1980: Necdet Adalı and Mustafa Pehlivanoğlu, September 12 coup sacrifices

Add comment October 8th, 2020 Headsman

Turkey’s “September 12” military junta — which had taken power in a coup on that day — hanged Necdet Adalı on this date in 1980, followed a few hours later by Mustafa Pehlivanoğlu.

Respectively a left-wing alleged terrorist and a right-wing* alleged one, they were offered up together with intentional ideological balance in the military’s bid to quash the years-long warfare between factions that marred the 1970s.

Both were condemned for a few of the 5,000-plus political murders that took place during those years, and both doubtfully; Adalı famously declined to participate in an escape attempt for fear it would mar his claim of innocence, and Pehlivanoğlu renounced his confession to a series of coffee shop attacks as torture-adduced.


“Safak Türküsü” (“Dawn Folk Song”), a verse tribute to Adalı by Nevzat Çelik.

They were Turkey’s first executions since 1972, and not by far the last ones that the military government imposed. These young men and the others that followed them are still esteemed martyrs so much so that when the present-day president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, passed constitutional updates by referendum in 2010 that (among other things) curtailed military immunity from prosecution, he invoked both the left-wing and right-wing victims by way of justification.

* Pehlivanoğlu was ülkücü, literally translated as “idealistic”. In context this term denotes right-wing nationalism; the Gray Wolves fascist militant organization, for instance, is officially the “Idealist Clubs Educational and Cultural Foundation”.

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1574: Charles de Mornay, sword dance regicide

Add comment September 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1574, the courtier Charles de Mornay was executed for an aborted plot against the Swedish king.

The French Huguenot had been a mainstay in the Swedish court for many years, and a favorite of King Erik XIV until that man was deposed in 1568.

From 1572, at the instigation of the French ambassador, de Mornay went to work on a plot to assassinate King John III — Erik’s half-brother and successor. This Mornay Plot would have liberated Erik XIV from prison and enthroned in John’s place either (it’s not clear) this same Erik XIV or else their other brother, Charles.

What the plan lacked in subtlety it compensated in showmanship. The idea was to use the Scottish mercenaries present in Swedish service during a scheduled ceremonial performance of their sword dance in October 1573. It turns out that while wheeling around the sovereign twirling blades, it’s a simple enough matter to just twirl one right through him.


Maybe that’s what gave Shakespeare the idea for the big duel in Hamlet.

Apparently Charles de Mornay lost his nerve at the critical moment and didn’t issue his dancing assassins the go-ahead sign — leaving John on the throne, and several folks involved in the plot in position to inform upon it. Indeed, we’ve brushed up against one such previously in these pages, for prior to de Mornay’s exposure a Scottish officer who caught wind of a rumor of the coup became accused of leading it, and was unjustly beheaded as his rewarded for reporting it.

De Mornay was exposed a few months later. King John had Erik murdered in prison in early 1577.

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1980: Ten Hafizullah supporters

Add comment June 9th, 2020 Headsman

This terse report of loose ends tied — so they hoped — hails from the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945-1996:

On 9 June 1980, the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan’s Babrak Karmal executed ten supporters and aides of the late president, Hafizullah Amin. Among the number were Amin’s brother and nephew. Also executed at the same time was rebel leader Abdul Majid Kalakhani.

Everyone else in Afghanistan lived happily ever after.

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1964: Nguyen Van Nhung, Diem executioner

Add comment January 31st, 2020 Headsman

Vietnamese General Nguyen Van Nhung was (apparently) executed on this date in 1964.

He was the victim of a South Vietnamese coup, after having been a key operative in the previous one. Back on 2 November 1963, he’d piled into the back of an armored personnel carrier with the fresh-deposed President Ngo Dinh Diem, and Diem’s brother Ngô Dình Nhu. When the APC arrived at its destination, Diem and Nhu were both dead.

