Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: Vanadzor emerges as Armenia’s commercial sex capital

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.



We went to Vanadzor expecting to hear stories of illicit smuggling across borders and of girls lured into prostitution under false pretenses. What we heard was significantly more pedestrian. According to Aida and Suzy, very few Vanadzor women are tricked into working in Dubai or Istanbul brothels these days. They go knowingly, on legal passports, with legal visas, and for the most part without having to bribe border guards to let them through. They share buses and airplanes with underwear salesgirls traveling to buy more inventory and the odd middle-class family going on holiday. Pre-teenage girls ride buses to Turkey carrying permission letters signed by their parents, who for the most part have dispatched their daughters themselves, and who understand exactly how young Anahit or Armine will earn the several hundred dollars she will send home each month. And while the prostitutes and the NGO employees we met said sometimes women are abused in the brothels, or aren't paid in full, they said the greater part of women generally understand what they are getting themselves into, and may already have worked as prostitutes for years. Far from being the pursuit of violent smuggling rings who kidnap women and sell them into slavery, trafficking in Armenia is largely a result of the poor economy, they said, and has mostly to do with opportunistic pimps taking advantage of women who are already willing to prostitute themselves.

And there are a lot of willing women in Vanadzor. Hope and Help's Satik Grigoryan told us the NGO has registered more than 200 prostitutes. Aida estimated that 70 percent of women in Vanadzor are prostitutes, drawing laughs from the Hope and Help employees. While her figure was inflated, the statement outlined how pervasive prostitution is in Vanadzor. Prostitutes come to the clinic for regular check-ups and to replenish their condom stocks. Grigoryan told us that most of the prostitutes had never seen or heard of such contraceptives before they came to Hope and Help. She gave Aida and Suzy a couple of chocolates and a fistful of condoms each before they went home.

POLICE role questioned
Rudik Varosyan, head of the department on minors in the Vanadzor police department, told us trafficking in minors is an emerging problem in Vanadzor. He said most Vanadzor women -- and girls -- who go to Turkey to engage in prostitution are not being lured under false pretenses. More and more underage girls are being sent by their families to go and earn a little money, Varosyan said, adding that he has never heard of a case in which a minor went without parental permission. "Some parents are proud that their kids are there making money," he told us. He said the women and girls who went to Turkey usually were not held prisoner, and they were usually paid, though not necessarily in full. After the women were deported, Varosyan said, they often became recruiters for the pimps in Turkey. Varosyan said it was hard to fight the trafficking organizations because the pimps usually operate through intermediaries who never actually meet them. When police bring a case to court, the intermediary gets nailed, and the pimp continues her business, having suffered only minor inconvenience.

Though Varosyan clearly took to heart the plight of pre-teen and teenage prostitutes, local NGO staff told us that the police actually help facilitate prostitution. Artur Sakunts of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly told us his organization wanted to look into allegations by locals that the Vanadzor police protected pimps and threatened prostitutes who wanted to quit their jobs. (Note: Aida told us police hindered her work by forcing her to undergo annual medical check-ups. End Note.) Other NGO staff told us about cases of police patronizing the prostitutes. Sakunts corroborated Varosyan's story about parents forcing their daughters to become prostitutes. Sakunts also noted that the domik village was a prostitution hub: home to a large percentage of the Vanadzor sex trade workforce while also serving as their workplace. Aida told us prostitutes there often work for a bag of rice or a few pieces of bread.

COMMENT: “... two Armenias: Yerevan, and the rest of the country”
Many visitors to Armenia who see only Yerevan -- with its pretty main square and shiny Hummers and BMW X5s -- and leave thinking the country is doing well economically. Armenians and seasoned expats often tell these visitors that there are two Armenias: Yerevan, and the rest of the country. Our trip to Vanadzor was like a spin on the focus dial of a pair of binoculars; afterwards, the distinction was clear to us, and in sharp relief. It is easy, sitting in the relatively well-to-do capital city, to put the problem squarely in the laps of lawmakers and law enforcement, and to bang our fists on the government's coffee tables to demand that they work harder to stop the crimes. But fist-banging won't change the fact that many prostitutes work simply to get food on the table, and that they believe they will be paid better in Turkey or the UAE. The Armenian government cannot improve a bad economy with stricter laws and harsher sentencing. While both are needed here, Armenia has to offer these women an alternative to turning tricks if it is to eradicate trafficking.

[By: Amb. John M. Evans]

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