Archive for March, 2005
Dubai’s Armenian pimps are notorious for their criminal past. Most of them have been arrested at least once in Armenia for pimping and have spent at least one year in jail.
No one can say how many Armenian prostitutes there are in Arab countries. According to our own one-month investigation, at least 2,000 Armenian women are involved in the sex trade in the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman.
Eliz, an Armenian pimp, was in Dubai in March 2004, but today she and her women, who include underage Armenian prostitutes, are in neighboring Bahrain.
G., a prostitute from Yerevan who has been in Dubai for four years, told us, “Now there are more, probably two thousand of them. You can’t imagine what’s going on now. Several days ago I went to the Indian restaurant in the Marco Polo hotel, and I saw at least twenty Armenians [prostitutes]. You should have seen what they were like; they’re probably all village girls.”
K. from Yerevan told us she felt free and happy in Dubai. “I have everything, I have no problem in my life,” she said.
Armenian prostitutes can always be found the nightclub at the Sheraton or the bar at the Broadway Hotel. There already there by noon, greeted like old friends. They can sit for hours in the bar without ordering anything.
It’s not so easy to get into the Cyclone. Security guards check for passports and visas, and don’t let women in if they catch them with fake documents. They do a face check, too, to keep women out if they’re too old or too ugly.
“Ano has a Xerox machine and she uses it to fake documents. They change the photos on the visas. Sometimes the visa has a Russian or Uzbek name, and the photo is of a totally different person. The photo on S.’s visa is hers, but the family name is of a girl from Uzbekistan.”
Anush, or Ano, is a notorious pimp in Dubai, a middleman between pimps in the UAE and certain officials from the Armenian law enforcement agencies. It was Anush who met these officials when they were visiting the Emirates.
Armenian prostitutes in Dubai can be divided into three groups: prostitutes who work under the supervision of pimps, prostitutes who work independently because they have paid their debts to the pimps, and prostitutes who have become the mistresses of local men who do not want them to have any other clients.
Twenty-three-year-old D. from Gyumri has a three-year resident visa. Her sister N. now has a boyfriend she lives with, Jamal, an Arab from Qatar. She no longer works; Jamal doesn’t let her. The two sisters work in Jamal’s office, N. as a manager and D. as an assistant to the accountant. Since they have resident visas, they can freely go back and forth to Armenia. D. is still working as a prostitute.
There are many cases of Armenian women who have married locals, becoming one of their many wives. These women wear Arabic clothes, change their religion, and adapt to the culture of their “masters”.
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
These are the amounts of bank wire transfers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Armenia over the last four years.
This information, provided to us by the Armenian Central Bank’s public relations department, reveals a significant increase in money transfers from 2001 to 2004.
Why has there been such an increase, and who is sending the money?
We know that many Armenian businesses import different products from the UAE. But this involves sending money to the UAE from Armenia. According to Armenia’s Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, in the last 14 years (1991-2004), Armenian businesses invested $4,356,000 into the UAE. This is a small sum compared to the amount of money that is sent the other way. In the last four years alone, $19,149,000 was transferred to Armenia from the UAE.
The increase of money transfers from the UAE reflects the growth in the sex trade in recent years. It is probably safe to say that this money is sent to Armenia by Armenian pimps and prostitutes. The prostitutes themselves told us that they use banks to send money to their relatives at home. But this is only a fraction of the money sent; the rest is transferred by Armenian pimps, who send part of the money to their relatives, and the rest to unknown recipients. It’s hard for a journalist to prove this. But there are government agencies that could easily find out who regularly receives this money. If, of course, they want to find out.
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
Nights are always mysterious, Arabian nights even more so. The dark engulfs the limitless desert all at once. The yellow tinges of the horizon fade away and vanish, opening the way to the Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Sunlight is unnoticeably replaced by the light of streetlamps. In Dubai, the day has just started…
The sky is full of stars, shining brightly. Down below, there are lights shining with nearly as stellar a glow.
The most characteristic thing about Dubai at night is its cafés, where Arabs enjoy a narghile or a cup of coffee. The coffee here is indescribably delicious. Locals say that the bitterness of the coffee is the real taste of the times.
The seven Arab Emirates united in 1971 and, on a piece of land stretching over eighty thousand square kilometers on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates – the miracle of the East – was established.