According to the other putchist in the vehicle with him,

As we rode back to the Joint General Staff headquarters, Diem sat silently, but Nhu and the captain [Nhung] began to insult each other. I don’t know who started it. The name-calling grew passionate. The captain had hated Nhu before. Now he was charged with emotion … [and] lunged at Nhu with a bayonet and stabbed him again and again, maybe fifteen or twenty times. Still in a rage, he turned to Diem, took out his revolver and shot him in the head. Then he looked back at Nhu, who was lying on the floor, twitching. He put a bullet into his head too. Neither Diem nor Nhu ever defended themselves. Their hands were tied. (Source)

Nhung’s turn as executioner — no unfamiliar role; the guy was notorious for tallying his career kills in notches on his gun barrel — made his boss Duong Van Minh the new President … for all of three months. By all accounts he was a useless executive:

the ruling generals were paralyzed by ineptitude. They had formed a military revolutionary council, composed of twelve members who bickered endlessly. Their normal chairman, General Minh, boasted that the collegial arrangement would guarantee against the autocratic excesses of the old regime. In reality, Minh had contrived the committee in order to bolster his prestige without increasing his responsibility. He was a model of lethargy, lacking both the skill and the inclination to govern. As he confided to me one morning as we chatted in his headquarters, he preferred to play tennis and tend to his orchids and exotic birds than to preside over tedious meetings and unravel bureaucratic tangles … In a cable to Washington, [U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge] described Minh as a “good, well-intentioned man,” but added a prophetic note: “Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?”

On 30 January 1964, Minh was overthrown by another general, Nguyen Khánh, in a bloodless dawn coup. Well, virtually bloodless. The sole casualty was Nguyen Van Nhung, who paid for the assassination of Diem the next day via a pistol shot to the head at a Saigon villa. The official story promulgated by the new regime described him instead committing suicide in shame for the Diem murder.

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1916: Yakub Cemil, Ottoman putschist

Add comment September 11th, 2019 Headsman

Ottoman officer Yakub Cemil was executed on this date in 1916 as an aspiring putschist.

A Circassian infantryman who served under Enver Pasha in the 1900s, Cemil was an early and ardent supporter of the Committee of Union and Progress. This onetime underground party ascended to national preeminence in 1908, after which Cemil became a sturdy “weapon of the organization”.

He did not shrink to imbrue his hands with blood; allegedly, he assassinated journalist Ahmet Samin Bey in 1910, and on campaign in Libya against the Italian invasion he privately murdered a black lieutenant out of some combination of suspected espionage and racial animus. His implacability was his great asset and his great liability; the eventual father of post-Ottoman Turkeuy, Ataturk is perhaps apocryphally supposed to have mused, “If I one day mount a revolution, Cemil is the first man I want by my side, and Cemil is the first man I will hang afterwards.”

Such provincial homicides were but studies for the main deed of his days when in the 1913 Ottoman coup d’etat when he gunned down War Minister Nazim Pasha on the steps of the Sublime Porte as his CUP comrades barged in to force the resignation of the aging Grand Vizier and take the state firmly in hand.

It was an act that shook capitals around the world.


9 February 1913 edition of Le Petit Journal with a cover depiction of “un coup d’etat a Constantinople: muertre de Nazim Pacha”.

Ironically it was a desire for peace that brought his end. A couple of years deep into the catastrophe of World War I, Cemil rightly perceived the need to extricate his state from the conflict, and began making plans to topple the “Three Pashas” of the CUP whom he had helped to bring to power. His old friend Enver Pasha had no intention of approving the resulting death sentence — indeed, he had caught wind of it and tried persuasion to bring Cemil back onside — but when Enver Pasha was summoned to Berlin for a war council the fellow triumvir Talaat Pasha signed off on the execution with dispatch.

Rumors and legends abound concerning his death, such as shouting “Long live the Committee for Union and Progress!” before the firing squad opened up on him, and an agonizing half-hour bleed-out during which the expiring Cemil scrawled a patriotic slogan in the dirt with his own blood.

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1985: Hezekiah Ochuka, ruler of Kenya for six hours

1 comment July 9th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1985, Kenya air force private Hezekiah Ochuka was hanged for his August 1, 1982 coup d’etat.

By ethnicity a politically marginalized Luo, Ochuka led a putsch of junior airmen whose announcement of leadership over the radio startled Kenyans rising for their breakfast on August 1, 1982.

