George Malek-Yonan (October 11, 1924 - November 14, 2014), an Assyrian, was an international attorney, politician, writer, and Iran’s “Champion of Champions,” an elite athlete and recipient of more than 60 gold, silver, and bronze medals and gold cups, in Track and Field, Pentathlon, Soccer, Basketball, and Table Tennis presented to him by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran.




George Malek-Yonan was a descendant of the prominent Malek Family of Jilu, from the Hakkari Mountains who trace their ancestry to the 11th century. As a result of ongoing attacks by Turks and Kurds, the Malek family left Jilu and settled in Geogtapah, Urmia, Iran. Geogtapah began to transform into a predominantly Assyrian Christian village in great part due to the influence of the early Malek-Yonan settlers and continued with the efforts of George Malek-Yonan’s Great-grandfather, Malek Yonan who was affectionately called Babuna, meaning father in Assyrian. Babuna was a highly respected, influential, and powerful preacher among the Assyrian Christians. He studied at the Seir College and became an English teacher at the Fisk Seminary for Girls. He succeeded his uncle as “Malek,” leaving his post at Fisk to return to Geogtapah.

Babuna’s son, Mirza David, who was George Malek-Yonan’s grandfather, was a religious scholar and an eloquent but commanding orator. Mirza David was also the Governor of Geogtapah for forty years. Carrying out the duties of his ancestral Malek title, he served his Assyrian community in Geogtapah as a Christian religious leader and governed both the Christian and Moslem communities with fairness. His prominence in the community also greatly influenced the growth of Geogtapah’s Christian Assyrian community. It is important to note that “Mirza” was a prefix to identify his noble title and rank. It was also a title bestowed upon highly educated individuals in Iran. Geogtapah’s importance continued to rise when the Malek-Yonan family built the Assyrian Church of Mar Zaya and set the cornerstone with those they brought with them from the original Assyrian Mar Zaya Church in Jilu. The church in Geogtapah where Malek Yonan conducted services was built next to his vineyard.


The Assyrians suffered greatly during the 1914-1918 Assyrian Genocide. The devastation stretched from Turkey to north-western Iran and resulted in a sweeping loss of two-thirds of the Assyrian population. In 1918 when the Ottoman army advanced towards Urmia, it became abundantly clear to the Assyrians of Urmia and its surrounding villages that they had no choice but to flee.

The entire Malek-Yonan Family including families of Dr. Jesse Malek-Yonan (1867-1939), Reverend Isaac Malek-Yonan (1913-1964), accompanied by the American Missionary, Dr. William Ambrose Shedd (1865–1918) and his wife Mary Lewis Shedd (1873-1982) whom they had very close relations with, fled from Urmia and ended in the Baquba camp set by the British in north-east of Baghdad. During the journey, Dr. Shedd died of cholera and was buried in an unmarked grave. Dr. Jesse Malek-Yonan read the burial service and drew a diagram of the burial site so that his widow, could later recover his body and give him a proper burial.

George Malek-Yonan’s parents, Joseph (1883-1972) and Suriya (1896-1972) with their infant daughter, Florence, arrived at their final destination in Baghdad, where they temporarily settled. Most of the Malek-Yonan family left for the United States and Europe via India, departing from Iraq by ships from the port of Basra. Having left behind vast amounts of property in Geogtapah, Joseph Malek-Yonan decided to remain in Baghdad until he felt safe enough to return his family to Iran in order to reclaim his properties. Suriya gave birth to two sons in Baghdad, David in 1922 and George in 1924. When the time felt right, Joseph Malek-Yonan moved his family from Baghdad to Hamadan for a few years where his children attended school. In 1937 his third son, Cyrus was born.

George Malek-Yonan married Lydia Bet-Benyamin (1928-2002) in Tehran on March 5, 1950. Lydia was of Assyrian descent and born in Rostov, Russia. They had two daughters, Monica Malek-Yonan, an attorney and a multi award winning writer, and Rosie Malek-Yonan, an actress, director, composer, multi award winning writer, and author of The Crimson Field, a non-fictional historical novel based on true family chronicles set during the 1914-1918 Assyrian Genocide.

George Malek-Yonan’s older sister, Florence (1918-2007) was Knighted in the early 1970s. She lived in Switzerland until her death on February 18. His older brother, David (1922-2004) became a renowned engineer in Iran. He built many of Iran’s major freeways and roadways as well as numerous silos in Russia. He was an accomplished and highly decorated athlete who received numerous gold, silver, and bronze medals alongside his brother George. David died in Tehran on March 10. George’s younger brother, Cyrus (1937-1992), who moved to England to study at the British Film Institute and eventually settled in Paris until his death on October 24.

