Sunday, December 09, 2001

The weather has been great these last few days. I guess it can be said that Martuni is one of the hottest places in Artsakh. Our low has been around 47F. and the high has been in the upper 60�s. I wish I could say that I�m enjoying this weather, but being that I have had a light case of the flu for over a week, and today I�ve started to cough is not a good sign. I�ve been taking multivitamins for a couple of months and discovered today they have only 60mg of vitamin C. I went to the pharmacy to get some additional C. The pharmacist asked me if I would like that in a powder or injection form? I was thinking that if I inject, my arm was going to look like I was shooting up drugs, so I picked the powder. A 30-day supply cost me 600 drams (a little more than a $1). I�m also drinking hot tea with 100% pure honey for the cough. They say the honey I have, which is from Hadrout, is like an herbal medicine and should rid me of it. I hope they�re right. Last year I coughed from December to July. I know that couldn�t have been good for me, and I�m not going to have a repeat performance this year.

So you may ask what I have been up to these last weeks, being that I have not logged for a while? Last week I had an interesting encounter with a government investigator. I really should not talk about it, as the root of what he was investigating is kind of on the negative side of things. All us loggers have been trying not to over emphasize such things as there are so many people out there to do that already. What you read in the press about human rights violations every now and then are in many cases most likely true. Many of us who live here have one time or another witnessed them. Until now I myself have never written about any of them or reported them publicly, but as the others can verify, have in most cases intervened on behalf of the voiceless victims as the Armenian-American badge pinned on my chest gets results. In this particular case, if things work out as I would like to see, it could put our government and more so the President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan in a very positive light. With that much said, I can�t leave you hanging there wondering what I could be talking about. Let me start by saying that this is a long story which I did my best to shorten, and for those of you that are bothered by the subject of child exploitation, you should read no further.

Last week I received a call from the Mayor of Martuni to tell me that the following day a government investigator was coming from Stepanagert to see me, and that I was to come to the main government building in Martuni in the morning. He was not sure what it was concerning, but said that he was also to meet with the head of the bank and the assistant to the regional minister, and the name of someone that we had tried to have prosecuted for child exploitation had come up. I could not imagine why they would want to see me, but knew that I had done nothing wrong other than help the police collect evidence last year, and this October tried to help them bring the case to some conclusion.

The next morning I went to the Mayor�s office and waited to be called on. At about 11 a.m. we got a call from the assistant of the regional minister to come to his office. The Mayor joined me. We walked in and were introduced to the government investigator, who told me that he had been sent to investigate a complaint that was sent to the president of Armenia about us. The 4-page complaint drew a very dark picture of me. The Mayor read the letter out loud, and the flavor of the letter was quite flattering but only half true. The fact that I was being accused of calling the shots of how this case was to be handled was true. Their fear that I wanted to kidnap their adopted daughter and use her for my personal pleasures or for prostitution didn�t correspond with the evidence we had already collected. As the mayor continued to read, the investigator looked uncomfortable looking at me, as it appeared he was believing what was being said. It�s strange when you only hear one side of the story, an inaccurate one at that and how you must feel, I told him.

I took out of my pocket a copy of our video evidence, which I had gathered in February of 2000, after being tipped off by the Mayor that the girl in question who was born with a deformed hand, had been sent off by her adopted father to Yerevan to beg in the shooga. She had been adopted from an orphanage in Gumri by a family who already had two biological sons, and after interviewing merchants at the shooga, it became quite clear why she had been adopted. She had spent over 4 years with her adopted grandmother, showing off her hand to people and asking for money. The grandmother was known to the shooga and was a veteran to begging there for over 10 years. According to the person who had reported to the Mayor what was going on (the family�s neighbor), the adopted father was heard screaming at his mother that she has been a whore her whole life , that she needs to take the child back to Yerevan and do what she does best, and send $300 a month to him or else.

