Two young men have gone on trial in Nagorno-Karabakh on charges of collaborating with Azerbaijani intelligence through the Internet.
Rafael Avagian, a 22-year-old Karabakh Armenian soldier, and his friend Davit Barseghian stand accused of high treason and espionage stemming from their communication with an obscure foreigner through a Russian online social network. They both admit having passed sensitive information on to the man but insist that they did not know that he was an intelligence officer.
Avagian, the main suspect in the case, told a Stepanakert court on Wednesday that the alleged Azerbaijani agent identified himself as Samvel Azatian and claimed to be an Istanbul-based representative of an Armenian Diaspora charity when they started communicating about a year ago. He said Azatian claimed that the charity plans to launch benevolent activities in Karabakh and needs detailed information about the disputed territory’s armed forces as well as civilian institutions and infrastructures.
“We made friends and fully trusted each other,” continued the defendant. “Some time later he said that they want to provide assistance to the [Karabakh] Defense Army and needs … details of army units for that purpose . That is why I sent him information afterwards.”
Avagian said he sent pictures and other details of Karabakh army units and received about $1,000 and several other “gifts” in return. He said he then paid Barseghian $200 to travel to an Armenian-controlled district south of Karabakh to take pictures of Syrian Armenian settlers living there.
According to Avagian, the online interlocutor afterwards asked him to make a written pledge to carry out “secret tasks” for money. The soldier serving in the Karabakh army on a contractual basis said he signed a corresponding document sent from Istanbul shortly before his and Barseghian’s arrest.
The arrests were announced by Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) on June 25. In a statement, the NSS also reported the detention on similar charges of a 31-year-old woman serving in the Armenian army.
The NSS said the woman, Mane Movsisian, communicated through Facebook and other online networks with an unnamed Azerbaijani intelligence officer based in Turkey. It claimed that she gave him classified “information of military nature about Armenia.” No further details were reported.