Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

One of the most common traits of small nations is to claim great world dignitaries as "their own.” If they announced an international competition in this "sport,” Armenians would certainly win the game.

According to our compatriots, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Goethe, and Griboedov among others are of Armenian descent.

In the meantime, many of us don’t know anything about those Armenians who would make any civilized nation proud. We have had a constellation of first-rate professionals and experts in Soviet diplomacy and intelligence who have added several golden pages in the history of this difficult field. We have had intelligence officers of international caliber such as Aleksandr Aghayants, Ivan Aghayants, Mikhail Alaverdov, Ashot Hakobyan, Stepan Apresyan, Gerasim Balasanov, Hayk Hovakimyan, Zohrab Ghasabyan, and Vyacheslav Kevorkov. Today we can still see on the television screen the legendary intelligence officer Gevorg Vardanyan and his wife Gohar Vardanyan who live in Moscow now. We have the good fortune of meeting them in downtown Yerevan when they happen to visit their native city. By the way, Gevorg Vardanyan is the only intelligence officer—a true hero—who is alive today.

And how many Armenians, who take pride in their nationality, know that the godfather of Soviet intelligence was our compatriot Yakov Khristoforovich Davydov (born Davtyan)?

On April 20, 1920, the head of the Cheka, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, signed the famous decree no. 169 on the dissolution of the Special Section of the Cheka and the creation of the Foreign Department. Yakov Davydov was appointed the head of the newly created department. Who was this thirty-two year old man from Agulis, whom the Iron Feliks entrusted the most delicate and "intelligent” sphere that could be headed only by an erudite person, someone who had exceptional intellectual and analytical capabilities?
Davydov graduated from the First Gymnasium in Tbilisi and studied at St. Petersburg University. He was a Social Democrat. He was arrested and left to Belgium to study at the Technical University after being released from prison. There he met Inessa Armand, one of the most mysterious and contradictory figures of the Russian Revolution, who played a decisive role in Davydov’s career.

The October Revolution had three prominent women activists, Larisa Reisner, Aleksandra Kollontai (who, by the way, was a professional diplomat), and Inessa Armand. The three belonged to the Feminist Avant-Garde, fighting for gender equality and sexual freedom. They put forth the idea of liberating women from bourgeois prejudice and conditionality. "Sleeping with other committee members should be the same as drinking a glass of water” was the ethical precondition of the feminists. But Inessa Armand was also known for having an affair with Vladimir Lenin. It was a well-known fact and nobody tried to hide it, including Lenin’s wife Nadezhda Krupskaya. Armand was the third person in this love triangle.

So what was the connection between Davydov and Armand? And was it purely a professional relationship? The scant facts don’t tell much. The journalist and author of many books on diplomacy Leonid Mlechin doesn’t either.

Davydov was arrested again in Belgium by the Germans who had occupied the country. He was released with the help of the Soviet diplomat Adolph Joffe who was also associated with Inessa Armand. In 1919 Davydov and Armand left for Paris as part of the Russian Red Cross where they helped Russian soldiers and the special units to return safely to their homeland.

A year later Davydov, again with the help of Armand, was sent to the Russian embassy in Estonia and after his return was appointed the head of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs in Poland and the Baltics.

Then Davydov is promoted to the position of the head of the new socialist government’s foreign intelligence. We could say, without a doubt, that Inessa Armand had a hand in all of this, as she was close with Lenin. As the country’s number one spy, Davydov continued working as a diplomat. An ambassador during those years also shared the responsibilities of the resident-designate. The buildings that housed each agency were close, too: the Cheka was on Lubyanka Square and NKID was in the former building of the All-Russia Insurance Company. The diplomats jokingly called the Chekists their "close neighbors.”

Davydov developed the code of practice, structure, and cadre politics of the Foreign Department. He worked as an ambassador in Lithuania, China, France, Iran, India, and Poland. He was able to combine diplomacy with intelligence work. He successfully conducted political analyses, created a network, and recruited spies for the Foreign Department. He knew many languages and was extremely charismatic and refined. According to his contemporaries, he was markedly different from the other Soviet heads. He was a tall, attractive, dark-haired man who was always present in Inessa Armand’s field of attention.

In 1937 Davydov was called back from Poland and arrested in Moscow. He was accused of collaborating with the Polish intelligence services and belonging to the fictitious Trotskyite faction and was terribly tortured. The head of the secret police, Nikolai Yezhov, sent the following telegram to Stalin: "Davydov additionally testified that the representative of the Transcaucasian Federation in Paris, Simon Pirumov, introduced him to the oil magnate and British citizen Calouste Gulbenkian in 1937, who agreed to help the Armenians to separate from the Soviet Union with British assistance.” I should note here that Davydov had never seen Armenia . . .

On June 28, 1938, the first head of Soviet foreign intelligence, Yakov Davydov, was executed. He was succeeded by Ruben Katanyan, who was a well-known party member and an important functionary. Katanyan was born in Tbilisi, graduated from the Department of Law of Moscow University, and worked as a lawyer before the revolution. He was the head of the Foreign Department for a short period and then voluntarily left to continue work as a lawyer. But that didn’t save him; he was exiled in 1938 and returned only after seventeen years. He was "rehabilitated” (his name was officially cleared) in 1956 and he lived for another ten years.
6337 reads | 11.10.2013

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