42 year-old Ararat Muradyan has already been imprisoned in the “ARTIK” correctional facility as punishment for his crime. He was sentenced in December 2006 to 5 years imprisonment according to Article 132 of the ROA Criminal Code. His crime was that of human trafficking. During our visit he wasn’t able to explain why he was in jail and what was his committed offense. “That article that they slapped me with is a bunch of nonsense. I hadn’t even heard of the word before I went to court. Now, I more or less know what trafficking is, a type of kidnaping, holding someone as a slave. These are the types of things they’ve hit me with. I just know that they never explained the charge to me or what it actually meant.”, Artik told us.
Up till now in Armenia this is the first and only trafficking case under investigation. For his part Ararat Muradyan doesn’t consider himself to be guilty. He hasn’t comprehended the fact that what he did, recruiting Robert and Edgar Karapetyan and Ashot Grigoryan and for over one year exploiting their labor in the city of Almetevsk, in the Tatarstan region of Russia was a punishable criminal offense.
After the earthquake destroyed his home Robert Karapetyan lived with his family in a “dnak” (tiny hut). The family was in dire social straits.
His wife Haykandukht Karapetyan cries when she recounts those days. “My eldest boy had just undergone major surgery and we lived in a “dnak”. There was no work in Gyumri and my eldest had to get his papers to the institute. Ararat, my husband’s cousin, suggested some work in Russia. We decided that my husband would go and that we’d combine his earnings with the housing voucher money and buy a house and that with my son Edgar’s earnings we’d pay the school tuition for his brother Paylak. We thought that since we are all family, everything would turn out OK.”
Armen Boshnaghyan the Public Prosecutor presenting the charges in court, explains the mechanism by which so many fall victim, “Without fail there’s always a recruiter involved. He’s a person that in a given community, in a given community in the Shirak Marz, who enjoys a reputation of having a rich life experience, someone who is worldly-wise, who has many years of overseas work experience. This person proposed that he’d organize their affairs and take them to the city of Almetevsk, in Russia, where they work in construction. For their work they’d receive 11,000-12,000 Russian rubles per month, an amount that translated to $350-$400 at the time.
“We had no money, absolutely nothing for the travel expenses. We took my daughter-in-law’s gold and pawned it. They took it and said that in 15-20 days they’d send $500 back for us to get the gold back, no problem. They left and we had no word. They left by bus since we didn’t have the money for an airplane.”, recounts Haykandukht Karapetyan.
Ararat Muradyan verifies the words of Haykandukht, “We left and she also got money with interest by pawning gold and I got my sister’s gold and pawned it and got some money. We took the bus to Armavir then too Samara and from Samara we took a taxi to Almetevsk.” Ararat states.
Armen Boshnaghyan - “There are three injured parties here, one of which is a minor. All were in very serious financial difficulty. The injured, by their own means, pawned what little property they had, and got enough money for a ticket and traveled to Almetevsk in Tatarstan. Immediately afterwards, the recruiter collected their passports explaining that they had to be registered as residents and that he’d take care of the matter, after which he’d return the documents. They then started to work.”
Ararat Muradyan - “We didn’t work in May, just a bit in order to eat. We made a bit of money. We went out a did a few jobs. Later we started work on a veranda that the others couldn’t complete so we had to go back for 2-3 months and finish the job. After that they didn’t work for 2-3 months, they just loafed about. They went to Muradyan Baghdasari, my friend’s brother. He said there was work and I said that they want to come to work. Ashot Grigoryan worked with Samvel Muradyan. Robert and Edgar worked with Baghdasar Muradyan. Now as to whether they paid them or not, I have nothing to do with it.”
Public Prosecutor Boshnaghtyan - “In other words that recruiter was able to convince you that he’d send your wages to your families in Armenia. For a long time they were convinced (I refer to the injured parties) that this was the case. This was uncovered accidentally when the wife of one of the aggrieved was able with great difficulty to get in touch with Almetevsk and speak not to her husband but with another Armenian man. She told him that a tragedy had occurred, one of their relatives had died, and that he should return or else send some money. The aggrieved started to question why they were asking for money if money had already been sent? They got upset and demanded that the money be given to them and they were subjected to physical violence and psychological abuse by the recruiter; more concretely, beatings and threats.”
Court testimony give by Ashot Muradyan - “We would go off to work at 7 and sometimes 6 in the morning. Even though we had previously agreed to work only till 7 or 8 in the evening, we’d often only leave at 1 or two at night. We didn’t eat regular meals. One time I got sick and they neither gave me medicine or called a doctor. We didn’t want anything else. He’d say that he had no money, that we didn’t work well and that money was scarce.”
