Murad Bojolian, an Armenian scholar and former diplomat, left a prison in Yerevan on Friday after completing a ten-year sentence on charges of spying for Turkey which he strongly denies.
Bojolian, 60, was arrested and charged with passing “military, economic and political information” on to Turkish intelligence in January 2002. He was tried and convicted of high treason less than a year later.
Bojolian initially admitted to working for Turkey’s MIT intelligence service but later retracted the pre-trial testimony and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The former head of the Turkey desk at the Armenian Foreign Ministry said during his two-month trial that he falsely incriminated himself because he feared torture and wanted to ensure the safety of his wife and three children.
Bojolian, who made occasional freelance contributions to Turkish media after leaving the government in the late 1990s, lodged an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in 2003, saying that he was jailed for his journalistic activities and never had access to state secrets. The Strasbourg case rejected the appeal in November 2009.
The scholar, who was born in Turkey and immigrated to Soviet Armenia in the 1960s, insisted on his innocence after being greeted by family members and activists of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) outside a maximum security prison in central Yerevan.
“I think that during all these years a considerable part of the society has realized what the truth is,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Bojolian said he has not yet decided whether to engage in political activities. “I never engaged in politics. I was a specialist, I did my job … God knows what will happen from now on,” he said.
He also confirmed his strong support for the HAK. “But it would be wrong to give credit only to the HAK because it the people who rose up,” he added.
The HAK has regarded Bojolian as a political prisoner throughout its two-year existence. Its top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, used Bojolian as an adviser and Turkish-language interpreter, during his 1991-1998 rule. The latter was one of Armenia’s few experts on Turkish affairs at the time.
In a long speech at his 2002 trial, Bojolian said that he played a key role in establishing direct communication between the governments of Turkey and newly independent Armenia in 1992. He said that made him the object of envy and jealousy by his Foreign Ministry superiors whom he accused of spreading false rumors in 1992 and 1993 about his links with Turkish intelligence.
He claimed that then Foreign Minister Vahan Papazian, a key member of Ter-Petrosian’s administration, told him to resign or risk criminal proceedings. Papazian denied that in an October 2002 interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, however.
In his initial pre-trial testimony, Bojolian claimed to have passed on a broad range of information about Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to Turkish intelligence agents in exchange for money. The testimony contained detailed accounts of his alleged contacts with MIT during six different trips to Istanbul between 2000 and 2001.
Although the defendant retracted the written account during the trial, the court found it credible. One of the trial prosecutors said that its detailed descriptions “could not have been fabricated even with the best imagination.”
But Bojolian and his lawyers insisted that Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), which handled the case, failed to come up with any compelling evidence. Some Armenian human rights campaigners agree with this assertion. One of them, Artur Sakunts, on Friday called Bojolian a “prisoner of conscience.”