Armenia Has Become a Transit Point in the Sex Trade

01:57, 26 September, 2005

"My son has to go to school in September, my mother is terminally ill and she needs medication. I really needed money and nobody would help me. My sisters and brothers are married and have their own problems. And finding a job in Uzbekistan is practically impossible. "

On March 30, Armenian law enforcement officials arrested 39-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan Natella Saghatelyan in a Yerevan apartment belonging to Nshan Zakaryan. (See also: Judges Need Training). Saghatelyan had been transporting Uzbek girls from Armenia to Dubai. Three Uzbek girls, Niginabons Maghidova, Lola Abdulaeva, and Maria Khmelyova, managed to leave for Dubai; 17-year-old Karina Yeremyan is still in Yerevan. Niginabons had no trouble at the Dubai airport. Lola Abdulaeva was carrying a fake passport and was caught by immigration officials in Dubai, who held her in the airport for five days and then sent her back to Yerevan. And since Maria Khmelyova was a close friend of LolaAbdulaeva's, she returned with her, though she hadn't had any passport problems herself. The incident was investigated by the Armenian National Security Agency. When the agency discovered that the case involved human trafficking, it was transferred it the Office of the Prosecutor General. The trial against Natella Saghatelyan began in Yerevan's Malatia Sebastia District Court on July 25, 2005.

Lola had known Maria since they were girls. One day Maria came to her and suggested going to Dubai to earn money. Lola agreed, but on condition that the two never be separated. Telling her family that she was going to Russia to work, Lola went to the home of Maria's relative Dilya (Dilyara Khayserova Galileyovna). From there, the friends went to Tashkent. In Tashkent they met Dilya's friend Natasha, who told the girls that they were good-looking, and could make a lot of money in Dubai. Maria and Lola went to Khazakhstan, where they met Natella Saghatalyan. From there, Maria went with Natella to Yerevan. Lola followed sometime later, with Karina Yeremyan, who she had met through Saghatelyan. In Yerevan, they were met by Maria and Samvel Zakaryan, Nshan Zakaryan's brother. The girls were to stay in Nshan's apartment until they left for Dubai. "When we were in Nshan's apartment, Natella told us that had sent many girls to Dubai, and that they were earning a lot of money and gold there. She told Karina how to behave in the presence of a sheikh and how nice it was in Dubai," Lola said.

Natella told Lola that she had spent $10,000 on getting Lola to Dubai, and that she would have to work to pay the money back. Maria owed her $8,000 and Karina owed $7,000. Natella then informed Lola that she and Maria would be living in different places. Lola would go to Dubai, and Maria would go to Bahrain. Natella bought a ticket for Lola and gave her a new Kirgiz passport. Since Lola was 25 years old, women must be 30 or older to enter Dubai, Natella made a fake Kirgiz passport for Lola and took Lola's real passport. Before their departure she put a fake stamp in the passport and told Lola to sign it. She told Lola and Maria to destroy the fake passports and invitations on the airplane. In Dubai they would receive the real invitations. If someone asked for their tickets, they could reply that they had thought they didn't need the tickets anymore and had thrown them away. The girls followed these instructions. In Dubai they received their real invitations, but the airport police discovered that Lola's passport was fake. During the five days that the girls were in Dubai they called Natella numerous times to request that she buy them return tickets. Natella turned down their requests for help and warned them not to say anything to the authorities about her or Nshan. Maria then called Dilya, who bought the girls return tickets through friends in Dubai.

"This made it possible for Natella to declare in court that the organizer was responsible for buying return tickets in case of failure, and that since we called Dilya for that, then she herself was not involved in the story at all," Maria said. "But she was the one who was responsible for getting us to Dubai and she was supposed to buy our return tickets. If we hadn't called Dilya and she hadn't bought the tickets for us, we would still be rotting in the Dubai airport."

Testifying in court on August 17 th and 18 th , Natella Saghatelyan stated that tourism, not prostitution, was the reason she escorted the girls to Dubai. "I thought they were tourists. I never even guessed why they were going there," she said. The judge asked if she hadn't known how young women and girls make money in Dubai. She replied that she had known, but at the time she hadn't even considered that possibility. Only after Lola and Maria were arrested did she understand "that they didn't go there with a legal purpose." Regarding the fake documents, Natella used a fake stamp in Lola's passport because Lola had been wearing long nails that day and couldn't stamp it herself. And she hadn't asked why Lola needed a fake document to enter Dubai. "It wasn't my business to know what they were going to do in Dubai or whether they left their house secretly. But I knew that they had left secretly, even though they were telling me that everything was all right. Each of us had her own role in this trip. I was just doing my job. But the fake documents worried me, since problems could arise and the girls wouldn't be able to leave for Dubai. And Dilya would only give me money if one of the girls reached Dubai." Commenting on the fact that she had received money from Dilya on a number of occasions, she said "I received $800 from Dilya. Whatever money I got I spent it all to send the girls to Dubai."

The judge asked Natella why she was stating that she hadn't known anything about fake documents when in fact she said during the preliminary investigation that she was guilty of violating Article 325 of the Armenian Criminal Code (preparation of fake identification). Natella replied that she wouldn't deny her previous statements but was guilty of only one thing-in the end, on the day when Lola and Maria were arrested, when she understood why they were going to Dubai, she didn't do anything to stop them. But she had a reason. "I was in a very bad financial state. I needed money to support my family."

In court on August 25 th , the prosecution questioned defendants Nshan Zakaryan and Hovsep Ananyan, each of whom had played a role in the case. It was Nshan Zakaryan whom Natella asked to find someone he knew in the airport who could change Lola's documents. Lola passed the entry check point with her own Uzbek airport but in the Dubai airport she had to enter with the fake Kirgiz passport, in which her age was given as 31. Nshan Zakaryan had asked Hovsep Ananyan, a friend of his late brother. Ananyan gave a package to Maria and Lola after they passed the check point in the airport. He took another envelope from the girls which contained their real passports and gave it to Nshan. Nshan gave that envelope to Natella. During the interrogation both Nshan Zakaryan and Hovsep Ananyan denied that they had known anything about the contents of the envelope. "I didn't ask what was in the envelope. All I had to do was to give the envelope to the girls and that's it. I knew it was an illegal thing to do, but I couldn't say no to my friend. I am sure that Nshan didn't know that there were fake documents in the envelope, because otherwise he wouldn't have asked me to do such a dangerous thing," Ananyan said. Zakaryan was asked why he hadn't wondered why Lola, who was staying in his apartment, hadn't taken the document herself, and why that fact hadn't aroused his suspicions. He replied that he hadn't thought that Natella would do something that could endanger him. Afterwards he added that he was being blamed for being a considerate person, and that he didn't think was guilty." My only fault is that I didn't ask for the details, because I trusted her. But I was only a man of my word. I would never have said no to Natella in any event," Nshan Zakaryan explained.

Judge Iskuhi Vardanyan announced the verdict on September 22 nd . Natella Saghatelyan was sentenced to five years in prison. She will serve her sentence in Armenia; it will be calculated from March 30, 2005, the day of her arrest.

Nshan Zakaryan was given three years probation. The Armenian police is to keep a keep careful track of his activity.

Hovsep Ananyan was found guilty according to Article 325 of the Armenian Criminal Code. He will pay a monetary fine of 250,000 drams.

This is the second time in the last two years the article concerning human trafficking has been applied. Incidentally, both of these cases involve foreigners who use Armenian territory to send women to Dubai and other Arabic countries. This is evidence that Armenia is becoming a transit point in the international sex trade.