So to make this long story shorter, I was not only able to collect video evidence of them begging and the grandmother acting abusive towards the girl and others around her, but I was able to sit them both in a car without any legal authority and bring them back to Martuni to face the chief of police. The evening when we got back to Martuni, I had a professional cameraman waiting, who documented the chief of police and me questioning everyone. I left for the US a few days later, as I had already delayed my trip by a week because of this case and made it clear that we must enforce Article 225: Occupying oneself with wandering or begging, or leading a life of waywardness is punishable by imprisonment for a term of one up to two years, or by corrective (rehabilitative) labor, for the same period of time. and Article 231: Involving minors in criminal acts, drunkenness, and waywardness, as well as abusing minors with the purpose of leading a parasitic life, are punishable by imprisonment of up to five years and by expulsion for a term from one to five years, or without expulsion. The chief agreed.

Now I will take a huge chunk of the story out (not only is it upsetting, but very long) and say that by October of 2001, thanks to incompetence and corruption, the family had somehow evaded prosecution and were somewhere in Armenia. The big dilemma of what to do with the child when the court found the parents unfit was resolved thanks to a Srpazan who is running an Armenian boarding school in India, which is managed by the church and would take the child. Though I hated the idea of sending the child out of the country for any reason, the future of an orphan girl, let alone one that has a deformed hand and is used to exploiting her physical being is not promising. At least in India, she will get an excellent Armenian education and also thanks to a huge amount of money that the Indian government allocates for Armenians (which has to be spent there), she would also get her hand reconstructed, an opportunity to go to a good university, and a chance at a normal life. Maybe she would even one day return to Armenia.

So at that point I was given a deadline of October 15th to have her ready to go. I had the challenge to find the family, somehow get them back to Martuni and due to the deadline, with the help of the new police chief (the old one was removed, maybe because I met with the Prime Minister about this case and told him about how the old chief was not doing his job and need to be removed) and prosecutor, we would negotiate with the adoptive parents to voluntarily relinquish custody of the child to the church, and we wouldn�t press charges. I drove to Yerevan and within a couple of hours of my arrival I had found where they were living and called Martuni to send a policeman to bring them in.

The next morning a couple of policemen arrived and we went to look for the house, but due to poor street signage, we ended up going to the school the children were attending. The Principal called the oldest boy, who went with us and showed us the house. What�s interesting is that there is a short road from the school to the house, but the child only knew the longer road that went through the shooga, where I would speculate they beg after school. The adoptive father was not happy to see us, but after an hour of talking, he and his wife came with us. That evening we arrived in Martuni and unfortunately everyone was not ready to do their job. We led them to believe that the reason they had been called in was for an outstanding loan they had and the police chief told them to leave their passports so they would not leave Martuni until we resolved things.

The next day I met with the prosecutor, who agreed to our plan, but when we called for them to come to see us to talk, they had already left town. I contacted Srpazan, who told me not to worry, even though the girl is now 11 years old and that is the age limit to be admitted, for this case he will make an exception and take her next year, giving us time to do what we have to. At that point I figured I had a year and would continue this work after the New Year. Well, now that the adoptive father went off and wrote a letter to Kocharyan to complain, I guess I�ll get Kocharyan�s office to make Article 225 and Article 231 work. The investigator said that Kocharyan�s office was concerned about the letter, being that this family is from Armenia and is claiming to be harassed by the Karabagh government and Ara. Kocharyan has to take such claims very seriously as if the claim is true, and if Kocharyan does nothing, the adoptive father could take it to Kocharyan�s opposition and make him look bad. But now he has put in a position that he has to pursue the case to its conclusion, as now with Kocharyan having all the evidence in hand, if he does nothing about it and his opposition found out, it would be much worse.

The investigator told me after treating all of us to a very nice lunch and he was getting into his car to leave was that he came with 3 question that had to be answered, the 3rd one being who is Ara? He said with a firm handshake and smile on his face that they will be sure to know who Ara really is.

Let�s hope that the next time you hear about this subject, it will be me writing how I was at the airport sending off the little girl to a new and promising life

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