Archive for category Desert Nights
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|Appears in these articles:
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SUBJECT: A PROSTITUTE’S STORY: SEX AND TRAFFICKING IN
…C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 YEREVAN 001019 SIPDIS SIPDIS DEPT FOR EUR/CARC, DRL, G/TIP E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/28/2016 TAGS: HSTC KTIP KWMN KCRM PHUM PREL PGOV AM
¶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.
Ara Manoogian is an American-Armenian living and working in the self-declared Republic of Nagorno Karabagh. He is the grandson of Shahan Natalie, a famous Armenian writer and activist, and works for the foundation established in his grandfather’s name.
Through this foundation he has conducted a number of high-profile investigations into corruption and human rights related issues in both Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. His most recent was conducted in collaboration with Edik Baghdasarian, Editor-in-Chief of Hetq Online, who investigated the trafficking of women and children from Armenia to the United Arab Emirates.
ONNIK KRIKORIAN: You’ve recently returned from your third and final trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where you were involved in an investigation into the problem of trafficking from Armenia. When did this investigation start?
ARA MANOOGIAN: Edik Baghdasarian and I started this investigation at the beginning of 2004 although we had discussed this problem on many occasions prior to that. From reading many reports from international organizations in Armenia, we knew that there was a problem and so, at the beginning of 2004, we decided to examine the situation on the ground to determine whether those reports were accurate. On our first trip to Dubai in February or March 2004, we very quickly discovered where the Armenian girls were although we spoke with only one girl at first. When we noticed the sad look on her face, we considered that she was a possible victim. She reminded me very much of girls from Nagorno Karabagh and as it turned out, she was a refugee from Azerbaijan.
She was twenty or twenty-one years old and was divorced from her childhood sweetheart who left for Russia because of the harsh economic condition in the country — leaving her alone to bring up her daughter. Because she had been unable to find employment that would pay her a decent living wage, and as she was a very beautiful girl, she said there were only a few options available to her. She could either work in a store in Armenia for 30,000 drams (about $60) a month and be expected to sleep with her boss or she could go “elsewhere” to find work. In a sense then, she was in Dubai voluntarily and we discovered that she partially knew what she was getting herself into. However, she did admit that she wasn’t expecting Dubai and other Arab countries to be so rough and dangerous, especially for girls.
OK: Do you consider that she was a victim in the sense that as a single mother unable to support her family in Armenia she had no choice but to find this type of work abroad?
AM: Yes, that’s what she felt. Incidentally, on our third trip we tried to find her again but her phone had been disconnected.
OK: Were most of the girls at least partially deceived into working abroad as prostitutes?
AM: I would say that a large number of girls from Armenia are tricked into coming by being offered an opportunity to find employment outside Armenia. Speaking to these girls, most seemed very naive and uneducated. Many came from broken homes. However, we also visited a hotel in Dubai called the St. George that accommodated a couple of hundred Armenian girls, most of whom appeared to have come to Dubai voluntarily. Even there, however, we found a few girls that had been tricked into coming by friends already working in Dubai. Because we knew that we had to get inside this ring to collect information, we also managed to discover which girls were truly the victims of trafficking and which were not. As a result, those that had been tricked wanted to expose those responsible for their situation.
OK: That sounds a little risky. I would imagine that those responsible for trafficking are not people you want to mess with. All you needed was one girl to tell her trafficker what you were doing…
AM: We think that there was one girl like that and on my last week I was followed everywhere so yes, that risk did exist. However, the girls we trusted were quite reliable for the most part and nothing serious happened.
OK: How old were the girls?
AM: We heard that there were fourteen year olds in Dubai but the youngest I personally saw was sixteen. The oldest was about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old.
OK: How did these girls manage to enter a country such as the United Arab Emirates which has very strict rules of entry, especially for young women and girls traveling alone?
AM: From what we were told and from what we saw in the form of documents, the girls were first taken to Russia where false passports are prepared. Usually, the first names of the girls are kept the same, and sometimes even their surnames, but their date of birth is changed to make them over thirty. However, because they still appear to be, and actually are, younger it appears that the authorities in the UAE are therefore involved. These girls are not even questioned about their passports when they enter the country.
OK: What you’re saying is that nobody bothers to question these young girls traveling on passports indicating that they are, in some cases, twice as old as they actually are when entering the UAE?