This is an old country, however. In the years before Christ, ships would set sail here for different parts of the world. On the shores of the Emirates, in Ras Al Khaima, the ruins of the palace of Queen Savskaya, who captured the heart of King Solomon, are preserved to this day.
Oil, discovered in the 1970s, brought riches to the country.
Each of the Emirs is the absolute ruler of his Emirate. The Sheikh of Abu Dhabi is the President of the UAE. Each Emirate has its own history, traditions, and characteristics. The Emirate of Dubai, however, stands out from the rest because it combines the features of all of the Emirates, becoming a unique melting-pot of sorts.
Dubai is the second largest of the Emirates, and is considered the “gateway to tourism” in the Middle East. It was declared a free economic zone in 1985. Strict Muslim traditions are absent in Dubai. For this reason, Dubai’s policies are frowned upon by some other Arab countries. Many locals resent the freedom with which women on the streets express themselves. However, they do not outwardly reveal this displeasure. For centuries, Dubai had been called the City of Merchants. Dubai has always welcomed traders and travelers with open arms. This hospitality has been preserved to this day.
The Al-Maktoum dynasty has ruled over Dubai since 1330.
The city is divided by the 10-km Khor Dubai Strait. Taking a ride on a small boat, you can see both shores, with wooden boats moored to them laden with goods from India, China, and Africa, and merchants with their tents set up right on the shore, just as it was seven centuries ago.
Dubai’s streets are clean and safe. You can find anything you want here. Dubai is one of the world’s most dynamically developing commercial centers and hosts major international conferences, exhibitions, and festivals. It is considered one of the safest cities in the world, and has been honored with the title “Safest Travel Destination Worldwide” on more than one occasion. The Dubai Shopping Festival is held in the Emirates every year, and has been given the name “Summer Surprises”. The latest goods are on offer during the festival, and various events are organized.
Dubai is also a city of contrasts. Every kind of gambling is forbidden. The strictest punishments have been laid out for crimes related to drugs and sex. But this does nothing to stop a booming sex trade.
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
(Source: Hetq.am) There have been women from Armenia in the United Arab Emirates ever since the early 1990’s, when flights started between Yerevan and Dubai. At first, they would buy cheap goods to sell in Armenia. Then they saw that there was a more lucrative business in Dubai, and they started selling themselves for sex. The more business-minded among them made various contacts and started “exporting” girls from Armenia.
In Armenia, people who traffic in women are referred to as “Mama Rosas”. In criminal reports, they are pimps. In Dubai , they’re called bosses. They have between five and twenty, sometimes even thirty women, working under their supervision. In the past, women could go to Dubai directly from Armenia . Two years ago, however, a new law came into force in the Emirates wherein any woman under 31 years of age was not allowed to enter the country unless accompanied by her husband or parents. For the past two years, dealers in the sex trade have been transporting women under 31 to Dubai through Russia , mainly through Moscow and Krasnodar . There, they are given false passports, which state their age as over 31. Sometimes their names are changed as well. In the UAE there is an unwritten, yet very simple law for the media, both local journalists and foreign correspondents-never write anything negative about the country, especially about Dubai . Articles on crime are very rare in the English language newspapers, though that doesn’t mean that the crime rate is particularly low. Murders are almost never mentioned. Once in a while something slips through in the Arabic papers. For example, in 2004, the mutilated corpses of Uzbek women were found in the desert. The same year, an Armenian girl was murdered in the desert as well. “We wouldn’t come out for a few days, said L., from Yerevan “The police were making the rounds with pictures of the girl, trying to find out something about her. But none of the Armenians said anything and we never found out what happened in the end. They put her picture up at Cyclone and other discotheques.” Passengers who arrive in Dubai have to have their pupils photographed, to make sure they’re not on the Migration Department’s blacklist. If they are, the police are called in right away. But one Armenian prostitute told us that it was possible to tamper with Migration Department’ files. “You can remove data on a person’s pupil and other details from the central computer in Abu Dhabi . You pay money and it is removed. One of our girls, Diana from Dilijan, was deported once and her pupil was photographed, but she came back two months later. Her boss, Anush, spent a lot of money to get that information out of the computer,” L. explained. Nelli, one of Armenia’s most notorious pimps, who as we mentioned in a recent article has passed on her business to her son and daughter-in-law, is now in Yerevan . Every Armenian pimp in Dubai has a man by her side, as a lover and guarantor of security. For Nelli, that man was Hamlet Vardanyan. He was deported from the Emirates, at which point he got a new passport in Yerevan and changed his last name to Mikaelyan. Now, using that name, Hamlet comes and goes to the UAE. Our sources tell us that Nelly is now recruiting a new group of girls in Armenia . “She brings her girls through Krasnodar . That is where her contacts are,” said N., who used to be one of Nelli’s girls. “She pays $1,500 to customs for each girl with a fake passport. She brought me through there as well. When the customs official looked at me, he said ‘So you’re supposed to be 31 years old, eh?’ I was 20 at the time. Hamlet was the one who brought me.” N. paid back the $6,000 dollars she owed Nelly two years ago, and has been working on her own at Dubai’s St. George Hotel ever since.