The Malek Family of Jilu has produced many great sons and daughters throughout the centuries. Dr. Jesse Malek-Yonan represented the Assyrians of Urmia, Iran, at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference; Milton Malek-Yonan entrepreneur and inventor of Malekized Rice also known as Uncle Ben’s Rice; Shushan Malek-Yonan, author of children’s educational books; Rev. Isaac Malek-Yonan, speaker and author of several books and essays including The Beloved Physician of Teheran (1933) and Persian Women (1898); Norman Malek-Yonan, author of The Christmas Story (1958); and Terrence Malick, Oscar-nominated director, writer, filmmaker, are just a few to mention.


George Malek-Yonan had deep roots in Christianity that came down from his forefathers. He was Presbyterian but throughout his life he maintained very close ties to all the Assyrian churches in Iran particularly the Assyrian Evangelical Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Assyrian Pentecostal Church. His belief was that Assyrians must never allow differences in religious denomination create internal conflict between the people. This approach afforded him the respect and trust of the community as a whole. It was a principle that he and his wife, Lydia, shared and would later instill in their daughters. He was a Church Elder and Legal Representative of St. Thomas Assyrian Presbyterian Church of Tehran and served as Chairman of the Board of Elders for a brief time in 1977 during the six-month absence of the Rev. Samuel Es-Haq, Pastor of the church.


George Malek-Yonan attended school in Hamadan and received his high school diploma in 1943. He attended University of Tehran’s School of Law, and in 1946, at the age of 22, he earned a Law Degree. In 1947, at the age of 23, he earned a degree in Political Science and Economics from University of Tehran’s School of Political Science and Economics. His final thesis before completing his law degree was on the subject of “Law and Civilization of Assyria,” and it was entitled From the Beginning of the Formation of the Assyrian Government to the Present with Dr. Sanjabi as his Supervising Professor.

After practicing law in Iran for nearly two decades, in 1964 he moved his family to California where he studied law at Golden Gate Law School in San Francisco. Upon completing his studies, he returned to Tehran and continued to practice international law representing many of the American, European, and Asian corporations in Iran. He was the attorney for the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the American hostage crisis. After the Iranian Islamic Revolution, he permanently moved to the United States and joined his family which was already living in California. George Malek-Yonan remained in California until his death on November 14, 2014.


When Malek-Yonan served in the Military from 1948 to 1950, he was already a distinguished and decorated athlete in Track and Field and consequently became a coach to train athletes of different military divisions. This position gave him the opportunity to continue with his own daily training and competing throughout his service. He ran the 100m in 10.8 sec which was the best held record in Iran at the time. His personal best in the 200m was 23.8 sec and in Long Jump 7.14m.


Malek-Yonan was a tenacious writer. His writing reflected his true nature. He was determined, unbending, and compassionate. He regularly wrote articles for Iranian law publications and magazines. He held very strong views against capital punishment and was a fearless writer in expressing his views on the matter and wrote, “Legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime was morally and ethically unjustifiable. It was taking the law too far.” He wrote about laws of other countries in comparison to the laws in Iran. He wrote about the injustices he witnessed first-hand as an attorney. His articles were thought-provoking and at times, controversial, in the face of a regime that openly condoned capital punishment with very little to no evidence at times. He continued to write after moving to the United States.


Malek-Yonan’s choice to study law at a very young age, would propel him to become the most consequential figure in Assyrian politics in Iran. His background as a decorated elite athlete had instilled in him a competitive edge, discipline, and a constant drive to succeed. He was a true Assyrian nationalist and an advocate for his people. His love for his nation made him an unflinching warrior who fought for the rights of Assyrians/Chaldeans in Iran.

In 1949, just three years out of Law School, Malek-Yonan turned his attention to what he observed to be a great discrimination against the Assyrians/Chaldeans in Iran. They were deprived of any representation in the Iranian Parliament (Majles). The Assyrians were still reeling from the injustices done to them during the Assyrian Genocide of 1914-1918, particularly the Assyrians who lived in the north-western region of Urmia. They defended Iran when the Ottoman Empire had an eye to annex Iranian Azerbaijan to their territory. Defending the areas neighboring Ottoman boarders came at a heavy loss for the Assyrians and when they fled from Iran, they left behind their lands, homes, businesses, and all worldly possessions. After the bloodshed had ceased, some Assyrians began to trickle back into Iran only to learn much of what they owned was no longer theirs. The law was not on their side, and with no representation, the prejudicial treatment against them was inherent.

Malek-Yonan began studying Iran’s Election Laws and discovered that the law was written such that unlike other minorities, the Assyrians could not possibly have a representative. The law regarding minority representatives in the Iranian Parliament (Majles) stated that there would be a total of four seats. The Zoroastrian and Jews would each have one representative. The Armenians would have one representative from the southern regions of Esfahan and Tehran. The fourth seat would be for a representative of Armenians of Azerbaijan and Assyrians/Chaldeans of Azerbaijan combined. This meant that the fourth seat represented two ethnically different minority groups with two different languages and backgrounds. This was not an equitable situation for the Assyrians/Chaldeans of Iran.

