CASES OF TRAFFICKING TO THE EMIRATES
Haroutinunyan works for Hetq, an internet-based investigative magazine,
the following story is based on interviews for the Team Reporting Project
“My friend Armenuhi deceived me” says Narine. “She
promised me a well-paid job in the United Arab Emirates. So I went.
Once I got there she took my passport and forced me into prostitution
to make money for her.”
Narine (her name has been changed at her request) is 34 years old and
she lives in Vanadzor – Armenia's third largest city, in the northeast,
120 kilometers from the capital, Yerevan. Officially, Vanadzor is supposed
to have a population of 120,000. But 30,000 or 40,000 people leave every
year in search of work. Unofficially, the population is considered much
closer to 50,000. A disastrous earthquake in1988 killed at least 800
people, left tens of thousands without homes or jobs, and shattered
We met Narine in her one-room apartment where she lives with her two
sons on the outskirts of Vanadzor. When she returned from the Emirates
no one would take her in, so she was forced to rent the single room,
which has only one chair and a small table—the family usually
sits on a mattress on the floor. There is no heat. For months they haven't
been able to pay for electricity and it is often colder inside the apartment
than outside. Narine has to borrow money for bread.
Her husband was killed in Russia. Narine's mother told us that he fled
Vanadzor after resorting to stealing. He never sent money from Russia,
and Narine's relatives have been helping her to survive. She worked
as a clerk in a local store, but couldn't support her family on what
she earned. So she took her friend Armenuhi’s advice and left
for the Emirates. She hoped that she would find a job in a store or
café and save some money. “Armenuhi and I had been friends
since childhood,” she explains. “I always trusted her and
she was good to me. It never occurred to me that that she could treat
me like this.” Armenuhi left Vanadzor for the Emirates in the
spring of 2001, and then in July invited Narine and a woman named Ofelia
to join her. The women didn't know that their friend was involved in
prostitution; Armenuhi said she had been working as a seamstress. Narine
left her boys with a friend, R. B., and set off.
Armenuhi's brother drove Narine to the airport, and Armenhui met Narine
when she landed in the Emirates. she immediately took her passport.
Then her attitude changed dramatically. “She told me that I had
to work as a prostitute or else I could stay there and rot,” says
Narine. “She said I had to give her $10,000 to get my passport
back. She found Ofelia a place in a café,” Narine says.
Armenuhi had been renting an apartment in a place called the Laundry
Building in Abu Dhabi . Narine worked there for nearly eight months,
making up to $200 an hour. She received six or seven men a day. She
was often treated cruelly, beaten, and forced to work even when she
was sick. As a rule, Armenuhi would take the money in advance, promising
to divide it up afterwards. Narine says she was not the only one in
this situation. There were many Armenian girls, some as young as 16
or 17. While in the Emirates, Narine periodically sent money to her
children – about $1,250 over the course of eight months. “I
couldn't stay there anymore, I was like an object, like a slave. Sometimes
the Arab men would see me crying and spare me, they wouldn't touch me,”
One day Narine noticed some stitches in her mattress; she ripped it
open and discovered her passport. She confronted Armenuhi and demanded
the money she had earned, but Armenuhi refused to pay her. In the end,
Narine was helped by an Arab man, who bought her a plane ticket and
sent her back to Armenia in April 2002. Narine was met at the Yerevan
airport by Armenuhi's brother, who was accompanied by two friends, one
of whom was a police officer. A few days after she returned to Vanadzor,
the p;olice officer who had met her and another policeman took her a
detective with the Vanadzor police, who was nicknamed Rambo. “Rambo
asked me in an angry tone why hadn't come to see him and whether I knew
that he was in charge of the girls returning from the Emirates,”
Narine explains. “Then he threatened me by saying that he would
deprive me of my parental rights if I didn't write down what he dictated,
and he demanded $500. I wrote down everything that happened to me in
Narine told Armenhui’s brother about her declaration, and asked
that his sister pay her the money she was owed - $8,750. She took $200
from him, on the condition that he would give her the rest later. Narine
says the brother signed a paper stating that the money was for sexual
exploitation. But then he consulted with Rambo about what to do next.
Rambo threatened Narine again and told her to leave the brother alone,
insisting that Armenuhi didn't owe her anything. Narine believes that
Rambo was behind all of it. “Rambo told me that he was in charge
of this affair and I had to check everything with him. Rambo was informed
about everything—he knew that Armenuhi owed me money and wanted
to get something out of it, too,” she explains.