The Inter City Hotel
The disco in the Inter City hotel closes at 3 a.m. You can find a lot of Armenian women there, from as early as 8 p.m. We even met an Armenian woman dressed in Arabian clothes there; she was playing billiards and talking to men in Arabic. Women don’t cost much at Inter City . No matter how dressed up they are, or how much make-up they put on, their faces still look ravaged. It was here, at 3 a.m. , that we met two bosses selling their women outside the hotel. One was from Uzbekistan , the other from Armenia . Here is a picture of those women. The Uzbek pimp, Amina, was selling 19-year-old Aleka, and the Armenian pimp was offering sixteen-year-old Jasmine. She couldn’t speak a word of English, so her boss was bargaining for her, reminding potential customers that the girl was sixteen, and new to sex, that she didn’t know too much about it.
At 3:10, as my colleague Ara tried to arrange a deal for one of his girls, a drunken Arab started to fight over her with him. Ara apologized to the man a number of times, but he kept shouting. At that moment, a man in uniform came up, and showing his badge, said that he was with the police. “What’s the problem?” he asked Ara. Ara said that there was no problem. The presence of the policeman disturbed neither the Armenian and Uzbek pimps as they made their bargains, nor the dozens of girls looking for customers.
The Tehariyet, or Criminal Investigation Department, has agents everywhere. They know where each and every one of these women lives and works, but they don’t interfere, because the sex business is an integral part of the country’s economy. If it is removed from the system, it is possible that everything in the country will collapse. ” Dubai ‘s charm is in these women,” said a Dutchman around 60 years old, who was here on business at Movenpick Hotel. Once they’ve paid for their women, customers sometimes think they can treat them any way they like. “They beat you sometimes, of course. Or they make you do things that you don’t want to,” said twenty-year-old B., one of the most beautiful Armenian prostitutes in Dubai . B. came here from a village in the Ararat Valley , where she was a refugee from the Azerbaijani city of Kirovabad . She has a son, who she left with her parents when she “went to make money”. “My husband and I are separated, “she explained. “I couldn’t find a job. Wherever I went, they asked me to sleep with them before they would offer me a job. We Armenians are like that – if you’re divorced, then that’s it, they can think anything about you.”
The St. George Hotel
Armenian prostitutes’ have been servicing customers of the St. George Hotel for five years now. Our sources informed us that the owner is a Tajik named Ilias. Ilias is the brother of Sheikh Mustafa, who owns Metro, the largest cab company in Dubai , with 3000 cars. The St. George has restaurants, nightclubs, and bars, including an Azerbaijani place called Baku by Night. We walked into the hotel at 4 a.m. A security guard approached us. We said hello, and asked if there was somewhere we could spend time with some girls. He seemed surprised for a moment, then motioned towards the bar, saying, “Over there, but it’s late, they’ve all gone.” We went into the bar, where we saw two Armenian women sitting next to an elderly Arab, caressing his hands. One of the women was speaking comfortably in English, the other would say something once in a while. We were drinking coffee when women started coming in and out of the bar. The security officials had told them that there were two customers there. We had visited the St. George Hotel before, on our second trip to Dubai. On June 23, 2004, we were in the discotheque there at midnight and heard the DJ greeting the prostitutes as guests from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Armenian and Azerbaijani girls are friendly towards each other here. Far from their homelands, these women from two hostile nations were united in the desert nights by prostitution first of all, and by the history and the Russian language they share. When the Arabic music gets going, the dance floor fills up with drunken men and women. Every dance turns into a belly dance. Armenian, Tajik, Azeri, and Uzbek women sing along in Arabic. They know all the songs by heart, because all their nights are filled with Arabic music. Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
The man in this picture is known as Asad. He is the boss of the Armenian pimps in Dubai.
