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.