Narine informed both the Armenian police and the Foreign Ministry of
what had happened to her. On June 17, 2003, she received a letter from
the ministry stating, “In reference to your letter of June, 3,
2003 we would like to inform you that according to the information we
have received from the Police and Transport departments of the Lori
Marz, from 1990 to 2003, Vanadzor residents Vanadzor Armenuhi Simonyan
and her brother Artak Simonyan recruited and sent to the United Arab
Emirates for sexual exploitation a number of women, including residents
of Vanadzor. The Prosecutor's Office of Armenia is now investigating
the case. Measures are being taken to locate Armenuhi Simonyan.”
Narine does not work now. She had a job at a bakery for a while, but
she left because the salary was too low, and her health was poor—she
has had serious kidney trouble since she returned from the Emirates.
Her children have not attended school for a year-an-a-half – they
don't have textbooks, school supplies, or clothes. All her relatives
have abandoned them. “I understand that my daughter was deceived.
But I cannot forgive her anyway; she wouldn't listen to us, and she
led an immoral life,” says Narine's mother, Hasmik.
Narine has appealed to some international organizations, and they have
promised to help her defend her rights. “I will fight until Armenuhi
returns the money I earned—$8,750. She deals with big money and
our police officers profit from it,” she insists.
Charges have been filed in the case and the Office of the Prosecutor
General is in charge of the investigation. Armenuhi used to visit Armenia
a few times a year, but hasn't done so since Narine filed her complaint.
Her contacts keep her informed her about the investigation. Other woman
from Vanadzor besides Narine fell victim to Armenuhi Simonyan. They
were afraid to meet with us. The mother of one of them told us that
her daughter was mentally disturbed and couldn't talk. Ofelia, who went
to the Emirates with Narine, agreed to speak with us. But in Vanadzor,
we were met by her daughter instead. “Armen Tamazyan, an investigator
from the prosecutor's office, told us that you are not authorized to
meet with us. My mother will not tell you anything. The lawyers gave
us the same advice,” she said.
The new Criminal Code of Armenia, which came into force on August 1,
2003, contains a provision on human trafficking: “Driving people
to prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, to forced labor
or services, to slavery or to a state equivalent to slavery or to a
subordinate condition, as well as recruiting, transporting, hiding or
receiving people in order to obtain their organs, is subject to punishment
in the form of a fine from 300 to 500 times the minimum wage, or corrective
labor for up to one year, or detention for up to two months, or incarceration
in prison from one to four years,” reads Article 132 of the Criminal
Rafik Giulnazaryan, senior assistant to the Prosecutor General, says
he helped Narine Karapetyan write her appeal. He advised her to mention
procuring and recruiting women. This was in 2001, under the old Criminal
Code, which had no provision on human trafficking, but contained only
one relevant article - #226- which defined punishment for procuring
After Narine Karapetyan filed her complaint against Armenuhi Simonyan,
However, Giulnazaryan says, the investigation ascertained that Armenuhi
Simonyan was not a procurer but a go-between. Her main occupation was
prostitution. “Armenuhi Simonyan assists a number of procurers.
When she visits Armenia , she just happens to take some women back with
her to the Emirates. We know who the main procurers are. We are going
to bring them back to Armenia ,” Giulnazaryan says.
He also suggests that Narine Karapetyan, who went to the United Arab
Emirates with a group of other women from Vanadzor, probably knew in
advance where she was going and why. Among the women recruited by Armenuhi
Simonyan, only Narine has complained. She maintains that Armenuhi had
promised her a job at a factory, saying, “Armenuhi deceived me,
and she took the money I earned - $8,750. I want my money back.”
And Giulnazaryan explains: “The money Narine Karapetyan earned
must be returned not by Armenuhi but by their principal procurer. Armenuhi
paid the money she took from Narine to people who were above her.”
Narine Karapetyan has also accused several law enforcement officers.
She insists that they too were involved in the affair. “I consider
that to be nonsense and provocation,” Giulnazaryan says. “We
have no evidence at all regarding these people. They are not involved
in this business.”
It is not clear yet how long this case will take,” Giulnazaryan
concludes. “The lawyers say there won't be much progress until
the procurers are brought back. And no one can say when that will happen.
“We are interested to see the case resolved in Narine's favor.
She lives in really very hard conditions. But it is still obscure why
she's the only one who lost out. The others don't complain; some of
them are even very happy.”
“They catch the procurers, take money, and let them go”
“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 that no
one 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 agreed. Seryozha took her passport, ostensibly 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 explains.
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. 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 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
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 Ararat movie theater in Yerevan,
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.