|06YEREVAN1019||2006-07-28 12:32||2011-02-18 00:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Yerevan|
|Appears in these articles:
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 YEREVAN 001019
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TAGS: HSTC KTIP KWMN KCRM PHUM PREL PGOV AM
SUBJECT: A PROSTITUTE’S STORY: SEX AND TRAFFICKING IN
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¶1. (C) Poverty and desperation are the largest factors contributing to trafficking in persons in Armenia, according to prostitutes, police and NGOs in Vanadzor, Armenia’s third-largest city. We met them during a July 14 trip to the city, where prostitutes gather after dusk in the traffic circle outside a central church to begin the day’s work. To each we posed the question, “What can be done to eradicate trafficking in persons in Armenia?” No one had an answer, but all agreed that lack of jobs drove women to sell themselves both in Armenia and overseas, where the money was better, but where they often didn’t actually get paid. They told us that girls as young as 11 and 12 have started walking the streets. A police officer told us that parents send their daughters to Turkey fully understanding the cost at which remittances will be sent home. We visited a decrepit shanty town, where prostitutes work for bread and rice, to see first-hand the conditions in which many of them live. We left Vanadzor convinced that, while stricter laws and harsher sentencing are needed in Armenia, prostitutes work in large part because they have to put food on the table, and they go to Turkey and the UAE because they believe the money is better there. End Summary.
¶2. (SBU) We met Aida at the Vanadzor office of Hope and Help, a World Vision-funded NGO that provides medical care and condoms to Vanadzor’s large prostitute population. In 1998, someone offered Aida a job as a dishwasher in Dubai, earning USD 500 per month. Like many other women the world over, she took it, hoping for a brighter future. What followed sounds like a story heard on Oprah or the subject of a television movie: Her passport was taken away on arrival, and she was locked in a hotel with dozens of other girls, forced to service as many as 20 customers a day. Aida was deported a year later, thanks to a law-enforcement raid. She returned to the poor economic conditions of Vanadzor, and set about making a living for herself and her then-7-year-old daughter the only way available to her: prostitution. After she was deported, the pimp in Dubai offered Aida a job as a recruiter who would find Vanadzor girls and entice them to take jobs in Dubai. Aida, now 36, said she turned her down because she knew the recruiters always cheated the women they recruited.
¶3. (SBU) Aida earns about USD 10 per customer, averaging about USD 300 per month. She drinks to make the work easier. “It’s the social condition,” she said. “We realize that it is very bad, but we have to do it.” Aida told us the USG should give money to the recruiters who convince women to go to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, so that they could open a factory and the women could work there instead of having sex for money. Her younger sister, 22-year-old Suzy, just joined the profession two months ago, after her husband divorced her, leaving her with two young children and no income. While Aida was boisterous, laughing and joking, Suzy looked sad and scared. Aida seems accustomed to her lot, and she says there are many others just like her.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRAFFICKING
¶4. (SBU) We went to Vanadzor expecting to hear stories of illicit smuggling across borders and of girls lured into prostitution under false pretenses. What we heard was significantly more pedestrian. According to Aida and Suzy, very few Vanadzor women are tricked into working in Dubai or Istanbul brothels these days. They go knowingly, on legal passports, with legal visas, and for the most part without having to bribe border guards to let them through. They share buses and airplanes with underwear salesgirls traveling to buy more inventory and the odd middle-class family going on holiday. Pre-teenage girls ride buses to Turkey carrying permission letters signed by their parents, who for the most part have dispatched their daughters themselves, and who understand exactly how young Anahit or Armine will earn the several hundred dollars she will send home each month. And while the prostitutes and the NGO employees we met said YEREVAN 00001019 002.2 OF 003 sometimes women are abused in the brothels, or aren’t paid in full, they said the greater part of women generally understand what they are getting themselves into, and may already have worked as prostitutes for years. Far from being the pursuit of violent smuggling rings who kidnap women and sell them into slavery, trafficking in Armenia is largely a result of the poor economy, they said, and has mostly to do with opportunistic pimps taking advantage of women who are already willing to prostitute themselves.
¶5. (SBU) And there are a lot of willing women in Vanadzor. Hope and Help’s Satik Grigoryan told us the NGO has registered more than 200 prostitutes. Aida estimated that 70 percent of women in Vanadzor are prostitutes, drawing laughs from the Hope and Help employees. While her figure was inflated, the statement outlined how pervasive prostitution is in Vanadzor. Prostitutes come to the clinic for regular check-ups and to replenish their condom stocks. Grigoryan told us that most of the prostitutes had never seen or heard of such contraceptives before they came to Hope and Help. She gave Aida and Suzy a couple of chocolates and a fistful of condoms each before they went home.
