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Armenia: Official Sentenced To 10 Years For Spying For Turkey

A former Armenian government official was sentenced to 10 years in prison today after being convicted of spying for Turkey. A Yerevan court endorsed state prosecutors' allegations that Murad Bojolian committed high treason by secretly providing "political, military, and economic information" to Turkish intelligence. Bojolian denies the charges, saying there is no evidence to substantiate them. His family has pledged to take the politically sensitive case to the European Court of Human Rights if the conviction is not overturned by a higher Armenian court.

Yerevan, 16 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In Armenia, there can hardly be more serious and damaging criminal accusations than the ones leveled against Murad Bojolian. This is a reality of which the former head of the Turkey desk at the Armenian Foreign Ministry is grimly aware.

An Armenian court today sentenced Bojolian to 10 years in prison for spying for Turkey. The controversial trial, Bojolian admitted recently, has already shattered his reputation and ruined his career, even if he is somehow acquitted of the charges.

Turkey, which has no diplomatic relations with Armenia, is still regarded by many Armenians as their country's worst enemy. This sentiment is kept alive by Turkey's continuing refusal to admit to a 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and its pro-Azerbaijani stance in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Hence, the sensitivity of the espionage case, which has not yet prompted any reaction from Ankara.

With Armenian courts rarely ruling against the state, today's guilty verdict was widely expected by those who have been following Bojolian's two-month open trial, including defense attorney Hovannes Arsenian. He denounced the 10-year sentence and promised to appeal it to a higher court. "Hearing the verdict, you could see that it was an exact copy of the indictment presented by the prosecutors."

Arsenian argued that the case is only based on a "false confession" of espionage that Bojolian made immediately after his arrest last January. Bojolian had initially admitted to working for the Turkish intelligence service MIT but later retracted the pretrial testimony and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The defendant claimed during his two-month trial that he fabricated the confession because he feared torture and wanted to ensure the safety of his wife and three children.

The presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, found the explanation unconvincing, however. "The court testimony of defendant Murad Bojolian does not correspond to reality. It was aimed at avoiding responsibility for criminal acts and was disproved by evidence obtained during the pretrial investigation," Martirosian said.

What makes Bojolian's purported confession look credible is its detailed description of his alleged contacts with the MIT during six different trips to Istanbul between 2000 and 2001. Bojolian, who was born in Turkey and holds a doctoral degree in Turkish affairs, claimed to have passed a broad range of information about Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to Turkish intelligence agents in exchange for money.

He had described even the smallest details of his stated secret meetings with MIT operatives, which the prosecution says "complement each other in a logical manner." One of the prosecutors at the trial, Aram Amirzadian, argued that the defendant's initial account could therefore not have been made up "even with the best of imaginations."

But Arsenian insists that mere logic is not sufficient grounds for convicting his client. He said the "self-defamatory" confession is full of contradictions, which the Armenian Ministry of National Security failed to investigate. "They have failed to prove what they say had taken place. Furthermore, they have only accepted at face value [Bojolian's] pretrial testimony," Arsenian said.

The prosecutors also allege that Bojolian collaborated with Turkish spies posing as journalists in the late 1990s. Among them, they say, was Mehmet Ali Birand, a prominent Turkish television commentator who has repeatedly visited Armenia over the past decade. Also mentioned as Turkish spies were the Moscow-based correspondents for the official Anadolu news agency and two leading Turkish dailies, "Hurriyet" and "Milliyet."

Interestingly, Armenian law-enforcement authorities base those claims on official information provided to them by Russia's Federal Security Service. But it is not clear whether they received it before or after Birand's extensive interview with President Robert Kocharian in 2001.

Bojolian, who is fluent in Turkish, began working for visiting Turkish journalists as a fixer and interpreter after losing his Foreign Ministry job in 1993. He insists that he was unaware of their alleged intelligence ties.

Bojolian has led a modest life since being fired from the diplomatic service. Sporadic work for the Turkish media, which also involved freelance article contributions, has been a major source of income for his unemployed family, which became mired in debt after the purchase of a new apartment for $10,000 in 1998.

The former official still owes several thousand dollars to his relatives and acquaintances. This, according to his lawyer, means that he could not have received a total of $9,000 in cash from MIT agents as is claimed by the prosecution.

Bojolian's wife, Lyudmila, meanwhile, said today that she does not expect that the Armenian Court of Appeals will acquit him and plans to take the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all local appeals. "The European Court is my only hope," she said. "I don't believe in our judiciary because it carries out [government] orders."