It was 3 a.m. , February 8, 2004 , and another night had ended at the Premiere, a disco on the first floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. We were waiting in the lobby for a chance to secretly film Asad and his friends. But they never appeared. The sex-trade bosses had gone to a cafe to talk about something, but we never learned what. At 4 a.m. , a security guard asked us to leave the hotel.
We had seen Asad a few times inside the disco, but we couldn’t do any filming, because the security guards at the entrance checked everyone for special devices. After several days, we succeeded in planting a small video camera in the bag of one of the Armenian women, but Asad didn’t come to disco that night.
Asad is well known in Dubai among Armenian pimps and Armenian prostitutes alike. At the Hyatt Regency disco, several Armenian women came up to Asad and exchanged a few words with him. If he didn’t ask them to sit down, they would quickly leave. Usually, if Asad invites a girl to sit down, it means he either wants to spend the night with her himself, or introduce her to his guests.
Asad is from Syria . He probably had Armenian neighbors or friends there, because he speaks some Western Armenian. He solves problems for the Armenian women, and guarantees their safety. Only with his help can Armenian pimps bring women to Dubai in the first place. He is the link between them the UAE immigration department and police. If the Armenians have any problems, Asad is the first one to find out. He’s the one the pimps call if a girl has a visa problem or gets picked up by the police.
Asad’s brother Ali also works in the sex trade, “importing” women from Russia . Through Asad, some of the Russians come to be supervised by Armenian pimps. For instance, in February, Ano (Anahit) from Echmiadzin took charge of a 16-year -old girl from Siberia named Olga. According to one of Ano’s Armenian girls, she paid Asad $6,000 for Olga, underage girls being more expensive.
We met Olga in a second floor apartment Ano rents for the girls (she herself lives on the third floor). The girl had multiple cuts on her arms, as if she had tried to slit her wrists, but she wouldn’t talk about it. We couldn’t find out how she had arrived in Dubai , either, but it’s most likely she was brought here by Ali.
We wrote about Doctor Tigran Melikyan, who takes care of the Armenian prostitutes, in a recent article. A Syrian-Armenian, Tigran went to medical school in Yerevan , and then worked at Yerevan ‘s Hospital No. 8 until 1999. It is possible that Tigran knew Asad back in Syria .
Although all the Armenian pimps and prostitutes in Dubai know Tigran, he has no connections, social or otherwise, with the Armenian Diaspora there. Tigran is probably the only person who can say how many Armenian prostitutes are in Dubai . He works all day long, and still doesn’t have enough time to take care of all the girls.
One Armenian prostitute said that Tigran requires the girls to get an injection every month. “He says that it’s against AIDS,” Diana from Hrazdan explained. She really believes that she is being inoculated against AIDS. When we told her that there was no such drug, she was amazed. “Then what are they giving us?”
On the day they day they get the injection, the girls don’t go to work, since the doctor strictly prohibits sex.
Ali, or the punishment gang
The Armenian pimps have a special method of punishing girls who misbehave. “There is one Arab whose services are used by all the Armenian bosses. His name is Ali, and his nickname is Papa Tulip. The girls call him Ali the Tail. “He has long hair, and wears it in a pony tail,” explained Anush from Yerevan , who has been here two years. She works for Nelli, also known in Armenia as Sverdlov Street Nelli. “The boss calls Ali, he comes and takes girls to the Sahara Desert [this is probably is a nickname for a local desert], where several people rape her and beat her. Then they bring her back. When our Shushan ran away, they caught her and took her to the desert. She was in horrible shape when she came back. It took her several days to come to her senses,” said Ani, a girl who belongs to another pimp, Bad Nelli. All the Armenian prostitutes are scared of Ali.
“Once another girl was taken to the desert,” said Armine from Masis. “Afterwards, she swore that she would get revenge. The next day she went to the police, and told them that she had been raped and beaten. The police arrested Ahmed, Ali, and Omar and they went to in jail for two months.”
After they repay their debts to the pimps, some of the Armenian women start to work independently. Anush, who is 24, now works for herself and lives with a girl from Russia . She has regular clients and feels safe. One of her clients got her a working visa from Yerevan , and now she has no more problems crossing the border. Nelli, her former boss, now lives in Yerevan , though her son David and his wife Gayane are in Dubai . All the members of this family are notorious pimps. Gayane was arrested in Armenia and charged with pimping in the 1990’s.
