined the ARF and unjustly separated from it, Shahan Natalie wrote about this, “With Shahan began again that which had begun with Antranig; Bureau member Shahan, was ‘ousted’” After Shahan, successively ousted were Haig Kntouni, Armenian Republic army officer Bagrevandian with his group, Glejian and Tartizian with their partisans, General Smpad, Ferrahian with his group, the future “Mardgots”-ists (Bastion) Mgrdich Yeretziants, Levon Mozian, Vazgen Shoushanian, Mesrob Kouyoumjian, Levon Kevonian and many others. As a protest to this “cleansing” by the Bureau, some members of the ARF French Central Committee also resigned.

“Freedom Fight” having ceased publication, the “ousted” revolutionaries of France established “Mardgots” (Bastion), a semi-weekly newspaper, under the editorship of Mesrob Kouyoumjian and Mgrdich Yeritziants. Contrary to popular belief, Shahan Natalie did not establish or lead the “Bastion”-ist movement, because at that time he had returned to America. He learned about the movement from reading the “Mardgots” newspaper and acknowledged this Reconstructionist movement. Published in issues of “Mardgots” are Shahan’s analytical articles, “Who Ousts Whom?”, “Mine and Yours”, “Curse, but Listen,” and “I Am Inexperienced.”

Generals Dro and Nzhdeh came to Paris for the purpose of defusing the disunion of the party, but they failed. Gradually realizing their inability to control the expanding movement, the Bureau relocated its headquarters from Paris to Cairo.

However, the “Bastion”-ist movement was attacked from within. The collaboration of editor Mesrob Kouyoumjian with the Soviet Secret Service was revealed. General Smpad and Shahan Natalie went to Paris to forestall the break-up of the movement. Revolutionaries who had remained loyal to the “Bastion”-ists in 1934 established the “Western Armenian Liberation Alliance” in Paris and began to publish the “Amrots” (Fortress) weekly. “Alliance” members were relentlessly persecuted by Bureau killer bandits and by the Secret Service of foreign countries, which wanted to see the ARF as an anti-Soviet tool in their hands. Shahan Natalie relocated “Amrots” to Athens, where it was published from 1936 to 1937. ARF Bureau-hired hit men arrived there and killed many loyal revolutionaries with their bullets.

The situation in Europe within the environment of impending war and Bureau-ordered assassinations eroded the “Amrots”-ist movement little by little.[3]

At the eve of the Second World War, Shahan returned to America. Embittered toward Armenian political life, he took up community activism within the Armenian General Benevolent Union. From 1943 to 1953, he directed the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s New England District Office Secretariat.[4]

In 1958, for the first time since the Sovietization of Armenia, he visited the homeland, regaining his voice, which had begun to diminish. He experienced spiritual enrichment upon seeing the flowering of Armenia. In Tsaghkadzor, he met schoolchildren at a campground and he saw in them the promise of a new dawn for the Armenian people. in them

Since the 1960s, Shahan Natalie lived almost in seclusion. He preferred to be silent rather than to talk, to remain within the confines of his home, rather than to appear in public.

Shahan Natalie has bequeathed us a rich literary legacy. Shahan’s literary talents were refined under the canopy of the Berberian Academy. He wrote verses, short stories, dramatic works, as well as national, political analyses and oratorical pages. He used the noms de plume Posura (Glow-worm), Nemesis, (the goddess of “just anger,” [retributive justice], in ancient Greek mythology), and Shahan. In private life he used another alias, John Mahy, which he translated as “the darling of death.”