VANADZOR SLUMS: BREEDING DISEASE AND DESPERATION
¶6. (SBU) Next, we visited the “domik” village on the outskirts of Vanadzor that many prostitutes call home. Domiks are shanties made of pieces of rusty metal that have been roughly soldered together to resemble a cottage. Sometimes they have limited electricity and running water. They rent for 2000 dram a month, or a little less than USD 5. They were built in the late 1980s to house homeless earthquake victims, but the day we visited, the domik residents weren’t any closer to moving out than they had been the day they moved in. The encampment looked like a very rundown trailer park, though trailers would have been significant steps up for its residents.
¶7. (SBU) We entered a domik about 20 feet by 6 feet, divided into two rooms. A small cracked sink piled with dirty plastic dishes jutted out of one wall, which was lined with peeling corrugated cardboard and dirty rags. Our heels sank into the ground under the bits of cloth that served as a carpet. Each room contained two small cots; when we responded to an invitation to sit on one, the damp mattress sank almost to the floor. The air was fetid, smelling of urine and rotting food. Three-year-old Mariam, born with a heart condition, lay listlessly in one of the other cots. She made no effort to swat away the fly that crawled across her face, but responded with a wide grin when we smiled and talked to her in Armenian. Mariam was small and thin for a three-year-old, and her mother told us that she ate, but just didn’t grow. Mariam lives with 11 other people, including a pregnant sister who looks scarcely old enough to be pregnant. There was no toilet, no stove, and no refrigerator, but Mariam’s mother and her friend, a prostitute, sat watching soaps on the television. A lace curtain fluttered over open containers of leftover food on the windowsill, a free lunch for the flies until Mariam grabbed a container and began eating its contents.
¶8. (C) The only male we saw in the domik was Mariam’s brother, an able-bodied young man in his mid- to late teens who begs for money on the street. While we were there, his mother asked Grigoryan whether she had any work for him. Before we left, Grigoryan pulled another fistful of condoms out of her purse, and handed them to Mariam’s mother and her prostitute friend, who proceeded to fight over them. Mariam’s mother wanted them so that she would stop getting pregnant; she appears to be into her 40s, and miscarried twins last year. As we walked out of the domik, the local staff member who accompanied Poloff said she was shocked at the conditions in which Mariam and her family lived.
POLICE: ARMENIAN TIP VICTIMS GO TO TURKEY MORE THAN UAE
¶9. (C) Seeing little Mariam in that domik was made more heart-wrenching by our new understanding of just how young some prostitutes who travel to Turkey are. Rudik Varosyan, head of the department on minors in the Vanadzor police department, told us trafficking in minors is an emerging problem in Vanadzor. He said most Vanadzor women — and YEREVAN 00001019 003.2 OF 003 girls — who go to Turkey to engage in prostitution are not being lured under false pretenses. More and more underage girls are being sent by their families to go and earn a little money, Varosyan said, adding that he has never heard of a case in which a minor went without parental permission. “Some parents are proud that their kids are there making money,” he told us. He said the women and girls who went to Turkey usually were not held prisoner, and they were usually paid, though not necessarily in full. After the women were deported, Varosyan said, they often became recruiters for the pimps in Turkey. Varosyan said it was hard to fight the trafficking organizations because the pimps usually operate through intermediaries who never actually meet them. When police bring a case to court, the intermediary gets nailed, and the pimp continues her business, having suffered only minor inconvenience.
¶10. (C) Though Varosyan clearly took to heart the plight of pre-teen and teenage prostitutes, local NGO staff told us that the police actually help facilitate prostitution. Artur Sakunts of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly told us his organization wanted to look into allegations by locals that the Vanadzor police protected pimps and threatened prostitutes who wanted to quit their jobs. (Note: Aida told us police hindered her work by forcing her to undergo annual medical check-ups. End Note.) Other NGO staff told us about cases of police patronizing the prostitutes. Sakunts corroborated Varosyan’s story about parents forcing their daughters to become prostitutes. Sakunts also noted that the domik village was a prostitution hub: home to a large percentage of the Vanadzor sex trade workforce while also serving as their workplace. Aida told us prostitutes there often work for a bag of rice or a few pieces of bread.
¶11. (C) Many visitors to Armenia who see only Yerevan — with its pretty main square and shiny Hummers and BMW X5s — and leave thinking the country is doing well economically. Armenians and seasoned expats often tell these visitors that there are two Armenias: Yerevan, and the rest of the country. Our trip to Vanadzor was like a spin on the focus dial of a pair of binoculars; afterwards, the distinction was clear to us, and in sharp relief. It is easy, sitting in the relatively well-to-do capital city, to put the problem squarely in the laps of lawmakers and law enforcement, and to bang our fists on the government’s coffee tables to demand that they work harder to stop the crimes. But fist-banging won’t change the fact that many prostitutes work simply to get food on the table, and that they believe they will be paid better in Turkey or the UAE. The Armenian government cannot improve a bad economy with stricter laws and harsher sentencing. While both are needed here, Armenia has to offer these women an alternative to turning tricks if it is to eradicate trafficking.