Gevork Vartanian and Tehran-43: What do we know about the legendary Soviet spy?

This presentation treats the controversial story of the legendary Soviet spy Gevork Vartanian (1924-2012) who is credited with foiling the Nazi plot to assassinate, or abduct, Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt during the 1943 Tehran Allies conference. Vartanian and Gohar, his wife of 66 years, were exceptionally successful foreign intelligence agents. Starting with Iran, they worked in more than 80 countries. The paper will compare the images inspired by them in the notable Soviet-French movie Tehran-43 (1981) to the facts as they emerge from multiple interviews, documentaries, and publications.

Tehran-43 presents an assassination attempt paralleled by a romance between the Soviet agent Andrei and the French-Russian woman Marie. The movie features Alain Delon (as a French detective in 1980) and a hit song by Charles Aznavour, "Une Vie D'amour." Gevork and Gohar treated the movie with gentle humor. Gohar commented: “We were different [from the movie heroes] and foiled the German agents without Alain Delon.” Her husband explained that the Nazi attempt to reach the British embassy through the underground water canals was real though the movie had “too much shooting and [other] nonsense.”

Vartanian was inspired by the example of his father, a Soviet agent who in 1930 was moved from the Soviet Union to Iran. In 1940, at 16, Gevork became agent “Amir.” In several years, his group of Soviet ex-patriot youths known as “light cavalry” (moving on bikes), reportedly exposed more than 400 German agents. Gohar joined the group at 15. In 1943, Vartanian allegedly outplayed Otto Skorzeny, Nazi master-terrorist, in the operation “Long jump” targeting the three leaders. Vartanian’s group (possibly cooperating with the British) uncovered the advance group of German agents who were sending radio signals to Berlin. After the Germans realized that the initial stage of their operation had failed, they canceled it.

In 1986, the Vartanians permanently returned to the Soviet Union. In 2000, their name was made public and quickly became famous. Russian foreign intelligence has taken great pride in their devoted service. In 2007, Celia Sandys, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill, paid a highly publicized visit to Vartanian and expressed her gratitude for having saved her grandfather’s life. In 2012, the news about Vartanian’s death made international headlines. Elegant, sophisticated and charming, in love since the early 1940s, and still surrounded by an aura of mystery, Gevork and Gohar have achieved a fame overshadowing that of their romantic movie counterparts.