AM: Actually, the passports they’re traveling on are the old red [Soviet] passports which, I think, are not recognized anywhere else in the world apart from in the UAE.
OK: Presumably, the same is true when the girls leave Russia?
AM: From what these girls told us, they actually have two passports. They leave Russia on their Armenian passport but then, when they board their flight, they hide it in one of their shoes and enter the UAE on their Russian passport.
OK: When they arrive in Dubai, do they still retain their passports?
AM: No. The trafficker takes all of their documents when they arrive and gives them a Xerox of their fake passport and visa which is sufficient for them to travel around and stay in hotels.
OK: What happens then? After working for the traffickers, can they eventually buy back their passports?
AM: Yes, they can buy back their freedom. The way this works is that the trafficker decides their “debt” which varies between $6-12,000. I’m not sure how the debt is determined but anyway, the girls work and give all their income to the trafficker who sends a minimum of $100 a month to their families in Armenia who presumably think that they are working in Russia, Greece, Spain or some other country. After the “debt” is “settled,” their documents are then returned and the girls are given the option to continue to work in the UAE under the protection of the trafficker who takes a percentage of the money they earn.
OK: How many Armenian girls are working as prostitutes in the UAE?
AM: We can’t put a concrete figure on this but initial figures from various organizations estimate that there are approximately five hundred. However, I personally saw over two hundred girls in only four or five locations but others are known to be working in other places. Edik went to other locations that I didn’t, for example, and reported that there were also a large number of girls from Armenia there. Therefore, based on what we saw and from speaking to the girls themselves, I’d say that there are as many as two thousand Armenian girls working in the UAE. I would say that this is a realistic and believable figure.
OK: Is there enough evidence to take legal action against anyone involved in the trafficking of women and children from Armenia to the UAE?
AM: Yes, and we will be pursuing the matter once our film is ready. We would expect some arrests to be made later and maybe even prior to the completion of the film. Many of the articles we have already published are accompanied by pictures of people involved in trafficking and one woman wanted by Interpol is currently in jail in Armenia. However, she is only serving a light sentence.
OK: I remember this case from one of your articles. You suggest that this particular woman returned to Armenia knowing full well she would be imprisoned for a short period of time in order to clear her name off Interpol’s list.
AM: Yes, and if the law worked, she would be facing additional charges.
OK: Is this the problem, then? Is the law not functioning correctly or are sentences for trafficking simply too light?
AM: The law contains provisions to hand down heavy sentences to traffickers but the legal system is not functioning correctly. I was present at the trial of five traffickers in Armenia last August and as far as I am concerned, Judge Ohanian and the prosecutor failed to do their jobs properly. These individuals should have received sentences of at least ten years but when Gulnara Shahinian, an expert on trafficking, presented the judge with details of Armenia’s international obligations to prosecute those guilty of trafficking, he instead insisted on prosecuting them with old Soviet laws that carried lighter sentences of only two years.
OK: Why do you think that was?
AM: The evidence we collected on three trips suggests that there are officials in Armenia and the UAE that are directly involved in trafficking. There is not a single doubt in my mind that they are directly involved.
OK: If that’s the case, and after talking about possible risks in Dubai, isn’t it potentially dangerous to expose those responsible for trafficking in Armenia?
AM: We’re in the homeland.
OK: That gives you protection?
AM: Yes. In fact, it gives me a great deal of protection because my family has conducted this kind of work for many, many years and my grandfather as well as the foundation established in his name is very well respected by the Minister of Defense and the military. As a result, I’m not concerned at all and anyway, I’m a true believer in fate. When someone’s time comes, that’s their time. I’m not a person who lives in fear and it is for that reason that I do what I do. It has to be done.
OK: Now that Hetq Online has examined the problem of trafficking from Armenia to the UAE, what do you think the Armenian Government’s response should be?
AM: The Armenian Government’s response should be to denounce this as not being culturally cohesive and as being wrong. However, the Government has known about this problem for a number of years and I’m still unable to comprehend why it has not yet issued any additional statement on the matter. Regardless, the Armenian Government, as well as the Church and the Diaspora, needs to take a strong position on this problem. What we have discovered, and what we have published up until now, is irrefutable. The evidence is there and it’s unreasonable for people to go into denial.
OK: However, do you think that it’s considered culturally taboo to talk about such issues?
