Spy scandal strains Armenian-Turkish relations
|Publication Date||25 February 2002|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Spy scandal strains Armenian-Turkish relations, 25 February 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46f258431c.html [accessed 7 December 2013]|
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Igor Torbakov 2/25/02
A spying scandal has caused a fresh chill to descend over Armenian-Turkish relations. Many experts expect mutual hostility to heighten in the near future, complicating international efforts to promote stability in the Caucasus.
Armenia's National Security Ministry announced that an Armenian national had been taken into custody on January 26 on suspicion of spying for Turkey's intelligence agency. Armenian media outlets subsequently identified the suspect as Murad Bojolian, a former senior official at the Armenian Foreign Ministry. Bojolian, a renowned expert on Turkish affairs, was born in Turkey and moved to Armenia in the 1960s. In the beginning of the 1990s he headed the Armenian Foreign Ministry's Turkey desk. He also served as an interpreter and advisor for independent Armenia's first president Levon Ter-Petrosian.
In recent years, Armenian sources say, Bojolian maintained a modest lifestyle, supposedly earning money as a "shuttle trader." He frequently traveled to Turkey to buy cheap clothes there for reselling at one of Yerevan's markets. Armenia's deputy minister of national security, Grigor Grigorian, said in mid-February that his agency possessed credible evidence to prove that Bojolian gathered political, economic and military information for Ankara. However, Grigorian and other ministry officials have refused to disclose any details of Armenia's first espionage case.
Sources in Yerevan say that the charges of high treason leveled against Bojolian seem to stem from his cooperation with the Turkish mass media, in particular with his freelance contributions to the Turkish channel TV6. Investigators from Armenia's National Security Ministry assert that Bojolian "worked for TV6 secretly," providing "public and classified information about Armenia."
"Irrespective of whether Murad Bojolian's guilt is proved," points out Ara Tatevosian, the Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper's Yerevan correspondent, "it is evident that what has happened is the direct consequence of the extreme tension in Armenian-Turkish relations."
In the short run, relations between Ankara and Yerevan are likely to get worse, regional experts say. Already, Turkish and Armenian media have engaged in a "war of words," casting blame for the deterioration of bilateral relations on the other side. For example, some Armenian newspapers have repeated allegations of a Turkish connection to the October 1999 attack in the Armenian legislature, which resulted in the deaths of the then prime minister and the parliament speaker.
The spy scandal marks the end of an attempted rapprochement between Yerevan and Ankara. That effort got off the ground with a meeting of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission in 2001. The group, comprising non-governmental organization representatives, sought to defuse decades of tension. However, Armenian and Turkish commission members quickly began blaming each other for sabotaging the group's work, and the initiative eventually ground to a halt. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "Efforts to launch a dialog between Yerevan and Ankara have failed," stated Saadet Oruc in the Turkish Daily News.
As recently as January, Armenian-Turkish relations appeared to be on the upswing. A landmark visit by Turkish journalists to Nagorno Karabakh raised hopes at the time that a negotiated settlement could be found. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. At roughly same time, officials of the Armenian-Turkish Business Council issued a statement that argued forcefully for improved relations. "The closed border separating us makes no sense," the statement said.
Just a month later, optimism has faded. Armenian-Turkish tension is likely to have an adverse affect on the Karabakh peace process. Turkey has been a strong backer of Azerbaijan in the stalled negotiations with Armenia. In recent weeks, top politicians from Turkey and Armenia have engaged in an indirect rhetorical duel that doesn't bode well for the future.
During a recent visit to Baku, Turkey's parliament speaker, Omer Izgi, suggested that Armenian intransigence was the primary obstacle to a Karabakh settlement. "Armenia has to withdraw from the Azerbaijani territories. A solution that does not respect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan won't be valid. The Turkish parliament will always be on the side of Azerbaijan in the solution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem," Izgi said in his speech at the Azerbaijani National Assembly. Izgi also said Azerbaijan should not participate in Karabakh talks without Turkish participation. Armenian leaders, meanwhile, remain firm in their insistence that any Karabakh solution should leave the enclave free from Baku's rule. "Karabakh was and will always be Armenian," asserted Armenian President Robert Kocharian.
Editor's Note: Igor Torbakov is a freelance journalist and researcher who specializes in CIS political affairs. He holds an MA in History from Moscow State University and a PhD from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He was Research Scholar at the Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1988-1997; a Visiting Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, 1995, and a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University, New York, 2000. He is now based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Posted February 25, 2002 © Eurasianet