Johannes Lepsius

German pastor, historical archivist


Johannes Lepsius was a German Protestant missionary, Orientalist and humanist with a special interest in trying to prevent the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. He came to public attention when he travelled in disguise to gather evidence on the Turkish massacres of tens of thousands of Armenians. Lepsius' report on the pogroms stirred considerable controversy and significantly affected international relations with the Turkish sultanate. He also helped in founding the Deutsche Orient Mission to operate orphanages and schools for Armenian children.

Lepsius testified for the defense in the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, who assassinated Turkish Interior Minister Tal'aat Pasha. Later Tehlirian was acquitted. In the first months after the defeat of Germany and Turkey in World War I, Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs perpetrated a deception on Lepsius that went undiscovered for the next seventy years. The post-war Turkish government rightly accused Germany of helping to mastermind the Armenian massacres. Germany, however, was already facing allegations of committing atrocities in Europe and sought to avoid responsibility for the crimes committed inside Turkey. For his part, Lepsius was committed to unearthing the most comprehensive record of the Genocide of Armenians. Thus, he readily agreed to the Foreign Ministry's offer to let him prepare a series of books based on formerly secret German diplomatic records, beginning with a volume documenting German activities in Turkey and Armenia between 1914 and 1918.