Apresyan, Stepan Zakharovich (1914-1990)

Stepan Apresyan

A Soviet intelligence officer who was acting NKGB foreign intelligence resident in New York during 1944 and 1945 and resident in San Francisco from 1945 to 1947 or 1948; a linguist, translator and editor of foreign-language literature.

Apresyan was born in 1914 to the family of an Armenian priest. In 1932, he became an officer of the OGPU, joining his elder brother Derenik, who worked in the OGPU economic department. In 1936, the elder brother was promoted to the rank of Major of State Security (GB) and in August 1937, he was appointed the People’s Commissar (Narcom) of internal affairs of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. In November 1938, Derenik was arrested at the height of the purges in the NKVD; in February 1939, he was sentenced to death and executed, but was soon rehabilitated. As the younger brother of an “enemy of the people,” Stepan Apresyan was arrested in late 1938. He was released in June 1939 and sent to the NKVD foreign intelligence department (INO), which suffered from a severe shortage of cadres after the wave of purges. 1

Stepan Apresyan reportedly worked for some time in Europe before being sent to New York in 1943 or 1944 as a “legal” operative, under the cover of an official of the Soviet Consulate General. After the August 1944 departure of the NKGB “legal” resident, Vassili Zarubin, Apresyan was appointed acting resident. 2

Between February 1944 and March 29, 1945, Apresyan appears under the cover name of “Maj” (“May”) in Soviet intelligence communiqués between New York and Moscow which were partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation. He stood out from his colleagues in New York because of his erudition and was reportedly well liked for his kindness and easygoing temper. He was a talented linguist who knew many foreign languages and could learn a new language in three or four months. 3

In April 1945, Apresyan moved to San Francisco, where he became the NKGB “legal” resident under the cover of Vice-Consul at the Soviet Consulate in that city. For several months, his activities were centered around the United Nations Charter Conference, which took place there from April 25 to June 26, 1945. In addition to his diplomatic cover, Apresyan also used the cover of West Coast representative of the Soviet Society for Cultural Contacts (VOKS). In this capacity, as Apresyan himself wrote in late 1945, he was “responsible for developing cultural contacts with the USA.” 4

Apresyan’s “diaries” (books) for 1945-1947, which remain in the VOKS files, refer to a wide range of activities – as well as contacts with scholars, scientists, writers, musicians, Hollywood filmmakers, actors and people in other walks of life. The ideal VOKS representative on the West Coast, wrote E. Toumantsev, the Soviet Vice-Consul in Los Angeles, should be “highly educated with experience in the work in the cultural and art fields.” He added that Stepan Apresyan was “most fit on all these requirements.” 5 Apresyan appeared in the VOKS files for the last time in June 1948 – in a letter addressed to him as the Soviet Vice-Consul in San Francisco. 6

Returning to Moscow, Apresyan continued to work at foreign intelligence headquarters until his retirement, when he embarked on a new career translating Russian literature into foreign languages. He worked for many years for the Foreign Languages Publishing House, where the books he translated into English included the masterpieces of the Russian writer Alexander Kuprin, Moloch, The Gambrinus, Emerald and The Garnet Bracelet. He also translated the famous monument of 15th century Russian literature, A Voyage Across Three Seas, about a Russian merchant named Afanasij Nikitin who travels to India. Apresyan is believed to have lived in Czechoslovakia for a few years as a foreign languages editor at the magazine Problems of Peace and Socialism. He died in Moscow in 1990.

  1. Leonid Mlechin. Sluzhba vneshnei razvedki. Moskva: Eksmo, Jauza, 2004 (Leonid Mlechin, The Foreign Intelligence Service, Moscow: Eksmo, Yauza, 2004.)
  2. The Armenian Encyclopedia of the Hayazg Foundation, http://ru.hayazg.info
  3. Alexander Feklisov. Za okeanom i na ostrove. Zapiski razvedchika. Moskva: “DEM,” 1994, s. 54. (Alexander Feklisov, Across the Ocean and On the Island: Reminiscences of an Intelligence Officer, Moscow: “DEM,” 1994, p. 54.
  4. Fund 5283 s.ch. (VOKS files, secret record keeping), description 22s, file 14, pp. 184-189, GA RF.
  5. E. Toumantsev, Report on the VOKS Line, September 22, 1946, Ibid., file 24, p. 191, GA RF.
  6. Fund 5283, description 14, file 518, p. 104.