Amin is Asad’s African manager. During the day he collects money from the Armenian pimps. He also has several groups of Armenian prostitutes under his direct supervision. Twice, we followed Amin near the Armenian pimp Anush’s house, hoping to photograph him, but didn’t succeed. Both times, he entered Anush’s apartment at exactly the same time, 3 p.m. , and then left after half an hour. Each time he drove a different car.
In early February, we were told by Armenian prostitutes, three officials from Armenia ‘s Prosecutor General’s Office were in Dubai . They had also been there the last time we visited. On their first visit, the officials had spent time at the Cyclone. But that’s another story.
The Armenian Network in the Dubai Sex Trade
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
“My sister is 15. I want to bring her here, because I don’t have money. She is suffering there, too. She doesn’t have a baby. She is more young. If she is here, it will help us,” says T. from Tanzania, weeping.
We had met her at one a.m. , in the vicinity of the mosque near the Landmark Plaza Hotel, where women from Tanzania who have come to Dubai to work as prostitutes wait for customers.
We agreed on a price with T. and M. -100 dirhams each (30 dollars) for an hour-without any haggling, and headed for the Alshiraa Hotel in a taxi. This is where dozens of Tanzanian prostitutes take their customers.
M. took me to her room. There were two beds in roughly eight square meters of space, separated by a curtain. She locked the door with a key, and started to undress. I told her that we were only going to talk. I also said that we were journalists, and that we were working on an article. We wanted to know how she happened to come to Dubai from Tanzania . When I mentioned her homeland, she laughed out loud. At that moment, someone unlocked the door from the outside. I looked at her, surprised, and asked who it was. She replied calmly that it was her girlfriend, with a client. I couldn’t see behind the curtain, but I heard the voices of a man and a woman. M. said that I should forget about them, that they would leave soon – have sex and leave. I asked her if we could go somewhere else, to T.’s room, where she and my colleague Ara were talking.
Ara was sitting on the only bed in T’s room, talking to the African woman. When we went in, her eyes were wet with tears.
35-year old T. said that she had never had customers like us, that nobody had ever asked about her village or her family before. There were photographs of her husband and daughter on the nightstand next to her bed. T. told us that roughly 200 Tanzanian women were working as prostitutes in Dubai . She was born in the village of Bokhova . ” Tanzania is a very beautiful country,” she said. She has been working as a prostitute in Dubai for five years.
When we asked her how old she was, she said, ” I look more, because I have so many problems. If I didn’t have problem, I’d look younger, but now I have so many problems. You know, in Tanzania, there’s too much fighting. That’s why my husband died. My husband, my mother, my father died. I have five sisters, I have three babies from my husband. But I don’t have a job, I don’t have a house, I and my sisters are suffering.
After my husband died, I stayed in my country two years. I slept in the street, and my children too. There are many people living in the street in Tanzania. Then my friend got a visa for me. But I had no money for the ticket. I got money from my friends and I got a ticket and came here. I had to give back 2,000 dollars, I gave them their money. Before, I was here two weeks, I got money and went back. Now Dubai is difficult . Police, if they catch you, they take a picture of your eyes and they make a stamp and you’ll never come back. The police don’t take money. I have no boss, I am alone here, I have no friend here. Every day, when I am outside the police catch me. If we come out in a taxi, the police says you are black, he [the customer] is white. Why?”
T. pays 100 dirhams a day for her hotel room. “If I get a customer, I pay 20 dirhams down. Maybe I pay 100 dirhams for each day four days, but no work. So I have to sometimes stay outside, sometimes no food, I have problems. I stand in the street. Am I looking good? No, I am not looking good, but what can I do? I never feel pleasure doing this job,” she said.
T. was the third of ten children. “Before I was 15, I didn’t see any problem. I had ten sisters and brothers. Now I’m the oldest sister, because my oldest sister died, because of sickness. Now I am the oldest and must hold the family, but I have no house. At 15 years old and now I don’t have a difference, because then I had only food, blouse, and school fees, but we were not sleeping good, we were not eating good, we got clothes not good. In Tanzania , school fees are 100 dollars for 3 months. My children, sister’s and brother’s children, are only sitting, no school fees, just sitting. I have no money for school. In my country, too many people in the street, no food, no blouses, no job,” T. said, crying.
