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By Emil Danielyan

Murad Bojolian, a former Armenian government official accused of spying for Turkey, pleaded not guilty to the charges of high treason at the start of his high-profile trial on Thursday. His defense attorney said the espionage case is “baseless” and was pursued with serious violations of the due process of law.

State prosecutors, however, insisted that Bojolian, 52, had secretly worked for the Turkish intelligence service, MIT, providing it with a broad range of information about Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Since 1998, Murad Bojolian has collaborated with that organization’s network of agents, most of whom operated under the guise of journalists,” said Avag Avagian, one of the prosecutors who read out the official indictment. “On their assignment, he collected and reported information regarding the economic and political spheres of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.”

Avagian alleged that Bojolian, who had held senior posts in the Armenian Foreign Ministry and presidential administration in the 1990s, also gathered secret military information, informing MIT about the number of troops stationed in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Turkish-Armenian border.

Avagian claimed that Bojolian was “recruited” in Yerevan in 1998 by Remzi Omer Ozgan, a Moscow correspondent for the official Turkish Anadolu news agency who he said was “a paid agent of Turkish intelligence.” In 2000, he went on, Bojolian established “direct ties” with the MIT office in Istanbul, visiting the Turkish city “once in every two or three months.”

Interestingly, among Turkish journalists mentioned in the indictment as “intelligence agents” is Mehmet Ali Birand, a prominent TV commentator and columnist who interviewed President Robert Kocharian in 2000. It is not clear whether the Armenian special services had such suspicions at the time.

Bojolian, making his first public appearance since his arrest last January, denied the charges. “You think that I’m more important than Richard Sorge,” he said sarcastically, referring to the legendary Soviet spy, whose repeated warnings about a planned attack on the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany were ignored by Josef Stalin.

The defense lawyer, Hovannes Arsenian, said his client is innocent and the prosecutors have no evidence to substantiate their allegations. Arsenian had told RFE/RL earlier that the charges leveled against Bojolian stem from his long-running cooperation with Turkish media outlets, notably the NTV network.

Bojolian, who was born in Turkey and holds a doctoral degree in Turkish affairs, became an occasional freelance contributor to several Turkish media after losing his job in the office of the Armenian president in 1998. He had worked as an advisor and translator for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian during the previous five years.

The prosecution, led by Deputy Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, did not present any documentary evidence of Bojolian’s alleged cooperation with MIT at the opening court session. Avagian said only that during the former official’s arrest investigators from the National Security Ministry confiscated documents containing information about the Armenian government’s “budgetary allocations,” Iranian aid to Armenia, “irregularities in the Armenian army” and a map of the country.

According to lawyer Arsenian, the map was photocopied from a geography textbook used in Armenian schools and is no way a secret document. He also insists that Bojolian’s news reports were solely based on articles published in Armenian newspapers.

Only five witnesses have been called to testify at the trial. Four of them are ethnic Kurds living in Armenia. Three of them are identified in official documents as members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a rebel group outlawed in Turkey. The prosecutors claim that MIT had instructed Bojolian to interview local Kurds and report on possible PKK presence in Armenia.

The trial began with a legal dispute between Arsenian and the prosecutors. Arsenian claimed that the National Security Ministry violated the Armenian Code of Criminal Procedure in March 1999 by obtaining a court permission to tap Bojolian’s home telephone before formally opening a criminal case against him.

Prosecutor Hovsepian countered, controversially, that the former KGB is primarily guided by its “internal regulations,” and not by the code. He later sought to rectify the apparent gaffe, saying that the code contains a provision allowing phone-tapping in some circumstances. This position was endorsed by the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian.

The next court hearing is scheduled for October 30.
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