By Emil Danielyan and Hrach Melkumian
The man arrested last week on suspicion of spying for Turkey was the Armenian foreign ministry’s chief expert on Turkey in the 1990s and later had to sell goods in a Yerevan market to support his family, it emerged on Friday.
Murad Bojolian, who Armenian security officials allege gathered “military, economic and political information” for Turkish intelligence, is also said to have been a freelance contributor to a leading Turkish newspaper.
The Armenian ministry of national security refused to identify the suspect when it announced the news of his arrest on Thursday. Bojolian’s name was first disclosed by the Yerevan daily “Azg” the next day. His wife confirmed the accuracy of the information.
“My husband is not guilty of anything,” Lyudmila Bojolian told RFE/RL. “This case was fabricated. Murad never hid anything from anyone.”
Bojolian’s defense counsel, Ruben Balabanian, said he had his first encounter with the accused Friday morning and found him in good health. Balabanian would not say whether or not his client has pleaded guilty to the charges of high treason which can lead death sentence or a minimum term of 10 years in prison. Nor would he disclose the circumstances of Bojolian’s arrest on January 26.
It is also not clear whether Bojolian has already appeared in court. Under Armenian law, a suspect can not be held in custody for more than 72 hours without the court’s approval.
Unofficial sources said Bojolian was snatched from a bus by national security agents near the Georgian border as he headed for Turkey to buy goods for his market stall in one of Yerevan’s largest retail markets. Bojolian, who holds a doctoral degree in Oriental Studies from a Russian university, had to sell cheap clothing to make a modest living in recent years, according to his acquaintances.
“This is not the kind of job usually given to spies,” said one of his former longtime colleagues, casting doubt on the credibility of the official allegations. “What kind of secret information would he be able to collect there?”
“The news was an unpleasant surprise for me,” he added.
The national security ministry continued to decline a comment on Friday and it remained unclear what the accusations stem from. Lawyer Balabanian charged that the former Armenia branch of the Soviet-era KGB has already violated his client’s presumption of innocence by presenting his being a Turkish spy as a proven fact.
Born in eastern Turkey in 1950, Bojolian immigrated to Soviet Armenia in the mid-1960s together with his family. He engaged in post-graduate studies in Moscow after graduating from Yerevan State University. Bojolian was one of Armenia’s few experts on Turkish affairs when he became head of the Turkey desk of the newly independent country’s foreign ministry in the early 1990s. At one point he also worked as a personal interpreter of then president Levon Ter-Petrossian.
Bojolian is known as a strong advocate of the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. Speaking to an RFE/RL correspondent in November 2000, he presented himself as a co-chairman of the Turkey-Armenia Business Council (TABC), a private association promoting closer commercial links between the two nations.
However, the TABC’s current Armenian co-chairman, Arsen Ghazarian, insisted on Friday that Bojolian has never held that post. He said Bojolian was affiliated with the group in 1996-97 and was only responsible for logistical matters. “I haven’t seen or heard from him for the last three years,” Ghazarian told RFE/RL.
According to the editor of Istanbul’s Armenian language “Marmara” newspaper, Bojolian is well known among Turkey’s political, business and media circles that have had contacts with Armenia. Robert Hattejian said Bojolian often accompanied visiting Turkish delegations and his articles have occasionally appeared in the Turkish press.
Ferai Tinc, a correspondent for the mass-circulation Turkish daily “Hurriyet,” said in an RFE/RL interview in Yerevan on January 11 that Bojolian is the paper’s freelance contributor in the Armenian capital.