By Shakeh Avoyan
Three ethnic Russian citizens of Armenia standing trial for allegedly spying for Azerbaijan pleaded not guilty to the charges on Friday, retracting their earlier confessions.
Making their final statements in a Yerevan court, Edgar Filkov, his brother Aleksandr Gasparian and their cousin Ivetta Filkova -- residents of the town of Yeghegnadzor -- said they had given their pre-trial testimonies under duress following their arrest in August 2002. They said they must be acquitted and set free because the prosecutors failed to submit any other evidence of their guilt.
The prosecution claims that the defendants were part of a spy ring led by Nina Shilina, Filkov’s wife. Shilina is said to have used them for regularly passing various types of Armenia-related information to Azerbaijani intelligence agents who had allegedly recruited her in Georgia in 1993.
The prosecutors have demanded 15 years’ imprisonment for Shilina and 11 years for the three other suspects. All of them had admitted to the charges during the highly confidential pre-trial inquiry. Gasparian, who carries his Armenian step-father’s last name, claimed to have traveled from Georgia to Azerbaijan where he said he was interrogated by and received assignments from Azerbaijani intelligence.
Gasparian, who used to serve in the Nagorno-Karabakh army, withdrew the testimony on Friday, alleging that he was coerced to make the confession. Filkov, who had accompanied his wife on her Georgian trips and had allegedly been aware of her mission, issued a similar statement. He said he would have never testified against her wife in good faith even if she had really been guilty.
“If there is anything I can be guilty of, that is my love for that woman,” Filkov declared. “If that requires a punishment, I am ready to face it.”
The prosecutors say Shilina used Filkova because the latter worked at a military base in Yeghegnadzor, a small town 150 kilometers southeast of Yerevan. The area is located near Armenia’s border with the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan.
Shilina, who is scheduled to speak on Monday, is also accused of stealing classified information about the Armenian military from Artur Oganezov, a senior officer at the Armenian army staff, when she visited his Yerevan apartment in 2000. Oganezov, whose wife was a friend of Shilina’s, was subsequently fired from his job and is now facing negligence charges that carry two years in prison.
The eight-month trial, which is nearing its end, marked the first reported case of Armenian nationals charged with spying for Azerbaijan.