AM: Absolutely, and what I’ve noticed from my own internet blog where quite a few of the articles have been republished is that few readers want to publicly comment on the findings of our investigation. Of course, I’ve received some private emails which have been very positive and there have also been some financial commitments from readers for future investigative work but only on the provision that these donations are made anonymously. Otherwise, it would appear that many Armenians in the Diaspora, and even here in Armenia, are in shock.
OK: It’s also interesting to point out that one of those responsible for funding this investigation is a prominent Diasporan who also prefers to remain anonymous. It’s good that they supported this project, of course, but very interesting to note that they don’t want their name to be known. Ironically, however, you would have thought that it is precisely these people that should be acknowledged and appreciated.
AM: There were also some donations from a number of other individuals that wanted to remain anonymous. However, a number of others who said that they understood the importance of this work declined. Presumably this was because they were afraid of the possible fallout.
OK: There’s also a sizeable Armenian Community in the UAE. Were they willing and able to assist in your investigation, albeit anonymously?
AM: No. You have to understand that unless you are born in the UAE, almost everyone is on a residency visa and because the Government is directly involved with trafficking, the Armenians living and working there chose not to be involved in any shape, form or fashion even though I’m sure that many would have liked to have been. Because we understood that situation we pretty much left the Armenian community alone.
OK: What about the Diaspora in the United States and Europe. They don’t face any risk so what do you think they should do?
AM: I’ve received emails from Armenians in the Diaspora who say that they found this investigation very “interesting.” Unfortunately, the problem of trafficking is not “interesting.” It’s very sad and shouldn’t be looked upon as just another human interest story. It is instead an issue that affects all of us regardless of whether these girls went to the UAE voluntarily or not. The reason why this phenomenon exists today is economic and therefore, it is resolvable. However, it will take commitment but until then, Armenia is in a situation that I would describe as being out of control.
OK: Do you think that the Diaspora should speak out about such issues?
AM: Absolutely. The Diaspora, or at least those who have a sense of belonging, has a responsibility to do so. Unfortunately, the Armenian Government does not understand the concept of civil service or the fact that they are civil servants. This has to change and Armenians in the Diaspora can assert a certain amount of pressure on the Government to do so. However, so far they’re not. Instead, there’s a certain mentality that’s probably very damaging for this nation. It’s the idea of something being “amot (shameful).” I’ve heard this over and over again and the notion that it’s shameful to talk about problems such as trafficking. It’s much easier to ignore the problem but, in my opinion, there’s nothing shameful in talking about such problems if the situation can be changed as a result. The Armenian Diaspora can play a role in that and perhaps I’m evidence of that.
OK: However, you’re just one person out of six million.
AM: Yes, I’m one of six million but my voice has been heard time and time again and I’ve achieved results. If properly coordinated, I believe that other individuals and organizations can also have a positive impact in determining the future of our nation. In my opinion, it’s time for the Diaspora to wake up. When people remain silent, they can only contribute to perpetuating such problems.
OK: Of course, some people, especially in the Diaspora, might instead criticize you for concentrating only on the negative aspects of life in Armenia. How would you respond to those that accuse you of dirtying the country’s image abroad?
AM: I would say that unless we address the problems that threaten the future of this nation, there can be no moving forward. However, I’d also add that I think of myself as an optimist and believe that Armenia has a promising future if these problems are resolved.
Edik Baghdasarian and Ara Manoogian’s investigation into the trafficking of women and children from Armenia can be read online at http://www.hetq.am. Ara Manoogian’s blog from Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh, Martuni or Bust, can be read online at http://www.aramanoogian.blogspot.com.
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
See also: Desert Nights – 1
Armenians in the Dubai sex trade
Ask any taxi-driver in Dubai where to find girls, and you’ll get the same answer-Cyclone. That’s where Marietta Musayelyan, a notorious madam from Etchmiadzin, sends her girls at night. Cyclone, the most popular nightclub in Dubai , was owned by Indians a year ago, but today, according to a local who preferred to remain anonymous, it belongs to two high-ranking officials from Dubai ‘s Immigration Service and Police Department. It’s hard to verify allegations like that in Dubai . In fact, it’s hard to get any information at all from government agencies in the United Arab Emirates , especially for foreign journalists.
