By Emil Danielyan
Armenian prosecutors’ espionage charges against former government official Murad Bojolian remained short on hard evidence during the second court hearing of the case on Wednesday.
The prosecution unveiled written pre-trial testimony given by three obscure Kurds none of whom implicated Bojolian, 52, in spying for Turkey.
The three men are officially identified as Turkish nationals affiliated with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a rebel group outlawed in Turkey, and the Kurdish-Armenian Friendship Committee (KAFC), registered as a non-governmental organization in Armenia. They are said to have moved to Armenia at various times and met Bojolian on several occasions in 2000 and 2001.
The official indictment, read out at the start of the trial on October 24, claims that the Turkish intelligence service, MIT, had instructed Bojolian to interview Yerevan-based Kurds and report on possible PKK presence in Armenia. That, according to the prosecution, was part of a broad range of information provided to MIT by Bojolian since 1998.
The court was told that the Kurds hired Bojolian to translate their Turkish-language articles into Armenian. The three witnesses, who prosecutors claim are currently absent from Armenia, said the former head of the Turkey desk at the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan did not seek sensitive information about PKK’s activities. “It never occurred to me that he could be a Turkish spy,” one of them, identified as Mahsun Ali, was quoted as telling investigators from the National Security Ministry in March 2002.
Another Kurd, Yusuf Halaf, was interviewed by Bojolian in 2001 for a news story which the latter planned write for Turkish media. The audio recording of their conversation was confiscated by security officials during Bojolian’s arrest last January.
Bojolian’s defense attorney, Hovannes Arsenian, said the investigators did not even listen to the cassette before interrogating Halaf. Arsenian, who insists on his client’s innocence, said the testimony collected from the Kurds is irrelevant to the case and reflects the absence of any compelling evidence.
The prosecutors have called only five witnesses to substantiate their allegations that Bojolian was recruited by Turkish intelligence in 1998 to collect “political, economic and military information” about Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Four of them are members of the Kurdish group operating in the country.
The fifth witness also cross-examined on Wednesday, Ivan Ghukasov, is a former Transcaucasus station chief of Soviet military intelligence, GRU. Ghukasov was called up to confirm the hitherto secret information that Bojolian had been recruited and trained by GRU in the 1970s for possible war-time intelligence operations on Turkish territory.
Bojolian, who was born in Turkey and holds a doctoral degree in Turkish affairs, admitted cooperating with GRU. “I took that step on a voluntary and patriotic basis,” he told the court. “Although I didn’t like the Soviet regime, I saw it as a protector of my small fatherland.”
By exposing Bojolian’s intelligence background, the prosecutors apparently sought to portray the defendant as a trained specialist capable of engaging in espionage activities. However, Ghukasov’s description of his former trainee was highly positive. “He was a brave and courageous person, a real patriot of the Soviet Union and Armenia,” said the former spymaster.
After Ghukasov’s questioning was over, Bojolian began delivering a lengthy defense speech in with which he tried to disprove the accusations of high treason which still carry a death sentence in Armenia. Giving a detailed account of his professional activities, Bojolian said he fell victim to the envy and jealousy of his Foreign Ministry superiors who allegedly spread rumors in 1992 and 1993 about his links with Turkish intelligence.
He said: “During the most difficult moments — when we couldn’t solve some issues with Turkey — I was assigned to deal with them and came out well of those situations. But some people at the Foreign Ministry were apparently unhappy with all that. They were wondering how I manage to fulfill those missions and came to the conclusion that I am somehow linked to Turkish special services…And in the summer of 1993 I realized that the ministry leadership distrusts me.”
Bojolian claimed that he played a pivotal role in establishing direct communication between the governments of Turkey and newly independent Armenia in the fall of 1992. Shortly afterwards, the two governments reached an agreement on the deliveries of 100,000 tons of Turkish wheat to Armenia which was experiencing severe bread shortages at the time. “Some of that wheat was sent to our soldiers fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Bojolian stressed.
Bojolian further alleged that in August then Foreign Minister Vahan Papazian told him to leave his job or risk criminal proceedings on unspecified charges. He said he chose to tender his resignation.
However, Papazian on Wednesday denied this version of events. Speaking to RFE/RL, he said he had fired Bojolian because the latter was combining diplomatic work with retail trade in Turkish goods. “I told him to make a choice between being a diplomat and a petty trader. He chose the latter,” Papazian said.
Bojolian will continue his testimony on Monday.