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Edik Baghdasaryan

Trafficking in Armenian women: "They catch the procurers, take money, and let them go"

Arpine Harutyunyan, Edik Baghdasaryan 

"My life is ruined. There's nothing I can do to change it. I'm lost, and I don't know how long I can live like this," says 38-year-old Mary Hovhannissian (the victims' names have been changed).

Mary lives in Yerevan with her parents and brother. But her family doesn't know what she does for a living. She tries hard to make sure nobody in her environment knows that she earns money through prostitution.

"I'm forced to do this since I can't find any other job," Mary tells us quietly, as we talk in a cafe. In 1997 she met a man named Seryozha. She was working as a waitress at the time, but her salary was so low she couldn't support her family.

"Seryozha told me that there were well-paid jobs in Greece and we could make some money. He said we could buy a house when we came back-in short, we could live safely," Mary Hovhannissyan continues.

So she agreed. Seryozha took her passport to buy tickets. At the airport on the day they left, Seryozha said that first they would go to Dubai , then to Greece .

"Seryozha told me that we would get some money in Dubai and then go on. But he tricked me and left me in Dubai ," Mary says.

A woman met them at the Dubai airport. Seryozha gave her Mary's passport and disappeared. Later Mary learned that Seryozha had brought other women to the United Arab Emirates , too.

She was told that she had been "sold" and that she wouldn't get her passport back until she paid $6,000.

"I was outside Armenia for the first time, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't speak the language, I didn't know the city, and I had no money. I couldn't even make a phone call," Mary explains.

She was placed at the Rock Al Hadi hotel in Abu Dhabi . She earned $6,000 within a few months, but her passport was not returned. It was sold for $3,000 to another Armenian woman. So Mary was required to earn an additional $3,000 to free herself from the second procurer. After paying off this sum, Mary was "sold" again.

"So I was passed from hand to hand and suffered like a slave. They beat me up if I refused or was unable to work. They wouldn't even give me any medicine when I was sick. I had no friends, I couldn't trust anybody. Besides, the procurers created such an atmosphere that girls would inform on each other," Mary recalls.

One of Mary's procurers was called Marietta . She was the boss, and other procurers in the Emirates - Anahit, Nano, Nelli, Zhanna - worked for her. The procurers were staying in a different hotel. Each of them had from 10 to 15 girls, along with their passports.

Mary received fifteen or twenty men a day and was paid $13 for five minutes. She says that under-age girls were paid up to $200 for five minutes. Their main clients were Arab men, who preferred Armenian girls.

According to Mary, there were a lot of Armenian women in Dubai , from fifteen to thirty years old. Mary made about $400 a day, of which she was allowed to keep only $100-the rest went to the procurers. In the course of six months in Dubai she made about $15,000.

In February 1997 Mary was arrested by the Dubai police. She was imprisoned for three months. "The conditions in jail were horrible. I kept getting sick. I could barely stand the life there. I almost went crazy," Mary recalls.

In May 1997 she was deported from the Emirates. She returned to Armenia exhausted and penniless. She didn't file any complaints-she was afraid that they wouldn't believe her, or would blame everything on her. She tried and failed to find work as seamstress, her profession. So she went back to the life she fell into in Dubai . Today she can be seen in the neighborhood of the Airarat movie theater, working as a prostitute.

Mary blames law enforcement above all for the "sale" of herself and other such women.

"It's their fault. They pretend to catch the procurers, but they take money and let them go. That's how they dealt with the procurer who sold me, Marietta . They took the money and set her free. As for Seryozha, he was never held responsible-he left for Russia . So it turns out that those criminals sell Armenian women to the Muslims with the assistance of officers of the law."