Yerevan Pledges ‘Open Trial’ for Turkish Spy

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Top national security officials pledged Wednesday to hold a fair trial for the Armenian man arrested on January 26 on charges of spying for Turkey–as independent Armenia’s first espionage case remained shrouded in secrecy.

The ministry of national security refused to divulge details of the criminal case against Murad Bojolian–a Turkish-born citizen of Armenia who used to work at the Armenian foreign ministry and the office of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

The holder of a doctoral degree in Turkish studies–Bojolian is said to have made a living from retail trade in recent years–periodically traveling to Turkey to buy cheap goods for his market stall in Yerevan. He has already been formally charged with high treason and will face at least ten years in prison if found guilty by the court.

It is still not clear however–what the accusations stem from. Officials from the national security ministry–which is conducting the inquiry–have declined to confirm or deny media reports about the identity of the accused. It was first disclosed by a Yerevan newspaper late last week.

"State interests dictate that we do not give any names at this point," the deputy minister of national security–Grigor Grigorian–told reporters. "There is definitely going to be an open trial and you will get answers to all questions."

A ministry spokesman told RFE/RL that the suspect’s pre-trial arrest has been formally sanctioned by a judge in accordance with the Armenian Code of Procedural Justice. But he refused to unveil the name of the judge or the date of the court order.

Meanwhile–more eyewitnesses said on Wednesday that Bojolian was detained at an Armenian checkpoint on the Georgian border on his way to Turkey. They said he and his wife were told to leave one of four buses heading for Istanbul that day. One passenger said all of the buses were held up at the border for several hours.

The buses regularly shuttling between Yerevan and Istanbul mainly carry Armenian traders who buy Turkish products to sell them in markets across Armenia. Travel agencies organizing the bus tours told RFE/RL that Bojolian was among their regular clients. One such agency–Buse–said it had twice arranged trips to Istanbul for Bojolian in April and July last year. His last–failed trip was organized by another bus operator. The Turkish owner of the bus which Bojolian boarded on January 26 said he has not been questioned by the Armenian law-enforcement agencies.

Bojolian–who headed the Turkey desk in the Armenian foreign ministry in 1991-93 and was Ter-Petrosyan’s Turkish interpreter afterwards–is said to have led a modest life since losing his government jobs.

"Last time I met him he was in need of money," said Ferai Tinc–a columnist with a leading Turkish daily–"Hurriyet."

Tinc–who had interviewed Ter-Petrosyan with Bojolian’s assistance in the mid-1990s–said the Armenian scholar later became an occasional news contributor to several Turkish papers and once offered to work as a permanent Yerevan-based correspondent for "Hurriyet." The paper could not hire him "because of financial problems," according to her.

"Everybody here knows him. We used to call him to understand what was going on," Tinc told RFE/RL from her Istanbul office. "He spoke Turkish and helped us with translations. For example–when I sent some questions to Ter-Petrosyan he translated and sent them back. But I never heard of his interpretations. Nothing. He only needed money–he wanted to be a correspondent of some newspaper."

Bojolian’s lawyer–Ruben Balabanian–could not be reached for comment and it remained unclear whether his client has pleaded guilty to the charges. His wife–Lyudmila Bojolian–has dismissed the case as "fabricated."

One Armenian travel agent who has dealt with Bojolian said she finds it hard to believe the accusations. "I have seen him many times and can say only good things about him," she said.

Deputy minister Grigorian–however–insisted that his agency does have credible evidence to back up its allegation that Bojolian gathered "political–economic and military information" for the Turkish intelligence service MIT.

But Tinc countered that "Turkey doesn’t need Murad Bojolian to get political and economic information" on Armenia. "Economic information is on the table–everybody knows each other’s economy…To tell the truth I’m very–very sorry for him," she said.

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