That leadership lasted only six hours before forces loyal to the ethnically Kikuyu president Daniel arap Moi suppressed it. Some 300 souls were killed in the course of events.

The subsequent security sweep took up not only the putschists themselves but exploited the opportunity to crack down on prominent opposition figures — men like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and George Anyona, who were tossed into the brutal Nyayo House torture center essentially for being anti-Moi politicians — and beyond them thousands of ordinary Kenyans thought vaguely proximate to sedition by virtue of their politics, lineage, or station in life.

Ochuka himself fled to neighboring Tanzania hoping to find asylum; instead, he was extradited back to Kenya for capital trial and hanged along with two of his collaborators, Corporals Bramwel Injeni Njereman and Walter Odira Ojode, in a badly botched execution.

These men retain to this day the distinction of being the last judicially executed in Kenyan history, even though Kenya still has the death penalty on its books.

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1393: Karsten Sarnow, Stralsund mayor

Add comment June 28th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1393 the mayor of Stralsund was beheaded.

From the perspective of that Hanseatic city‘s hereditary patricianate, Karsten Sarnow was a chancer — a burgher who championed the political reforms that enabled his own self to enter the city council.

He cinched his municipal preeminence by taking leadership of the naval campaign against some Baltic pirates and successfully suppressing them, marching a hundred or more of them through town for execution.

With this prestige he attained the mayoralty and attempted to implement an ambitious constitutional reform that chased the leading grandee family from the city.

This house, the Wulflams,* successfully intrigued against Sarnow from the Hanse sister-city of Lübeck and eventually Wulfhard Wulflam had the pleasure of revenging the slights against his station by ordering the decapitation of both Sarnow’s person and his constitutional innovations.

This coup scarcely resolved the simmering class and faction conflicts in Stralsund, as discussed by F.L. Carstein in Essays in German History, which notes that “from the beginning of the 14th century the patrician rule was attacked time and again by movements and revolts of the urban Commons, especially in the most important town of Pomerania, Stralsund.”

The popular movement, however, was not stifled. The council was forced to declare the memory of the executed Sarnow untarnished; his body was exhumed and given a solemn funeral. The populist party triumphed once more, helped by battles against the pirates. Yet after only a short time the rule of the old council was restored; the leaders of the rebellion were executed and 48 burghers were expelled …

The 15th century brought new unrest to Stralsund, of a clearly anticlerical character. The ecclesiastical superintendent of the town was a nobleman, Kurt von Bonow. In 1407 he complained about the low offerings the burghers gave to him, quit the town, assembled his noble friends and appeared with 300 horsemen outside the walls. They cut off the hands and feet of burghers whom they found outside, burnt down the farms beyond the walls and departed triumphantly with cattle and other booty; burning villages marked their path. When the priests in Stralsund added their insults and the rumour spread that they supported their leader with arms and money, the burghers, led by the porters’ guild, rose against the clergy, imprisoned sixteen of them and then attempted to burn the house where they were confined. The council tried to protect the priests, but the enraged crowd shouted they were all knaves and evildoers, they had helped to fan the fires and therefore they must burn. The master of the porters’ guild demanded the death of the three senior priests who were burned in the market place; the others were saved by the council. The news of ‘the priests burning at the Sund’ (i.e. Stralsund) spread throughout Germany. Then the burghers marched out of the town and pillaged the houses and estates of noblemen who had participated in Bonow’s enterprise. The feud between them and the nobility allied with the duke lasted seven years, and several other Pomeranian towns supported Stralsund. All trade languished …

About this time the social conflicts in the Hanseatic towns, especially in Lübeck, became so strong that the League — which meant the ruling merchant aristocracies — at a Diet held in Lübeck stipulated the death penalty for burghers who summoned the Commons to take action or agitated otherwise against the council; any member town in which the council was forcibly deposed by the burghers was to lose the Hanseatic privileges and liberties and was not to receive any help from the other towns. Fear had grown to such an extent that it was further ordained no burgher was to appear in front of the council with more than six companions.

Wulfhard Wulflam himself was murdered in 1409 in a revenge killing by the son of a noble knight whom he, Wulflam, had slain several years prior.