Shahan Natalie’s published works include:

  1. Օրէնքի և Ընկերութեան Զոհերէն [From the Martyrs of Law and Society]. Boston: Hayrenik, 1909. 63 pages. Short stories.
  2. Ամպեր [Clouds]. Boston: Hayrenik, 1909. Verses.
  3. Մարդը. [The Man]. Smyrna: Keshishian Printing, 1912. Socio-drama in five acts.
  4. Քաւութեան երգեր [Songs of Expiation]. Boston: Hayrenik, 1915. 31 pages. Verses.
  5. Սէրի և ատելութեան երգեր [Songs of Love and Hate]. Boston: Hayrenik, 1915. 165 pages. Verses.
  6. Վրէժի աւետարան [Gospel of Revenge]. New York: Armenia, 1918. 39 pages. Verses.
  7. Ասլան Բեկ [Aslan Bek]. Boston: Hayrenik, 1918. 62 pages. Tragedy in three acts.
  8. Քեզի [To Thee]. Boston: 1920. 116 pages. Verses.

His ethno-political works of public address are:

  1. Թուրքիզմը Անգորայէն Բագու և Թրքական Օրիէնթասիոն ([Turkism from Angora to Baku and Turkish Orientation]). Athens: Nor Or, 1928. 172 pages.
  2. Թուրքերը և Մենք ([The Turks and Us]). Athens: Nor Or, 1928. 70 pages. Second printing, 1931, 93 pages.
  3. Ալեքսանդրապօլի Դաշնագրէն 1930-ի Կովկասեան Ապստամբութիւնները [From the Treaty of Alexandrapol to the 1930 Caucasian Insurgences]. Volumes 1 and 2. Marseilles: Tp. Arabian, 1934-35.
  4. Երեւանի Համաձայնագիրը (The Yerevan Agreement). Boston: 1941. 112 pages.
  5. Գիրք Մատուցման և Հատուցման [Book of Dedication and Compensation]). Contents: Այսպէս Սպաննեցինք [How We Killed]); Յաւելուած [Addendum], illustrated. Beirut: Tp. Onipar, 1949 (first printing). 160 pages. Beirut: Tp Azdarar, 1954 (second printing). 134 pages.
  6. Վերստին Յաւելուած — Ալեքսանտրապօլի Դաշնագրի «Ինչպէ՞սն ու ինչո՞ւն» [Re-Addendum – The Why and How of the Treaty of Alexandrapol]. Boston: Baikar, 1955. 144 pages.
  7. Յաւելուած – Երեք դաշնագրեր. Ալեքսանդռապօլի, Մօսկուայի եւ Կարսի (Բաղդատական Զուգակշիռ) [Three treaties ; Alexandrapol, Moscow and Kars (Parallel Comparison)] Արարատ Մատենաշար Թիւ 25. Beirut: [n.p.] 1957. 157 pages.

He has unpublished literary and ethno-political works and papers, of which «Թալէաթի Դատաստանը Պերլինի Մէջ» [The Trial of Talaat in Berlin] and his «Յուշեր» [Memoirs] are especially significant.

All of Shahan Natalie’s publications are out of print and hard to find. The printing facilities of the period, the small print runs, the true patriot’s harassment of being the “sought after”, and the Bureau clique have worked their ruin and rendered these books unfindable remnants.

Shahan Natalie did not succeed in celebrating his hundredth birthday. The 99-year-old hero closed his eyes forever on the morning of 19 April 1983, in his home in Watertown, Massachusetts. The funeral rites took place on 22 April in Watertown, in the St. James Armenian Church, with the Primate of the Armenian Church of North America, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian (presently the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem) officiating. After the reading of the eulogies, the body of the tormented hero was laid to rest in the nearby Mount Auburn Cemetery.

[1] On March 23, 1915, one month before the gathering and slaughter of the Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople, Shahan Natalie became a citizen of the United States. On December 27, 1923  the Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved his official name change to  “John Mahy” 2] The contention of the ARF was that Natalie was “ousted”. In fact, Natalie resigned the Bureau and the Federation because of his outrage at the leadership’s decision to strike a pact with Turkey in an attempt to regain possession of the Anatolian lands seized by the Turks.
[3] Shahan Natalie was one of those targeted by the ARF. An unsuccessful attempt was made on his life in Boston, in 1929. In the early years of World War II, rumors of subsequent attempts were spread in an effort to harass and disarm his adherents.
[4] In 1954, the Armenian communities in the United States celebrated the 50th Jubilee of Shahan Natalie’s community activism and literary career.

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