Gourgen Yanikian

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Gourgen Mkrtich (Megerdich) Yanikian (Armenian: Գուրգեն Յանիկյան, December 24, 1895, Erzerum, Western Armenia, Ottoman Empire - March 27, 1984, USA) was an American-Armenian author, engineer and an Armenian Genocide survivor who assassinated two Turkish consular officials (Los Angeles Consul general Mehmet Baydar and Consul Bahadır Demir) in California in 1973[1].


Yanikian studied as an engineer at the University of Moscow. He oversaw the building of a railroad across Iran during the Second World War, as part of Allied efforts there.[2] He emigrated to the United States in 1946, where he wrote several novels including The Triumph of Judas Iscariot (1950), Harem Cross (1953) and The Voice of an American (1960).

On January 27, 1973, in the Biltmore Hotel, 78-year old emigrant Yanikian had lured a consul general and vice-consul of the Republic of Turkey, who expected to receive gifts of art treasures for their government, but instead Yanikian pulled a Luger pistol from a hollowed-out book and emptied it at them. He called the reception desk, said he killed "two evils"[3], then sat calmly on the patio awaiting arrest. His stated purpose was "to demand justice" for the Armenian Genocide.[4]

Yanikian phoned the front desk of the hotel from his room and requested that a Sheriff be contacted, because "I have just killed two men."[3] Early reports suggested that Yanikian had been involved in an argument with the two men, whom he did not know.[2][3] Yanikian was known to have expressed in an interview in 1966 that 26 members of his family had been killed in the Ottoman massacres of Armenians from 1915 onward.[2][3] The Turkish Embassy reacted to the killings by calling on the United States to take action to protect its nationals, and the American Ambassador condemned the killings and stated that he and all Americans were "shocked at this senseless act of violence".[3]

Yanikian would come to plead not guilty to two charges of First Degree Murder. Although over the course of the trial he would openly concede that he had caused the deaths of the men, he insisted that he was not guilty of any crime.[2] In an interview with reporters in a court anteroom he at one point slammed his hands down on the table and declared that other people "have had their Nuremberg but we have not."[2] Yanikian's defense counsel had attempted to bring in survivors of the Armenian Genocide to testify as to the trauma of the experiences, as part of the defense strategy of depicting Yanikian as having "diminished mental capacity", but these motions were denied in court.[2] Yanikian was sentenced to life in prison on July 2, 1973; several members of the jury were reported to have had tears in their eyes as the verdict was read.[2]

Armenians hoped Yanikian's trial would provide a vehicle for proving the massacres in a court of law, while there were still surviving witnesses but the District Attorney didn't agree. Yanikian took the only Armenian Genocide witness stand, accompanied by his friend and interpreter, Santa Barbaran Aram Saroyan, the uncle of famous author William Saroyan. Yanikian told of his 26 family members killed in the massacres, and how he watched in hiding as marauding Turks slit his brother's throat. He concluded by saying that he killed the Turkish diplomats as representatives of the "government that had massacred his people". He was sentenced to life in prison in July 1973 and paroled in 1984, despite objections from the Turkish government.[5] Two months later, Gourgen Yanikian was dead of natural causes. He was 88 years old.[6]


He is known to say, "Im not Gourgen M. Yanikian but unacknowledged history coming back for the 1,500,000 Armenians whose bones desecrate my invisible existence..."[7] In death, Yanikian became a symbol to many Armenians of their resentment toward the Turkish government for refusing to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. Upon Yanikian's death, one of his attorneys, Bill Paparian, said that he "is now a piece of Armenian history."[8] After Yanikian's death, District Attorney David D. Minner wrote: "Looking back, I regret that I did not allow the genocide to be proven. Not because Yanikian should have gone free, but because history's darkest chapters - its genocides - should be exposed, so their horrors are less likely to be repeated".[9]

Yanikian would later be appropriated by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia as an iconic figure.[10] At the beginning, it bore the name of "The Prisoner Kurken Yanikian Group".[11] Because of this association, Yanikian's slayings have been characterized as "the opening salvo" of the armed attacks against the Turkish government and its agents.[12]

According to Khachig Tololyan,

[Yanikian is] not understood in the context of his life, of his real biography, or even in the context of the brief autobiography we can glean from his utterances. He is assigned a regulative biography, and understood through it... enlisted in a resonating roll-call that blurs history, context, and nuance.[10]


There is a conversation between the Brano and Gavra from Olen Steinhauer's "Liberation Movements" dedicated to Yanikian's person:

  • "Who's Gourgen Yanikian?" Gavra asked.
  • "American citizen, Armenian descent. Two years ago he invited the Turkish consul general and the consul to lunch at the Baltimore Hotel in Santa Barbara, California. He shot them both with a Luger. Killed them."[13]

Margaret Bedrosian in her "The Magical Pine Ring" calls Yanikian "the alter ego of all Armenians who have wanted to bare the lie".[14]


in English

  • The Triumph of Judas Iscariot, Los Angeles: Research Publ. Co., 1950, 254 p.
  • Harem Cross: A Novel of the Near-East, New York: Exposition, 1953, 223 p.
  • The Resurrected Christ: A Novel, New York: Exposition, 1955, 141 p.
  • The Voice of an American, 1960, Society for the Science of Living; 147 p., ASIN: B0007FZ3L4
  • Mirror in the Darkness, 1966, with Helen Rettig, New York: Exposition, 1966, 197 p.

in Armenian

  • Purpose and Justice (memoires from the prison), Yerevan, Tigran Mets Publ., 1999

About Yanikian

  • Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice, by Michael Bobelian, Simon & Schuster, 2009, ISBN 1416557253, 320 pages
  • The fighting never stopped: a comprehensive guide to world conflicts since 1945, By Patrick Brogan, p. 550
  • The Armenian genocide in perspective, By Richard G. Hovannisian, p. 200
  • Survivors: an oral history of the Armenian genocide, By Lorna Touryan Miller, p. 167

See also


  1. Imprisoned Armenian Dies, New York Times, March 1, 1984
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Armenian Guilty of Killing Turks. The New York Times. July 3, 1973.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Armenian Held in Coast Slaying of Two Turks. The New York Times. July 29, 1973
  4. Imprisoned Armenian Dies, New York Times, March 1, 1984
  5. Murder Will Out? District Attorney Regrets Not Allowing Genocide Testimony at Murder Trial, By David D. Minner // The Independent, Apr 2, 1998
  6. Imprisoned Armenian Dies, New York Times, March 1, 1984
  7. cit. by The Armenian Genocide: Wartime Radicalization Or Premeditated Continuum, edited by Richard Hovannisian, Transaction Publishers, 2006, p. 72
  8. Murder Will Out? District Attorney Regrets Not Allowing Genocide Testimony at Murder Trial, By David D. Minner // The Independent, Apr 2, 1998
  9. Murder Will Out? District Attorney Regrets Not Allowing Genocide Testimony at Murder Trial, By David D. Minner // The Independent, Apr 2, 1998
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rapoport, David C. Terrorism. 2006, page 44-5
  11. Near East/South Asia Report‎, by United States Foreign Broadcast Information Service, United States Joint Publications Research Service, 1987, p. 3
  12. Masih, Joseph R. and Krikorian, Robert O. Armenia. 1999, page xxxi
  13. Liberation Movements, By Olen Steinhauer, Macmillan, 2007, p. 43
  14. The Magical Pine Ring: Culture and the Imagination in Armenian-American Literature‎, by Margaret Bedrosian - 1991- p. 73

External links