* The family’s Wulflamhaus, an outstanding exemplar of the late Gothic style, is still to be seen in Stralsund.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanseatic League,Heads of State,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,The Worm Turns,Treason

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706: Leontios and Apsimar

Add comment February 15th, 2019 Headsman

Likely around February 706 the Byzantine emperors Leontios (Leontius) and Apsimar were executed by the man they’d deposed.

Although a very lesser member of the Roman Empire’s purple club, they had the honor of sort of sounding the death knell of the century-old dynasty founded by the mighty Heraclius.

Heraclius’s great-great-grandson Justinian II had shown himself over a ten-year reign beginning 685 a high- and a ham-handed prince; indeed, his eventual usurper had felt that wrath in 692 when Justinian threw Leontios in prison for losing a battle to the Arabs.

Later restored as strategos of Hellas, Leontios predictably rebelled almost immediately and deposed the irritating legacy case in 695. While many of Justinian’s ministers were put to death, the new boss made an unwise show of clemency by only mutilating Justinian.

(Justinian’s nose was cut off, a mercy masquerading as a grotesquerie: it was commonly meted out in lieu of execution to potential rival imperial claimants with the understanding that the visible mutilation would make it effectively impossible for that person to effectually claim power in the future. Leontios was destined to experience this “mercy” firsthand.)

Our first usurper marks the start of a tumultuous era known as the Twenty Years’ Anarchy wherein seven different emperors ruled in the course of a single generation — so of course he did not have the perquisites of power very long. (The History of Byzantium podcast covers this period in episodes 65 and 66.)

In 698, after the Arabs conquered Carthage — permanently ending the Roman presence in Africa, which dated to the Roman Republic — an admiral named Apsimar claimed the throne for himself. Perhaps it was a pre-emptive lest he be blamed for the Carthage debacle: like Leontios, he first set his foot upon the dais thanks to a failure in the field. For whatever reason it worked with an ease that speaks to the scant legitimacy that Leontios had established among his subjects. Apsimar — Tiberius III, if you please — went as easy on Leontios as had Leontios on his own predecessor, condemning him only to nasal mutilation and monastic imprisonment.

Apsimar had a bit more success and a bit more longevity, but only a bit — for in the early 700s, the embittered and vengeful Justinian cinematically managed to escape his overseers, strangle two assassins sent to hunt him down, and sail through a deadly storm* on the Black Sea to catch on with the Bulgars.

There, mutilated face and all, he raised an army to take back Constantinople. This he duly achieved by dint of an ill-guarded water channel to re-enthrone the dynasty of Heraclius, then hauled both of the interregnum rulers before him and smugly propped up his feet upon their backs. Justinian got a golden prosthetic nose and imperial power; the now-ex-kings got publicly beheaded in an amphitheater known as the Kynegion.

Justinian’s improbable political second act lasted just six years more, until he was overthrown in 711 for the second and final time. This usurper had the good sense to kill him.

* In fear of his life during the storm, one of Justinian’s companions allegedly called on him to placate God by promising his enemies mercy. “If I spare a single one of them, may God drown me here,” replied the once and future emperor.

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1987: Five in South Yemen for the Events of ’86

Add comment December 29th, 2018 Headsman

From Yemen Divided: The Story of a Failed State in South Arabia concerning the juridical follow-up to the ouster of Ali Nasir Muhammad during the a civil war in South Yemen referred to as the Events of ’86. This breakdown of order in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) would set the stage for its eventual 1990 unification with North Yemen.

There was a relentless propaganda campaign against Ali Nasir and his associates, especially Muhammad Ali Ahmad. The main leaders were put on trial in open court in the presence of television cameras and the media. For a while it was compulsive viewing, as hundreds of witnesses testified in a unique experiment. As the process dragged on, however, the leaders became increasingly uncomfortable. The desire for revenge in early 1986 had been replaced by a need by mid 1987 to heal wounds. They now wanted to persuade Ali Nasir’s followers to return to the PDRY and cooperate with the new regime. In March 1987, for example, [Haidar Abu Bakr] al-Attas said that, of the 5,000 who had been arrested in early 1986, only 200 were still being held, of whom 94 were on trial in Aden and 48 were being tried in absentia. Later in the year, a general amnesty was declared for people who returned to the PDRY by the end of the year — subsequently extended to July 1987. Throughout this period, Ali Nasir (by now living in Syria) offered negotiations, which were scorned, but also sent operatives over the border in Shabwa and Abyan to stir up trouble. There was also a steady stream of defections to his headquarters in Ta’izz, not far from the PDRY border.

