Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Desert Nights - 2

[February 23, 2005]

Armenians in the Dubai sex trade

Ask any taxi-driver in Dubai where to find girls, and you'll get the same answer—Cyclone. That's where Marietta Musayelyan, a notorious madam from Etchmiadzin, sends her girls at night. Cyclone, the most popular nightclub in Dubai , was owned by Indians a year ago, but today, according to a local who preferred to remain anonymous, it belongs to two high-ranking officials from Dubai's Immigration Service and Police Department. It's hard to verify allegations like that in Dubai. In fact, it's hard to get any information at all from government agencies in the United Arab Emirates, especially for foreign journalists.

When the club closes at 3 a.m., hundreds of men and women pour into the street, and the choosing and bargaining begin. The air is thick with the delights of the sex trade and the English words “How much? How much?” Clients mostly want to know the price of an hour, or a night. Girls advertise their skills—different kinds of sex, twosomes, threesomes. A black woman points to her bottom and says to my colleague, Ara, “Look, it's great for sex.” A Chinese woman takes my hand and says she can give me a massage that will make me feel good. The johns are all different ages, from every walk of life. Sometimes expensive cars drive up, and selections are made from inside them. It's like an oriental bazaar, but the only things for sale are women's bodies, with men and women drunkenly haggling over the price.

O. G. was one of Marietta's girls, known at Cyclone by the name Baby. When Ara asked her in English the price for one night Baby giggled and said it was 1,000 drahms ($300), and one hour was 500 drahms. That was the sum total of her English.
O. G. turned 18 in December 2003. She was in Yerevan then, seven months pregnant. A month later, via Moscow, she was in Dubai . She had been sold to Marietta in Yerevan and delivered to Moscow by Sirushik and Nelli, who were paid $500.

“They kept seven of us in a third-floor apartment in a tall building in Moscow,” 19-year-old Suzy from Yerevan said. “We were met at the airport by a tall guy named Armen. When he took us to that apartment, another guy came. They called him Sevo. He was from Gavar. They took our passports, and six days later, they took us to Dubai with false Russian passports. Our dates of birth had been changed. Marietta came to the airport with a man. Later we found out his name – Armen Ghazaryan. They took us to an apartment, took away our passports, and we started working.”

“The doctor gave O.G. an injection and she had a miscarriage,” explained A. from Yerevan, a friend of O.G.'s. “When I asked her about it, she started to cry. She couldn't remember anything. When the baby came out she fainted. She said she didn't remember anything. O.G. went kind of crazy. She wasn't like that before.”

We first found out about O.G. three years ago, when we were working on an article about students at the Vardashen Special Educational Complex in Yerevan , an institution for troubled children. O.G. and her sister had ended up there because their parents had divorced and then each remarried, leaving the girls in the care of their grandparents, pensioners who could not provide for them. Some time later, O.G. fell into a recruiter's net.

These days, O.G. sends $100 a month to her 17-year-old sister, who finds shelter in Yerevan wherever she can. Her sister got pregnant young, too, and has a baby now.
“We stayed at that apartment for two months,” another one of Marietta 's girls said. “Then we moved to another place. Marietta said that the police had found out our address and we had to move. We were living near the Sheraton Hotel when Marietta left us and disappeared, with our passports, jewelry, and clothes.” The girl spent two months in jail after Marietta disappeared.

When she picks her girls, Marietta makes sure that they aren't from ordinary families; they don't have parents who will protect them. Her girls are orphans, or from very poor, socially insecure families. One girl, Eva Tovmasyan, is from the orphanage in Gavar. She stays with different Armenian girls in Dubai; she has no documents, and will end up in a police station before long.

Marietta Musayelyan herself was arrested by the Dubai police in 2000, and expelled from the UAE. She served a short sentence in Armenia, and then went back to business, first at home, and then in Dubai.

Last September, Marietta and her friend Armen took passports, jewelry, clothes, and money from the seven girls who were working for them at the time and left Dubai for Oman . From there they went to Russia , then to Armenia, where they are currently under arrest. After Marietta disappeared, three of her girls were taken to jail. O.G. was one of them. Six months pregnant, she miscarried in jail. Two of Marietta's girls are still in prison; the others are working in Dubai.

Marietta has been wanted by Interpol since 2003. It would be naïve to think that the United Arab Emirates Police or the local Interpol office didn't know that Marietta Musayelyan was in Dubai. Today we know the whereabouts of six Armenian women who are being sought by Interpol—we managed to find them in three visits to Dubai within one year. It would only take Dubai law enforcement a few days to find them and send them back to Armenia. They just don't want to.

Then why did Marietta Musayelyan and her boyfriend-bodyguard Armen Ghazaryan come back? A year ago Marietta 's son was arrested for bringing drugs to the UAE from Iran. He was sentenced to nine years in prison, which he is now serving. It is possible that Marietta is trying to somehow transfer her son to Armenia to serve his sentence here. Or perhaps that she's trying to get her name off Interpol. All she'll have to do is spend a couple of months in jail, just like last time. Armenian prosecutors only seek mild sentences for human trafficking.

Although the Criminal Code of Armenia has been amended to include an article (132) on trafficking, no one seems to be eager to implement it in Armenia yet. Even the most notorious madam, Nano, nicknamed “The Mother Pimp”, was never charged with trafficking. In 2004 Nano was sentenced to two years in prison (See also:“Mother pimp” gets two years in prison), which means that she'll be out soon, and back selling Armenian women in various Arab countries. The same fate awaits Marietta, whose case is to be heard soon.

Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian

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