When the club closes at 3 a.m., hundreds of men and women pour into the street, and the choosing and bargaining begin. The air is thick with the delights of the sex trade and the English words “How much? How much?” Clients mostly want to know the price of an hour, or a night. Girls advertise their skills-different kinds of sex, twosomes, threesomes. A black woman points to her bottom and says to my colleague, Ara, “Look, it’s great for sex.” A Chinese woman takes my hand and says she can give me a massage that will make me feel good. The johns are all different ages, from every walk of life. Sometimes expensive cars drive up, and selections are made from inside them. It’s like an oriental bazaar, but the only things for sale are women’s bodies, with men and women drunkenly haggling over the price.
O. G. was one of Marietta’s girls, known at Cyclone by the name Baby. When Ara asked her in English the price for one night Baby giggled and said it was 1,000 drahms ($300), and one hour was 500 drahms. That was the sum total of her English.
O. G. turned 18 in December 2003. She was in Yerevan then, seven months pregnant. A month later, via Moscow, she was in Dubai . She had been sold to Marietta in Yerevan and delivered to Moscow by Sirushik and Nelli, who were paid $500.
“They kept seven of us in a third-floor apartment in a tall building in Moscow,” 19-year-old Suzy from Yerevan said. “We were met at the airport by a tall guy named Armen. When he took us to that apartment, another guy came. They called him Sevo. He was from Gavar. They took our passports, and six days later, they took us to Dubai with false Russian passports. Our dates of birth had been changed. Marietta came to the airport with a man. Later we found out his name – Armen Ghazaryan. They took us to an apartment, took away our passports, and we started working.”
“The doctor gave O.G. an injection and she had a miscarriage,” explained A. from Yerevan, a friend of O.G.’s. “When I asked her about it, she started to cry. She couldn’t remember anything. When the baby came out she fainted. She said she didn’t remember anything. O.G. went kind of crazy. She wasn’t like that before.”
We first found out about O.G. three years ago, when we were working on an article about students at the Vardashen Special Educational Complex in Yerevan , an institution for troubled children. O.G. and her sister had ended up there because their parents had divorced and then each remarried, leaving the girls in the care of their grandparents, pensioners who could not provide for them. Some time later, O.G. fell into a recruiter’s net.
These days, O.G. sends $100 a month to her 17-year-old sister, who finds shelter in Yerevan wherever she can. Her sister got pregnant young, too, and has a baby now.
“We stayed at that apartment for two months,” another one of Marietta ‘s girls said. “Then we moved to another place. Marietta said that the police had found out our address and we had to move. We were living near the Sheraton Hotel when Marietta left us and disappeared, with our passports, jewelry, and clothes.” The girl spent two months in jail after Marietta disappeared.
When she picks her girls, Marietta makes sure that they aren’t from ordinary families; they don’t have parents who will protect them. Her girls are orphans, or from very poor, socially insecure families. One girl, Eva Tovmasyan, is from the orphanage in Gavar. She stays with different Armenian girls in Dubai; she has no documents, and will end up in a police station before long.
Marietta Musayelyan herself was arrested by the Dubai police in 2000, and expelled from the UAE. She served a short sentence in Armenia, and then went back to business, first at home, and then in Dubai.
Last September, Marietta and her friend Armen took passports, jewelry, clothes, and money from the seven girls who were working for them at the time and left Dubai for Oman . From there they went to Russia , then to Armenia, where they are currently under arrest. After Marietta disappeared, three of her girls were taken to jail. O.G. was one of them. Six months pregnant, she miscarried in jail. Two of Marietta’s girls are still in prison; the others are working in Dubai.
Marietta has been wanted by Interpol since 2003. It would be naïve to think that the United Arab Emirates Police or the local Interpol office didn’t know that Marietta Musayelyan was in Dubai. Today we know the whereabouts of six Armenian women who are being sought by Interpol-we managed to find them in three visits to Dubai within one year. It would only take Dubai law enforcement a few days to find them and send them back to Armenia. They just don’t want to.
Then why did Marietta Musayelyan and her boyfriend-bodyguard Armen Ghazaryan come back? A year ago Marietta ‘s son was arrested for bringing drugs to the UAE from Iran. He was sentenced to nine years in prison, which he is now serving. It is possible that Marietta is trying to somehow transfer her son to Armenia to serve his sentence here. Or perhaps that she’s trying to get her name off Interpol. All she’ll have to do is spend a couple of months in jail, just like last time. Armenian prosecutors only seek mild sentences for human trafficking.