“I don’t go to the disco, I don’t want to sit somewhere. If I stay in, I’ll get no customer. Before I stayed in and I didn’t get even one customer, just sleeping. I have not easy money for my baby. I stand in the street, if he likes, he comes. There is 18, 20, 25 year-olds from Tanzania , I think, in the same situation. I miss my country. I’d like to go back, if you know..” she broke down and wept.
“You think this job is good? It is not good. I don’t like even one day, but. This is not a job. I have not permanent customers. I get a customer, tomorrow another. This job is good, if I get 2000 dollars, I won’t stay here. I’m feeling bad, but.I don’t have a job in my country, because I don’t have good school. I didn’t go to school, because my mother and father were poor – no money, just to stay, to get food.
“I don’t want to talk about this work, because I don’t like this work. I hate it, my heart cries every time, because five years I’m supposed to be in my country, to my baby, but.I suffer there in my country, I suffer here in Dubai .
“I pray every day, if I only get 2000 dollars, I’ll go back to my country, to my baby, I won’t do this job, I don’t like it, I hate it.
“My customers do me badly, take my breast. What can I do? I want money. Customer says why you don’t give me a kiss, fighting. Customers don’t want to take a condom, but if not, I give the money back, because I have children.
“Now is tonight, but I can’t sleep. I think about everything. I pray, God, please give me money and I’ll go back to my home, my family, and my children. I don’t drink. But now I drink, I can’t speak to anybody, so I drink.
“I pray so much, I say God help me, I get more money, I see my baby. God help me, I don’t want this job, I hate. I pray to get money. I should someday, must be happy-good feeling, eating and .get school fees. But now, I don’t know, now my children may be not eating, I don’t know, may be not sleeping.”
T. plans to stay in Dubai for another six months. Her sister, J. who is now caring for T.’s children, needs money, and T. plans to bring her to Dubai to work as a prostitute as well. We took contact information for her sister, hoping to find someone who can stop her from coming to Dubai .
As we leave, T. said, “Pray for me.”
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
We first met Suzy at the Cyclone nightclub, pretending to be two Americans. The next day, we invited her by phone to the Movenpick Hotel. We negotiated a price, and then told her that we were Armenians, looking for our 18-year old relative. Suzy started telling us where we could find Armenian women. Sometimes she even took us to the places herself. Of course, we always paid for her time, so that her boss (that’s what prostitute call their pimps) wouldn’t complain. Suzy is one of two women we’ve kept in touch with for a year now. We got her a new cellular number in Dubai, which she could use to call us. For months on end, we received information from Suzy and her colleague in Dubai.
To take a girl to a hotel, you usually have to pay. The price depends on the number of stars the hotel boasts. At the five-star Movenpick, we paid 100 dirhams (30 dollars). At Raffi’s Hotel, we were once asked for 200 dirhams. There are some hotels that don’t let you bring girls in, though among the nearly one thousand hotels in Dubai, those are few and far between. Suzy mainly frequents two discos-Cyclone and the Hyatt Regency. “When we’re with a customer, the boss, or one of his trusted girls, calls all the time, until you say ‘They’ve given me the money,’ ” she explained.
Suzy is from a small city in Armenia. She got married when she was 16. “We loved each other. He left me with two children two years ago, went to Moscow to work and didn’t want to come back or help us any more, either. I went to live with my parents,” she said.
Suzy’s father is a mid-level employee at a government agency in Yerevan. “I wasn’t financially that desperate, that wasn’t why I came here. I just didn’t want to be a burden on my parents – I wanted to live with my children in my own house there,” Suzy said.
“A close friend of mine said that she worked in Greece collecting fruit and made good money. She suggested going there together. She said that she’d been there a year already. I decided to go, and the two of us told my parents that we were going together. They consented. She then said that since I had visa problems, she would go there and have her acquaintances solve my visa issue, and then meet me there. She introduced me to a woman, who I then left for Moscow with, ostensibly to go to Greece from there.
“A man named Anushavan met us in Moscow. I stayed there for ten days. It was my first time in Moscow. I was alone in that room. Then they told me that the work was in Dubai – that was where I had to go. My friend called too, and said that she would meet me at the airport.”