Armenians outnumbered the Assyrian/Chaldean population in Iran. Even if every Assyrian/Chaldean were to cast a vote, they had absolutely no chance of ever fairly winning the fourth seat and the Armenians would always remain as the only minority group with two representatives. Malek-Yonan began challenging the legality of one minority group having two representatives while the Assyrians/Chaldeans had none.

The other two minorities, the Jews and Zoroastrian had no limitation on the regions they represented. But the Armenians and Assyrians were limited by regions making it impossible for there to ever be an Assyrian representative. The law specifically stated “Assyrians/Chaldeans of Azerbaijan will have one representative.” But when Armenians were added to this equation, Assyrians/Chaldeans would never get a seat. It would always be mathematically impossible because Assyrians of other regions could not be added to increase the numbers. The seat would go to whichever of the two groups that ended up with the higher number.

Malek-Yonan began his campaign for Election Reform citing the inequitable election laws that dictated the combining of the Armenian and Assyrian/Chaldean numbers. After nearly a decade, with unparalleled determination, Malek-Yonan convinced the Pahlavi regime to give a voice to the Assyrians/Chaldeans of Iran separate and apart from the Armenians and equal to other minorities and thus established himself as a savvy and prominent political figure in Iran. The consequences of his actions continued to pave the way for future Assyrian/Chaldean representatives who occupied a fifth seat that was added for the Assyrians/Chaldeans to the four existing minority seats in Parliament.

Before the First Election in 1958, the Shah ordered a Two-System Party: the Government Party and the People’s Party (Hezbe Mardom). Malek-Yonan belonged to the People’s Party and though he had the populace vote, he would never serve in the Iranian Parliament (Majles) as long as he was in the People’s Party. The regime controlled the installation of Assyrian representatives to specifically serve in the Government Party. Malek-Yonan’s role would become that of an advocate and liberator of numerous Assyrian/Chaldean ordinary citizens who would over the years find themselves facing trumped up charges brought against them.


George Malek-Yonan was a natural at sports. He played high school Soccer, Basketball, and Volleyball. In Tehran after a chance encounter with Iran’s Track and Field Coach, Ahmad Izadpanah at Amjadieh Stadium (today known as Shahid Shiroudi Stadium), Malek-Yonan became interested in Track and Field. In 1934 Izadpanah had begun organizing various Track and Field meets and by 1936, the Iranian Athletics Federation was established and Iran joined the International Amateur Athletics Federation.

Malek-Yonan earned the title of Champion of Champions in Iranian Sports in the fields of Track and Field, Pentathlon, Soccer, Basketball, and Table Tennis. He was awarded more than 60 gold, silver, and bronze medals and cups. He would become a frequent visitor to the Mar-Mar Palace in Tehran where Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi would present him with the honors. David Malek-Yonan, his brother who was an accomplished athlete in his own right, was also awarded numerous medals by the Shah. The brothers played on the same Soccer and Basketball teams and were awarded medals during the ceremonies of the same games.

In 1944 while studying at the University of Tehran, Malek-Yonan first competed in the Long Jump and Triple Jump where he earned two silver medals. The same year he participated in the Iran University Competitions in the Long Jump, the Triple Jump, Javelin, and Shot Put, earning four more silver medals. In 1945 he won silver in Long Jump and gold in Triple Jump. In 1946 he joined University of Tehran’s Soccer, Volleyball, and Basketball teams and won a gold medal in Table Tennis, a bronze in Triple Jump and Silver in Basketball. In 1947 he won a gold in Basketball.

His most successful year was 1948 when he took the title of Champion of Champions for winning the most gold medals in the same year. The title was never given to any other athlete in Iran. Malek-Yonan was hailed as the most decorated athlete at the 1948 Iran National Athletic Competition. He won four gold medals competing in Pentathlon (two 100m, 1,500m, Javelin, Discus and Long Jump) with a combined score of 2305, the 100m (11:5 sec), 200m (24:4 sec), and the Long Jump (6.55 m) as well as winning the Gold Cup in Track and Field. He concluded his year of victories by winning first place (3:40:5) at the 1948 Olympic Qualifying Games to represent Iran. However, he chose not to compete at the Olympic Games.

The following year at the 1950 Iran National Championship he won the gold in Long Jump (6.97m). At the Eastern Mediterranean Cup Championship, he took the bronze in the 200m and came in fifth place in the Long Jump and Triple Jump. He set personal best records in the 100m (10.8 sec) and 200m (23.8 sec) and 7.14m in the Long Jump.

After retiring from competition, Malek-Yonan remained a vital part of sports in Iran. He served as the President of the Sports Organization of Iran and President of the Track and Field Federation of Iran and was an inspiration to the athletes who came after him.

©2000 Rosie Malek-Yonan and Monica Malek-Yonan. All Rights Reserved.

Updated: ©2022 Rosie Malek-Yonan and Monica Malek-Yonan. All Rights Reserved.


Mr. George Malek-Yonan receiving Gold