The Kentron and Nork-Marash Court of First Instance is examining the case of 32-year old Irina Yenokyan. In Dubai, as well as among prostitutes, she is well known by her nickname, Ikush.
For years, Irina had transported groups of women to the United Arab Emirates, and her name occurred frequently in various trafficking cases. According to the charges, a group of Armenian girls worked as prostitutes in Dubai under her patronage from 2001 to 2005. In addition, she forced Hermine Zakaryan to submit to sexual exploitation by having her beaten on a number of occasions. Zakaryan testified in court that Irina’s friend Yenok also beat her up constantly. However, the summary of charges sent by the office of the prosecutor general to the court bore no mention of Yenok.
In September 2006, Hermine Zarakaryan, a native of Gyumri, met Knarik Ghandilyan. The latter promised to “find a way to help” after she learned that Hermine was divorced, had two small children and was financially badly off. Two days later, she took Hermine to Gayane Melkonyan’s house. Gayane proposed that Hermine go to Dubai and work as a waitress with Irina Yenokyan, a friend of hers.
“She said that Ikush (Irina Yenokyan) had a friend who owned a restaurant and club. They were both in the same building and she said that I could choose one and work as a waitress there for a good salary,” Hermine recalled. Lia Bagaryan was also present during the conversation and she confirmed that she had once made quite a bit of money as a waiter at “Ikush’s place”. After the women provided a vivid description of the Arab world, Hermine agreed to go.
The very next day, Nver M. came to Gyumri and took Hermine to an apartment in Yerevan, where he lived with his wife, Lusik T. The couple took turns reassuring Hermine that everything would be all right, telling her that their daughter also worked with Ikush and was very happy.
“I don’t know whether those people knew what their daughter was doing in Dubai. Maybe they had been tricked too,” reasoned Hermine.
Soon, Irina Yenokyan sent money and Nver took Hermine to Zvartnots Airport and put her on a direct flight to Dubai. She was met there by one Hripsime, who took her to an apartment rented by Irina.
“As soon as we got there, Ikush arrived and took my passport. We started talking about work and Ikush laughed, ‘What waitress? Do you think you’ve come to your dad’s house to relax? You’re going to the club tomorrow to start working as a prostitute,’” said Hermine and explained that when she refused and asked to be sent back, Ikush threatened her, “‘You will do it even if you have to be forced to - I spent 5,000 dollars on you, you’re not going back to Armenia until you pay back every cent.’”
According to Hermine, six other Armenian girls lived with her in the same apartment and worked as prostitutes under Irina’s management. They were all taken by Irina’s driver, one Mustafa, by car to the disco every evening, and brought back in the morning after their work was done.
“I couldn’t escape even if I wanted. There was no way to get to the city and I didn’t speak the language. Even when it came to bargaining the price with clients, it was done by one of the girls whom Ikush trusted. They would take the money and send me on my way. I once told a Georgian girl at the disco that I wanted to run away. She told our girls and they informed Ikush. I got a beating for no reason,” Hermine said.
She started working as a prostitute in Dubai on September 15 and, according to her, had already made 5,000 dollars by the end of the month.
“Ikush herself told me, ‘Hermine jan, you no longer owe me anything. We will split 50-50 whatever you make from this moment on.’ I said that I wanted to go home. She started beating me again, put out her cigarette on me and began to beat me again and again with a belt buckle. I was bedridden for days. Ripo (Hripsime) took care of me,” recalled Hermine and noted that, despite the beating, she did not obey Irina for some time.
“She saw that she could no longer control me, so she told Yenok and then he began to beat me. It did not matter to him that I was a woman. There are scars from his blows on my back to this day. A bone in my nose cracked when he hit me with his head. He had even stabbed me in the leg with a knife,” she said. The forensic medical examination concluded that it was possible that the injuries Hermine received had been inflicted at the times mentioned in her testimony.
“I was forced to go back to work,” Hermine continued, “I had learned from the girls that the police conducted a raid on prostitutes once every two months. I was praying to God for the raid to begin. I finally got lucky - on December 1, I was caught by the police at the club itself.”
After around two months in prison, she was deported to Armenia in January 2007. Here, Hermine told the police everything in detail. Soon, the three people who sent her to Dubai - Gayane Melkonyan, Lia Bagaryan and Knarik Ghandilyan - were arrested. They are currently serving out their sentences at the Abovyan women’s detention center. The latter two were sentenced to 4 years in prison while Gayane received 6 years.
“A few months after their trial, in September 2007, the investigator from the prosecutor general’s office [Nerses Minasyan] called and said, ‘Hermine, we have caught Ikush. Come to Yerevan tomorrow.’ I went and confirmed my statement and constantly emphasized that Yenok had beaten me as well. They organized a confrontation between me and Ikush twice. I asked then if there was any news of Yenok and whether I would have to confront him as well. He said that Investigator Yeremyan of the previous case [Aristakes Yeremyan] interrogated Yenok and released him. I went to Yeremyan and he said, “Hermine jan, write a statement saying that you have no charges to press against Yenok. I interrogated him and it seems that he is innocent. But there is still a question mark on the whole thing, we’ll ask you to confront him if necessary,’” recalled Hermine and continued, “Then Yeremyan said that I should go to him again after writing the statement. I went and he gave me three 5,000-dram notes and said, “I know that your children don’t have shoes so they’re not going to school. Use this to buy them shoes so that they can go,’ and then he added, ‘Don’t take that the wrong way… I just thought I’d help, so I’m giving you the money.”
Hermine repeated all this nearly word for word at the court session on October 25. Prosecutor Ashot Nadoyan was not in court at that time and, upon the judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan's request, Hermine repeated the story once again for him.
At the next court session, on November 14, Mane (name changed), who worked as a prostitute in Dubai under Yenokyan, and her sister both testified as witnesses. Since the other defendants had not appeared at court as ordered, their pre-trial statements were read out. It should be noted that most of them had run away from Irina. The trial will continue on November 23.
“I would constantly call the investigator and ask, ‘When am I supposed to come and confront Yenok?’ But he would tell me to be patient. He kept saying ‘today or tomorrow’ and then the case went to court. I don’t know whether Yeremyan bought me off for 15,000 drams or made a lot more off Yenok and tricked me. Everything was blamed on Ikush, but Yenok assaulted me as well, didn’t he? Why should the woman go to jail if he gets to remain free?” asked Hermine during our conversation and added that she would definitely try to get the answers to these questions from investigator Aristakes Yeremyan, and would complain to his superior if necessary.