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President Serzh Sarkisian and Armenia’s main national security agency paid tribute on Wednesday to a legendary Soviet intelligence operative of Armenian descent who died in Russia at the age of 87.

News reports citing Russian intelligence sources said that Gevork Vartanyan passed away at a Moscow hospital on Tuesday afternoon.

Born in southern Russia to an ethnic Armenian family, Vartanian for decades worked as an undercover agent for the Soviet KGB in different countries and Iran in particular. He is best known for his reportedly major role in ensuring security at the historic 1943 conference in Tehran between the Allied “Big Three” of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

Working under the codename Amir, Vartanyan led a spy group which is believed to have exposed hundreds of agents working for Nazi Germany’s intelligence in Iran.

According to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Vartanyan also infiltrated in 1942 a British spy school in Tehran that allegedly trained agents for undercover operations in the Soviet Union. He continued to operate for the Soviet intelligence abroad, in tandem with his wife Gohar, after World War II.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev offered his condolences to Vartanyan’s family, describing him as a “true patriot of his country” who took part in “brilliant intelligence operations.”

Sarkisian sent a similar letter from Yerevan. It referred to the deceased spymaster as a “worthy son of the Armenian nation.” “I maintain the warmest recollections of my meetings and conversations with Gevork Vartanyan,” he wrote.

Sarkisian, who headed the Armenian successor to the KGB in the late 1990s, also declared that Vartanyan “stood by independent Armenia” during the Nagorno-Karabakh war and helped to strengthen its intelligence service “with advice and assistance.”

Vartanyan received an Armenian state award, the Order of Honor, from Sarkisian in 2009. Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) honored him with a medal in 2004.

The NSS on Wednesday issued a separate statement in connection with Vartanyan’s death.
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