Suzy told us all this back in July 2004. They had a fake Russian passport issued for her in Moscow, which gave the 27-year old’s age as 31. Her first and last names were kept the same, but her patronymic was changed to Andreyevna in the passport. “My friend really did meet me at the airport and then told me what work it was that I had to do. She told me not to worry, that everything would be fine. I didn’t know what to do,” said Suzy, who had little formal education and knew no foreign languages. When we met her in July, could speak no English except to mention her price. At that time, she had been in Dubai for only three months.
You could tell from the faces of some of the prostitutes that they were having a hard time doing their work. Suzy was one of them – she would always stand in a corner at the disco, thoughtful and sad. When we mentioned this the first time we met her, she blushed and said, “You have to be a certain kind of person to be able to… I can’t, it embarrasses me.” When we asked how much money she had made so far, she said, “Very little, they don’t let me keep count. I’ve been working three months, but there have been days when I haven’t had a single customer. I’m not allowed to keep track. Do you know what the boss would do if he saw me keeping count?” In July, Suzy’s boss was a local, as the girls say. “He comes every day and checks on us. He comes between midnight and 1 a.m.”
Suzy and the other Armenian girls live in an apartment building across from the Hyatt Regency Hotel. We did manage to see Suzy’s boss once-he was a 35-year old African Arab called Amen-but we never managed to photograph him, not in 2004, during our first visit, nor while we were in Dubai this past winter. We did, however, see him at the disco in the Hyatt Regency a number of times in February 2005.
“All the bosses are very strict,” Suzy said. “They don’t let you do anything without their consent. Even when I want to call my kids, I have to ask him for permission to call them. He stays with me and listens to what I’m saying. He is very strict.”
As a rule, Armenians prostitutes working in the disco try not to talk to each other. “One Armenian girl is not allowed to say hi to another,” Suzy told us. “When we come to work, they take us to a hairdresser’s to have our hair done. The bosses tell them to do our hair the way they want it.”
There are ten other women working with Suzy, aged 16 to 28. “One of our girls couldn’t bear it any longer, she turned herself in to the police. They sent her back to Armenia. But I’m too scared to go to the police. I can’t bear the thought of being sent to Armenia like that, when everyone would know what I had been up to all this time… I would rather die. My father would kill me!” Suzy said, in despair. Nevertheless, she told her mother everything on the phone a few months ago. Her mother, she said, had no idea what to do.
“She’s scared too. Sometimes I do feel like going to the police and turning myself in. I can’t bear it anymore, and think that I should let whatever happens happen. There’s something wrong with one of my kidneys–I go to a doctor, and give him some of the money I make. The doctor’s Armenian – his name is Tigran. He takes care of all the girls and gives them injections or cleans them, if there are any problems.”
And there always are problems. Sometimes, the customers do not want to use condoms; if the girls resist, they are beaten. According to Suzy, there have been a number of pregnancies. Most of Suzy’s customers are Iranian. “Our bosses don’t let us go with local people because it’s too dangerous. For example, take what happened to one Armenian girl recently. They took her – she didn’t know they were locals – to Sharjah. There were ten or fifteen men, and that one girl, just imagine. She was from Yerevan and had cleared her balance, which meant she no longer owed the boss any money. She had taken her passport and was working on her own. They tricked her, took her away, and she ended up being with fifteen men!
“The girls don’t share their earnings with each other – they give everything to the boss right away. Some customers take two girls at once. If you don’t want to work, they force you to – they call Ali, he takes you away, beats you, some people rape you and then bring you back. All the Armenians know Ali and are terrified of him.
“I have both physical problems – fatigue, for one – and psychological, but it’s mostly psychological. I miss my kids. I miss them a lot. They always say ‘Come home soon.’ It’s very hard, and it’s a very bad job. You’re forced to do it – it becomes second nature after a while. Some of the girls can’t work, but they are forced to do it for only 20 or 30 dirhams. It becomes second nature – you get so used to it, that you don’t feel a thing. You do things, but it means nothing to you,” says Suzy, downcast.
Suzy is one of the few Armenian girls that we have met in Dubai who can unquestionably be considered a victim.
In order to prevent disease, all the Armenian prostitutes visit Dr. Tigran Melikyan, who gives them injections. He works in a clinic in Sharjah and treats everything from gynecological diseases to vertebral problems. In order to meet Dr. Melikyan, one of us had to pretend to be ill.
Tigran Melikyan knows all the Armenian bosses. He is an important part of the Armenian prostitution network, a network with a clear place in the Dubai sex trade.
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian