Photo: Murad Bojolian, left, standing next to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian during his visit to Turkey in 1992. Ter-Petrosian is greeted by Suleyman Demirel, then Turkish prime minister.
By Emil Danielyan
Murad Bojolian, a former Armenian government official arrested in January on charges of spying for Turkey, is facing the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence over his freelance contributions to a private Turkish television channel, RFE/RL learned on Tuesday.
Bojolian’s defense lawyer and wife, revealing details of the mysterious case for the first time, said the charges stem from his long-running cooperation with Turkish media outlets, notably the NTV network. They said the National Security Ministry is accusing him of disclosing Armenian state secrets to the Turks.
The lawyer, Hovannes Arsenian, rejected the accusations as “absurd,” in a first verbal attack on investigators from the former KGB. “There were no state or military secrets in his reports,” he told RFE/RL. “In fact, Bojolian has never had access to secrets.”
According to Bojolian’s wife Lyudmila, the former head of the Armenian Foreign Ministry’s Turkey desk was frequently asked by Turkish media to comment on political developments in Armenia. She said that in recent years he mainly cooperated with the NTV television — an affiliate of the U.S. MSNBC network, which in turn is a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.
“When something important happened here, they would call him and he would go on air live,” she said, adding that Bojolian also helped Turkish journalists visiting Armenia with contacts and translation. “Everything was being done officially, through the Foreign Ministry. So he didn’t do anything they were unaware of.”
The National Security Ministry on Tuesday again refused to comment on the case, saying that its details will be made public during Bojolian’s impending trial. So far it has only alleged that the espionage suspect collected “political, military and economic information” for the Turkish intelligence service.
Ministry investigators completed their eight-month inquiry and made its findings available to lawyer Arsenian in late August. The office of Armenia’s prosecutor-general endorsed the text of their indictment and sent it to a Yerevan court of first instance on Monday. The date of the trial is not yet known, however.
Arsenian said his main concern is that the court proceedings will be closed to the public and media on the grounds that they deal with state secrets. He said that would seriously complicate his efforts to prove his client’s innocence.
Deputy National Security Minister Grigor Grigorian assured reporters earlier this year that the trial “will definitely be open.”
The defense attorney also claimed that he still can not disclose all details of the case “in the interests of my client.” But he insisted that Bojolian is a “real patriot” who objectively presented the Armenian perspective to the Turkish public and criticized Ankara’s tough line on Armenia. “He always made the point that Turkish leaders are losing a historic opportunity to cooperate with Armenia,” Arsenian said.
Bojolian, who was born in Turkey and immigrated to Armenia with his family in the 1960s, left the Foreign Ministry in 1993 to work as an advisor and translator for then President Levon Ter-Petrosian. A holder of a doctoral degree in Turkish affairs, he lost the job in early 1998, shortly after Ter-Petrosian’s resignation. Apart from freelancing, he has since earned a living from retail trade, periodically traveling to Turkey for commercial purposes. Bojolian, accompanied by his wife, was arrested by national security agents near the Georgian border during the last such trip.
Ferai Tinc, a columnist with leading Turkish daily “Hurriyet,” told RFE/RL in February that Bojolian was an occasional news contributor to several Turkish newspapers in the late 1990s and once offered to work as a permanent Yerevan-based correspondent for “Hurriyet.” “Everybody here knows him,” she said. “We used to call him to understand what was going on…I never heard of his interpretations. He only needed money.”
In the words of Lyudmila Bojolian, the Turkish NTV channel has avoided any interference in the criminal proceedings, fearing that its public support would be exploited by the investigators. She also accused the national security agency of preventing her from visiting her husband in jail in violation of Armenian law.