Haykandukht Karapetyan - “My husband was very attentive. We were surprised that there were no phone calls or anything. One month passed, then two. There was no word at all. My son Paylak got my mother-in-law and went to Ararat’s house to see if they knew anything. Hey Mom, they got there OK, no problem. They just haven’t had a chance to telephone. It was my girl’s birthday My husband really worshiped that girl. He didn’t telephone on her birthday. We were all shocked. I really held out hope that he’d call on that special day. Then one of our relatives said that, Haykan , is it true that you sent your people with Ararat? I said yes, that’s right. But what have you done, do you want to ruin things. They take groups of people and put them to work.”
Court testimony given by Robert Karapetyan - Eight of us lived in one small room which even lacked the basic facilities. We were practically always half hungry. There were days when we only ate dry bread, or cabbage stalks. Some days we didn’t eat a thing. We worked for 8 months in these conditions until we realized that Ararat hadn’t sent a penny back home even though he swore on his brother’s grave that our families were receiving money every month.”
Ararat Muradyan - He couldn’t do what he had promised. What Robert Karapetyan had promised to me here, that he was a master craftsman and all that...But he couldn’t do a thing. We were doing the work of a laborer, digging ditches and such. You don’t get paid the salary of a master craftsman for digging ditches.”
Haykandukht Karapetyan - “Ararat’s parents told me, Hmm, your people don’t work. They don’t know how to lay wall tiles or floor tiles. I said, OK, so they don’t know how. My two sisters and their families and husbands live in Russia. I said, give me a chance to speak to Robert. Just so long as they leave that place. Either my son-in-laws or my sisters’ kids will go there and get them out. But no, if they go let them go to Almetevsk and get them out. I already knew then whose clutches they had fallen into. I couldn’t send my sisters’ kids off to face certain death. God forbid if something would happen, they’re an only child. What answer could I give if something happened? The father ridiculed, even the father, a man past 80, who said I’ll hand you over to the police. You ask yourself, does he understand what he’s saying. They took away my 16 year-old boy to exploit and eat up his wages and give us only grief. I even requested that they just send him back unhurt with no money. My only desire is to get my family back without any problems.”
Excerpts of court testimony given by Robert Karapetyan - “The kid said to give money in order to call home. He then beat that kid. Then he handed him a beat-up phone and promised to charge it with some calling time but he never did. Usually, he’d be drunk and come looking for a fight. But we couldn’t complain because he was on good terms with the local cops.”
Haykandukht Karapetyan - “At the time I petitioned Robert Kocharyan and the Justice Ministry, the police, everybody. At first a piece of paper came saying that my husband and son were found and that they were OK and working. That was it. Later Ararat’s warnings arrived saying that I shouldn’t go top his family and upset them and that if I took further steps he’d send my Edgar’s head back in a box. I told Ararat at the time that if he touched a hair on Edgar’s head, or Robert’s or Ashot’s, I swore before God that I’d kill his two kids. Then I wrote to Putin for the fourth time. Then I petitioned the President of tatarstan. The boys were working quite well. They paid good bribes. All the places were closed. I couldn’t find any way out, there was no way out. The I petitioned General Major Kodenko. I sent a fax that certain people were cooperating with your mafia. That my 16 year-old boy wasn’t to be found. That as a responsible mother I was demanding that he be traced.”
With all hope gone Haykandukht continued to send off letters to various departments in Armenia and Russia and the ice started to move. Law enforcement officials soon found her relatives and a few months later deported them to Armenia. They had remained in virtual captivity for a period of one year and eight months. Months later, on April 19, 2006, Ararat Muradyan returned to Armenia. Soon afterwards found himself seated on the guilty chair. On December 12, 2006, the courts sentenced Ararat Muradyan to 5 years imprisonment and stipulated that he pay Robert and Edgar Karapetyan and Ashot Grigoryan a sum of $11,400.
Ararat Muradyan - “If not for them tricking me, that they could do this and that, it would have been all right. Had I known, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with them. I would have gone off and worked as a chauffeur and made my money. My family would have been living normally and I wouldn’t be here locked up. I still don’t understand what actually happened.”
Haykandukht Karapetyan - “They returned, but you know what/ I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. For three months the father and the son wouldn’t speak to each other. You didn’t know if they were alive or dead..Continuously...even my husband, who doesn’t get emotional easily. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing, even till now. First, he’s ill, his nerves are shot. We haven’t seen one red cent from that back-breaking work. They are supposed to give some 4 million and a few hundred thousand drams. He was declared bankrupt. Some 400,000 drams were supposedly left over (the house and land were valued for that much).
The court’s Compulsory Enforcement Service , that’s another 180,000 drams. Give us at least that. What’s left over? Will those 3 individuals ever receive 100,000 drams, or not? Is this what’s called justice?