By Emil Danielyan
Murad Bojolian, an Armenian scholar and former government official, was on Monday convicted of spying for Turkey and sentenced to ten years in prison following a two-month trial denounced as unfair by his family and lawyer. They pledged to take the politically sensitive case to the European Court of Human Rights if the verdict is not overturned by a higher Armenian court.
The court of first instance in central Yerevan fully endorsed state prosecutors’ allegations that Murad Bojolian, 52, had committed high treason by secretly providing “political, military and economic information” to Turkish intelligence.
“The treason of homeland on the part of Murad Bojolian has been proven,” the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, declared. “His deeds have been correctly termed and correspond to Article 59 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia.”
Bojolian and his defense attorney, Hovannes Arsenian, appeared ready for such an outcome as they watched Martirosian read out the ruling. Arsenian denounced it afterwards and promised to appeal it at a higher court. “Hearing the verdict, you could see that it was the exact copy of the indictment presented by the prosecutors,” he told reporters.
Arsenian argued that the case is only based on a “false confession” of espionage which Bojolian made immediately after his arrest last January. Bojolian had initially admitted to working for the Turkish intelligence service MIT, but later retracted the pre-trial testimony and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The defendant claimed during his two-month trial that he fabricated the confession because he feared torture and wanted to ensure the safety of his wife and three children.
Judge Martirosian found the explanation unconvincing, saying: “The court testimony of defendant Murad Bojolian does not correspond to reality. It was aimed at avoiding responsibility for criminal acts and is disproved by evidence obtained during the pre-trial investigation.”
What makes Bojolian’s purported confession look credible is its very detailed description of his alleged contacts with MIT during six different trips to Istanbul between 2000 and 2001. Bojolian, who was born and grew up in Turkey, claimed to have passed a broad range of information about Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh on to Turkish intelligence agents in exchange for money.
He had described even the insignificant details of his stated secret meetings with MIT operatives, which one of the prosecutors at the trial, Aram Amirzadian, said “complement each other in a logical manner.” “In his testimony, Bojolian reveals such details which could not have been fabricated even with the best imagination,” Amirzadian said during an earlier court hearing.
But lawyer Arsenian insists that mere logic is not sufficient grounds for convicting his client and that the “self-defamatory” confession is full of contradictions which the Armenian Ministry of National Security failed to investigate.” “They have failed to prove what they say had taken place. Furthermore, they have only accepted [Bojolian’s] pre-trial testimony at face value,” he said on Monday.
The prosecutors also allege that Bojolian had collaborated with other Turkish spies posing as journalists in the late 1990s. Among them, they say, is Mehmet Ali Birand, a prominent Turkish television commentator who has repeatedly visited Armenia over the past decade. Birand interviewed President Robert Kocharian during his last trip in early 2001.
Also mentioned as Turkish spies are the Moscow-based correspondents for the official Anadolu news agency and two leading Turkish dailies: Hurriet and Milliyet. Interestingly, the Armenian law-enforcement authorities base those claims on official information sent to them by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the former KGB.
Bojolian, who is fluent in Turkish, began working for visiting Turkish journalists as a fixer and interpreter after losing his Foreign Ministry job in 1993. He insists that he was unaware of their alleged intelligence ties.
The Russian FSB has also provided Yerevan with intelligence on the two Turks who are said to have “recruited” Bojolian in Istanbul in June 2000. They are identified as Nusret and Tolunay. Their affiliation with MIT was presented by the judge as a proven fact.
“How do we know that they actually exist?” Arsenian asked, challenging the conclusion.
Bojolian has led a modest life since being fired from the diplomatic service on an unconfirmed suspicion of espionage in favor of Turkey. A specialist of Turkish affairs, he had been repeatedly sent to Ankara on important diplomatic missions in 1991-1993.
Bojolian’s sporadic work for the Turkish media, which also involved free-lance article contributions, has been a major source of income for his unemployed family that got mired in debt after buying a new apartment for $10,000 in 1998.
The former official still owes several thousand dollars to his relatives and acquaintances. This, according to his lawyer, means that he could not have received a total of $9,000 in cash from MIT agents as is claimed by the prosecution.
Bojolian’s wife Lyudmila, meanwhile, said that she does not expect that the Armenian Court of Appeals will acquit him and plans to take the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all local appeals. “The European Court is my only hope. I don’t believe in our judiciary because it carries out [government] orders,” she told RFE/RL.
Bojolian is the first Armenian citizen to be ever charged with spying for Turkey -- an extremely damaging accusation in Armenia which has a centuries-old feud and no diplomatic relations with its large Muslim neighbor. Many Armenians continue to regard Turkey as their country’s worst enemy. This sentiment is kept alive by Turkey’s continuing refusal to recognize the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and pro-Azerbaijani stance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Bojolian admitted recently that his controversial trial will shatter his reputation and ruin his career even if it results in his acquittal.
(Fotolur photo: Murad Bojolian, left, talking to his lawyer, Hovannes Arsenian, after the announcement of the verdict.)