Saturday, October 09, 2004


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Armenian Version:

6 October 2004

"Mother pimp" gets two years in prison

On August 13, 2003 the Prosecutor's Office of Armenia instituted proceedings against Armenuhi Simonyan, based on charges brought by Marietta Ghazakhetyan. As we previously reported, in 2001 Armenuhi Simonyan lured Marietta Ghazakhetyan to the United Arab Emirates with the promise of a well-paid job, and then forced her into prostitution. (See: Trafficking in Armenian women).

When she returned to Armenia in 2002, Simonyan registered a pro forma marriage with one of her relatives and changed her last name to Sahratyan.

According to the charges against her, "Between 1999 and 2003, Armenuhi Simonyan-Sahratyan, a resident of Vanadzor in the Lori Marz, recruited women in various parts of Armenia with the sponsorship of procurer Amalia Mnatsakanyan (nicknamed Nano) and sent them to the United Arab Emirates for sexual exploitation." Charges were filed against Amalia Mnatsakanyan and a search for her was instituted in September 2002. In 2003, these two criminal cases were merged into one, since the women who had been recruited were forced into prostitution by Mnatsakanyan.

The Court of First Instance of the Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan heard the case between June 2 and August 25, 2004.

Out of forty witnesses involved in the case, eleven took part in the proceedings. According to prosecutor Ara Amirzadyan, "More than half of the witnesses were questioned and all the evidence in the case was examined."

The preliminary investigation lasted for almost two years and concluded that Amalia Mnatsakanyan had been abetted in the crime by Artak Simonyan (Armenuhi Simonyan's brother), the brothers Ashot and Hrant Najarian, and Arusyak Gevorgyan. The main defendant in the case was Amalia Mnatsakanyan - Nano, who had a previous conviction.

On August 16, 2000, 40-year-old Amalia Mnatsakanyan had been given a suspended sentence for procuring. The investigation revealed that during her two years on probation and subsequently, she continued to engage in procuring. It was also revealed that during this period Nano "forged and used official documents and induced and abetted other persons in illegally crossing the state border of the Republic of Armenia."

On March 10, 2004 Amalia Mnatsakanyan, arrested thanks to cooperation between law enforcement agencies in Armenia and the United Arab Emirates, was transferred to Armenia .

One of Nano's victims and a witness in the case, Marine Vardanyan, stated in her testimony. "They tortured me and others like me in unspeakable ways. They forced us to perform all kinds of perversion. And Nano was behind all of this; she was the boss. She spared no one; she forced us to service clients even when we were sick, in order to get her money. People like her should be annihilated."

Another witness, Marietta Ghazakhetsyan, is convinced that the criminals will go unpunished. "These women have no right to be called human. They hold nothing sacred. They treated us like products; they sold us to Muslims and made thousands of dollars. And now are we supposed believe that they'll be held responsible? They'll pay a bribe, like always, and go free."

From 2000 to 2003, Amalia Mnatsakanyan recruited more than forty women and sent them to the Emirates. According to the charges, she made $221,000 over that period of time.

Her 26-year-old co-defendant, Artak Simonyan, aided in sending the women recruited for sexual exploitation to the United Arab Emirates in 2000-2002, to Amalia Mnatsakanyan and to his sister, Armenuhi Simonyan-Sahratyan. Last year Artak Simonyan signed a document that confirms his participation in forcing women into prostitution: "I am paying $200, an insignificant portion of our debt to Narine Karapetyan, to compensate for material losses she suffered as a result of the sexual exploitation we subjected her to in the United Arab Emirates in 2001."

Defendants Ashot and Hrant Najaryan are also charged with aiding in procuring. They too helped the main defendant, Nano, in transferring Armenian women to the Emirates. According to the charges, another defendant, Arusyak Gevorgyan, "in 1998-1999 aided and abetted her friend, Anna Alexanyan, who was engaged in procuring in the United Arab Emirates, in recruiting women in the territory of the Republic of Armenia and in sending them to the UAE for sexual exploitation. After that, from the end of 1999 to August 2000, she herself was engaged in procuring in the UAE. And in 2001-2002 she aided another friend, Amalia Mnatsakanyan, who was also engaged in procuring in the UAE, in recruiting and sending women to the Emirates for prostitution."

Armine Abrahamyan testified in court, "In December 2000 I lost my passport at the Etchmiadzin bazaar. Later I was informed by the police that someone had left for the United Arab Emirates using my passport." It turned out that the defendants obtained lost passports and used them to send their victims to the Emirates.

Witness Lusine Petrosyan said that she had gone to the Emirates voluntarily: "I myself looked for and found Nano (Amalia Mnatsakanyan). I knew I was going to engage in prostitution. I worked there for two years. And I gave Nano about $9,000 of the money I earned. But I am not dissatisfied."

Witness Marine Vardanyan could not restrain her anger in the courtroom: "They took me to the Emirates, took away my passport, and forced me to do all kinds of things. I stayed there for twenty-one days and didn't earn a penny. Whatever money I made I had to give to Nano. But I couldn't stand it. I ended up in the police station and was sent back. I came to Armenia in a horrible condition. And now I am a third degree invalid."

Arayik Voskanyan, a police officer from the Vanadzor police department, testified as well. He acknowledged that at the request of senior lieutenant Gagik Gevorgyan and Artak Simonyan he had accompanied three women to the Gyumri airport. "But I didn't know anything. I only found out during the interrogations that these girls were sent to Dubai for prostitution," he said.

Amalia Mnatsakanyan, Arusyak Gevorgyan, Artak Simonyan, and Ashot Najaryan refused to testify in court. But they pleaded guilty. Arusyak's only regret was that her name became known but she earned an insignificant amount of money.

Artak Simonyan said, "I don't consider that it was abetting on my part. These girls went there voluntarily." Ashot Najaryan accepted his guilt in part: "I will not testify. Perhaps there were instances when I was guilty. Let the court decide the degree of my guilt. I accept my guilt in part."

Since the interrogations were conducted from 1998 to 2003, the judges had to apply the old Criminal Code in sentencing. But there were no articles on trafficking in human beings (in this case for sexual exploitation) in the old Criminal Code.

It was mainly Article 262 of the Criminal Code, which deals with procuring, that was applied to the defendants. "Even if there had been an article on human trafficking in the old Criminal Code we could not have applied it. In this case there was no human trafficking. All the women were prostitutes and knew where they were going and why," said prosecutor Ara Amirzadyan.

But Gulnara Shahinyan, vice-chairman of the Commission of the Council of Europe dealing with trafficking in human beings, insists the victims in this case are victims of trafficking. "Sexual exploitation is one of the manifestations of trafficking in humans. The fact that our law enforcement officers don't understand this phenomenon properly and are not serious about these issues is another question," she said.

On August 25, 2004 the trial was adjourned and the verdicts announced. Amalia Mnatsakanyan was sentenced to two years in prison, Ashot Najaryan to one year, and Artak Simonyan to ten months. Defendants Arusyak Gevorgyan, and Hrant Najaryan were given suspended sentences. Gevorgyan received two years on probation, and Najaryan one.

With this verdict, the "mother pimp" was sentenced to just two years in prison, which means that in a couple of months she will be set free and will continue her previous work, just like she did the last time.

Arpine Harutiunyan

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