The trials were concluded in December 1987, and on 27 December the Politburo ratified death sentences on Ali Nasir, Muhammad Ali Ahmad, Ahmad Musa’id Husain, Abdullah Salih Ulaywa, Ahmad Abdullah al-Hassani, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (now president of the Republic of Yemen), Faruq Ali Ahmad, Alawi Husain Farhan (former deputy minister of state security), Hadi Ahmad Nasir (former YSP Secretary for Aden), Ahmad Husain Musa and Mubarak Salim Ahmad. It commuted sentences passed on another 24 to 15 years in prison (including Muhammad Abdullah al-Battani and Sulaiman Nasir Muhammad), and it reduced a sentence of 15 years imposed on al-Tali’a leader Anis Hassan Yahva to seven years. Others were given lengthy sentences. Five were executed on 29 December: Faruq Ali Ahmad, Hadi Ahmad Nasir, Alawi Husain Farhan, Ahmad Husain Musa (a former commander of the air force) and Mubarak Salim Ahmad (commander of Ali Nasir’s bodyguards). The executions led to outrage in the north and parts of the PDRY, as well as the wider Arab world. A shocked [Ali Salem] al-Bidh remained firm, but al-Attas and others argued that the remaining prisoners should be treated with leniency. Over the next two years, many of those in prison were released or pardoned.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Politicians,Power,Soldiers,Yemen

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1400: Thomas le Despenser, for the Epiphany Rising

Add comment January 13th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1400, the Thomas le Despenser was beheaded — as much a lynching as an execution — by a mob at Bristol.

“I have to London sent
The heads of Salisbury, Spencer, Blunt, and Kent.”

-Henry’s loyal (for now) nobleman Northumberland summing up the destruction of the Epiphany Rising in the last scene of Shakespeare’s Richard II

House Despenser had painstakingly rebuilt its position in the three generations since Thomas’s great-grandfather, the notorious royal favorite Hugh Despenser, was grotesquely butchered for the pleasure of Roger Mortimer. (Readers interested in a deep dive should consult this doctoral thesis (pdf))

By the end of the 14th century, the family patriarch, our man Thomas, had by 1397 parlayed his firm support of Richard II against the Lord Appellant into elevation to a peerage created just for him, the Earldom of Gloucester.

The “Gloucester” sobriquet had just gone onto the market thanks to the beheading that year of the attainted Duke of Gloucester and the consequent revocation of that patrimony. This ought to have been a hint, if his ancestors’ fate did not suffice, that such glories are fleeting. Thomas le Despenser had barely two years to enjoy his newfound rank before Richard II was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke who now styled himself Henry IV.

Despite initially making his terms with the new regime, Despenser joined a conspiracy of nobles that contemplated a coup d’etat during the 1399-1400 holidays — the Epiphany Rising, whose misfire has brought other victims to our attention previously.* Titles are the least of what one forfeits in such circumstances; Thomas managed to grab a boat for Cardiff and possible refuge but to his unhappy surprise the ship’s captain put in at Bristol to deliver him to his enemies: death was summary, his head posted to the capital for duty on the London Bridge.

The Despensers had already proven the resilience of their line in the face of the violent death of this or that scion and although this was a rough coda for their century of glory they were not done for the English political scene by a long shot. Thomas’s widow Constance** got her own plotting afoot by conspiring unsuccessfully in 1405 to kidnap Richard II’s heir from Henry’s custody as an instrument to leverage for political realignment. (Constance, Executed Today is grieved to report, was not executed for this.)

* Episode 134 of the History of England podcast grapples with the Epiphany Rising.

** Constance’s brother is popularly believed to have betrayed the Epiphany Rising.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Treason

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