An Armenian scholar and former diplomat is standing trial on the unprecedented charge of spying for Turkey. Although the trial has exposed many previously unknown facts concerning the suspect's activities, it has produced no evidence of treason.
Murad Bojolian, 52, who once held a senior post at the Armenian Foreign Ministry, is the first Armenian to face such an espionage charge. Bojolian categorically denies engaging in espionage. His lawyer, Hovannes Arsenian, has dismissed his prosecution as a "farce."
Bojolian's trial opened in Yerevan on October 24. The official indictment alleges that the defendant provided the Turkish intelligence service, MIT, 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," state prosecutor Avag Avagian said.
According to the prosecution case, a Turkish agent posing as a Moscow correspondent for the official Turkish Anadolu news agency recruited Bojolian. The state also alleges that Mehmet Ali Birand, a prominent Turkish television commentator who has visited Armenia on several occasions over the past decade, is also an MIT operative.
Birand interviewed Armenian President Robert Kocharian in January 2001, during his last trip to the Caucasus state. Whether Kocharian knew that he is talking to a person seen by his special services as a Turkish spy is not known.
Bojolian, who was born in Turkey and immigrated to Armenia with his family in 1963, argues that there was nothing illegal or unpatriotic in his contacts with Turkish journalists.
He began dealing with them in 1992, in his capacity as head of the Turkey desk at the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan. Later on, after his resignation from the ministry, Bojolian would occasionally work as a fixer for Turkish correspondents that traveled to Armenia on assignment. In 1996, for example, he translated then-President Levon Ter-Petrosian's interview with Birand.
Shortly afterwards, Bojolian, who holds a doctoral degree in Turkish affairs, obtained a part-time consultative job in the presidential administration. At the same time, he wrote analytical articles about Turkey for Armenian newspapers.
In a court testimony November 4, the defendant said that he became a freelance correspondent for the Anadolu agency in June 1998 after being fired from the presidential staff and becoming mired in debt. He said he stopped writing for Anadolu in January 1999 because the latter declined his request for a $100 pay increase.
Bojolian later worked with the private Turkish television network NTV. During this period he occasionally earned extra income by selling goods in a Yerevan market, and periodically traveling to Istanbul to buy cheap clothing for resale. Friends and acquaintances say Bojolian, his wife and three children lived modestly in recent years.
In trying to prove that Bojolian engaged in espionage, prosecutors presented evidence that he received training from Soviet military intelligence, or GRU, in the 1970s for possible war-time operations on Turkish territory.
Bojolian confirmed that he joined the GRU "on patriotic grounds." In addition, he declared that between 1995 and 1996 he secretly cooperated with the Armenian Ministry of National Security, which is now backing the prosecution against Bojolian. His chief duty for the ministry, he said, was writing analytical reports on Turkey and about specific Turkish journalists and entrepreneurs who visited Armenia.
In an October 30 report by the Noyan Tapan news agency, Bojolian suggested the espionage case is motivated in part by jealousy over his ability, while a diplomat, to establish good working relations with his Turkish counterparts. Bojolian claimed that on several occasions he was instrumental in achieving diplomatic breakthroughs, including a 1992 deal in which Turkey provided grain to Armenia on credit.
"According to the defendant, many times when he managed to successfully resolve issues with Turkey, some employees at the Foreign Ministry did not like that," the Noyan Tapan report said. Soon thereafter, rumors began spreading that Bojolian was spying, and in August 1993 he was asked to resign from the diplomatic service, the report said.
Some observers suggest that the Bojolian case may have a connection to domestic political maneuvering in advance of the upcoming presidential elections in February. One theory holds that the incumbent president, Robert Kocharian, is trying to discredit his predecessor and potential 2003 rival, Levon Ter-Petrosian, as Bojolian served as the former president's translator.
The state has so far called only five witnesses in the case. None of the witnesses has provided testimony to substantiate the charge against Bojolian. Three of the witnesses are Turkish nationals identified as exiled members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a rebel group outlawed in Turkey. The three Kurds are said to have lived in Yerevan until recently. Their written testimony, read out in the court, did not endorse official claims that Bojolian had also been instructed by MIT to report on possible PKK presence in Armenia.
So far the prosecution has not presented any documentary evidence substantiating its accusations. Arsenian, Bojolian's lawyer, believes the state does not have any. But in a country where courts rarely rule against the state, a lack of evidence does not necessarily assure the acquittal of his client.
Emil Danielyan is a Yerevan-based journalist and political analyst.