Although the Criminal Code of Armenia has been amended to include an article (132) on trafficking, no one seems to be eager to implement it in Armenia yet. Even the most notorious madam, Nano, nicknamed “The Mother Pimp”, was never charged with trafficking. In 2004 Nano was sentenced to two years in prison (See also:“Mother pimp” gets two years in prison), which means that she’ll be out soon, and back selling Armenian women in various Arab countries. The same fate awaits Marietta, whose case is to be heard soon.
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
Hetq has been investigating the problem of trafficking in Armenian women for more than a year now, trying to find out how these women get into the United Arab Emirates, what forces them to take this path and engage in prostitution, who runs this business in Armenia and the UAE and why they are not punished, and what steps law enforcement agencies in Armenia and the United Arab Emirates have taken to stop human trafficking. Our investigative team will provide some answers to these questions in a series of articles and in a video film entitled Desert Nights. The first article appears below.
A Pakistani cab driver answered our questions. Cab drivers are a great source of information. They know a lot. They know where the women stand. They even know their nationality. They can tell you where to find Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or Armenian women or girls less than 18 years old.
They can recommend the best nightclubs. Cab drivers in Dubai -mainly Pakistanis and Indians-can tell you about the sheikh and his family, their palaces and businesses.
We were in a residential district in Dubai where we had been told the cheapest Armenian prostitutes could be found. There were Chinese, Russian, Uzbek, and Armenian women waiting for clients in the doorways of the buildings. Men were making their choices, haggling, and when an agreement was reached, going upstairs into apartment-brothels. Of course, the authorities and the police in Dubai know that there are hundreds of these apartments here.
The clientele of these inexpensive prostitutes are Pakistanis, Iranians, Indians, and Arabs from neighboring countries who work in Dubai . They spend only five, ten, or fifteen minutes in the rooms, and pay $10, $15, or $20 maximum. A prostitute can have dozens of clients each day.
Most of the women working here are unkempt, semi-literate, crude.
We got out of the cab and, pretending to be tourists, struck up a conversation with three of them.
“Are you Armenian?” we asked.
“What are you doing here?”
“What should we be doing? We’re wandering around like stray dogs.”
We asked them to go upstairs to talk. They didn’t know it, but we were filming everything for our documentary. We will not show their faces or print their pictures since many of them are married and have children. Most of their families are unaware that they are working as prostitutes in Dubai.
Only one of the six women in the apartment was from Yerevan . The others were from small towns and villages in Armenia.
We introduced ourselves as Armenians from the United States visiting Dubai . We said two of us were originally from Armenia , and the third was Armenian-American by birth.
The street women cannot abandon their places on the street for long. Their “boss”, as one of them put it, drives by in a cab five or six times a day to see whether they are in their spots or not. A woman named Anush supervises the six Armenian women in this apartment.
“How many clients do you have a day?” we asked.
“Who knows?” Anush said.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“No, we know the men who come here.”
“Are there many women from Armenia in Dubai?”
“All of Armenia is here,” Nara from Jermuk replied.
After a while we showed them a picture of a 17-year-old girl, saying that she was a friend of ours and we were looking for her.
Nara told us, “The deal is, no one can force you. If you want to, you do this work. If you don’t, you go to the police station and tell them. I’ve been in Dubai for six years now. If you think we came here because of financial problems, you’re wrong.”
“Then why did you come?” we asked.
“I had to come, so I came. Now I have everything – money, gold, apartments in Dubai and Yerevan. No one can say anything to me.”
Then the women told us how we could find our friend from the picture, which discotheques and nightclubs we should look for her in.
Four of the women said they had come to Dubai voluntarily. The other two had been tricked into coming. These two didn’t say a word throughout our entire conversation. And as we spoke, prostitutes and their clients were coming and going in other rooms of the apartment. Our presence didn’t disturb them at all.
As we were saying goodbye, the to silent women told us how they had been deceived into coming to Dubai . “I was told that I was going to Bulgaria to work in a flower shop,” one of them, who was from Masis, told us. “Then they brought me here from Moscow . I’m married and I have two children. I’ve been here for a year now and my husband thinks I’m in Bulgaria . I send money home. Sometimes I talk to my kids on the phone. What can I do? I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end.”
Outside, they told us to get into a cab quickly, or the police might arrest them.
We drove off for a meeting with Marietta , the most famous madam in Dubai today.
Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
Dubai, July 2004