Sunday, August 30, 2009
[ 2009/08/24 | 16:21 ]
Feature Stories
Ararat Davtyan

Laura Azaryan left for Turkey alone in 2001. There she married a Turkish man Oumit Ramazan Poujlu. In 2008, she telephoned her brother, Gagik Karapetyan and told him that they owned a casino in Turkey. She made a proposal to her brother; that he locate young, attractive girls in Armenia and send them to the casino to “wait on tables”.

Gagik, comprehending what his sister and her husband had in mind, the nefarious exploitation of the girls once they arrived, nevertheless gave his verbal consent to the plan.
This is part of the descriptive file in the criminal case that has been launched against Laura and Gagik. The case is now being heard in the Aragatzotn Regional Court, Judge Souren Mnoyan presiding.

Gagik Karapetyan, in his preliminary testimony, noted that after many years of living in Ukraine he moved back to Armenia in February, 2008. Two months later his sister in Turkey made the proposal to round up girls in Armenia. He says that he told his sister that he didn’t know where to look. His sister was persistent and Gagik, feeling ashamed, sought the assistance of Armineh, a family in-law.

“It was May of last year. One day Gagik came to our house and said that his brother Roubo had opened a restaurant in the Ukraine. Gagik said that if he could find 4-5 good workers he’d turn the place into an Armenian restaurant and it would be a success. I told him it was great news and that I’d go as well,” 51 year-old Armineh stated in court. It was through Armineh that Gagik met with 49 year-old Rima, who was supposed to work as a cleaner.

“A day later Gagik said that we have to leave for Turkey; that his sister had a house and casino there where we could work. I was supposed to work in the bar as a cashier for $500 a month. Rima would be a dishwasher. This Gagik was a relation I trusted him. We left for Turkey,” Armineh continues.

Gagik paid for all the expenses. On May 31, 2008, he, along with Armineh and Rima, boarded a bus for Trabzon. From there they would travel to Antalya.

“Laura and her Turkish husband were there to greet us when we arrived. They were very nice and hospitable. They took us to the sea-side and showed us around the town. Ten days later however, I had to return to Armenia to take care of some matters. Before I left I had asked Laura several times what bar would we be working at and why they hadn’t shown us the place. Laura told me that the casino was quite far from where we were staying; that we’d start to work after I returned from Armenia,” recounts Armineh.

In her court testimony, Laura claims that she made no such proposal to her brother and she was quite surprised when he arrived in Turkey, let alone accompanied by two women.

“Armineh is a relation but Rima was a total stranger. Armineh told me that Rima owed her $200 and asked if she could work a bit and make some money to pay off the debt. I told Armineh that Rima was sickly and that she couldn’t work in the bar. Armineh persisted however and being a relation, I couldn’t refuse. I told Armineh that Rima could stay and work sorting fruit in a factory we’d be opening in September. She could work and pay off the debt,” Laura said.

All the while, Rima told the court that after Armineh had left for Armenia, Laura had suggested that she work in their house for $300 a month. “I did the laundry, the dishes and cleaned the house. I did it all. I worked there for six months but never got paid,” says Rima.

According to the criminal case file, when Laura found out that Rima’s sister had two young, attractive daughters, she, along with her brother Gagik and husband Oumit, traveled to Armenia in June 2008 to recruit the girls and that it was through Armineh that they got acquainted with 20 year-old Irina and 18 year-old Nvard.

“Laura was trying to convince me and my sister to go to Turkey. She would always point out the poor living conditions here in Armenia. She’d always say how pretty I was; trying to butter me up. I had just graduated from high school and still didn’t have a passport. Laura told me not to fret; that she’d wait for as long as possible. I turned her down but my sister was naïve. She trusted Laura and left,” Nvard told the court examiner.

“We really had a hard time back then. We had a $1,200 debt to pay off. I was studying in one of the colleges in Yerevan. It was the summer vacation, so I decided to go to Turkey for two months,” says Irina, “Laura said we’d get paid $500 a month waiting tables in the bar, handing out tea. She even promised that I could return the next day if things didn’t work out. Laura told my mom that she’d take care of me like her own child.”

Irina also tended to believe in Laura since she got a phone call from her Aunt Rima in Turkey, saying that everything was OK and that there was nothing to worry about.

During questioning in court, Rima claimed that every time she made a phone call Gagik was watching over her like a hawk and that she couldn’t utter a word about what was really happening. Rima also claimed that Gagik would slip her some pills, allegedly headache medicine, that would leave her in a “drunken stupor”.

Nuneh, born in 1985, also believed Laura’s promises of easy money and a better life in Turkey. Nuneh, along with Irina, left for Antalya in the company of Oumit Poujlu on August 8, 2008. Laura, on the other hand, remained in Armenia. On her return to Armenia, the Turkish border guards noticed that her visa had expired so they deported her. In order that she could once again enter Turkey she entered into a sham marriage with a man named Azaryan and officially had her last name changed.

Irina recounts, “Laura and Oumit took care of the visas and travel expenses. After arriving in Antalya they treated us well for the first four days; they showed us the sites, the sea. Later they invited us out to a casino-bar, which was really a night club. We were seated around a large table in the presence of some scantily clad older Turkish women. They were there to entertain the customers. Oumit and Gagik told us right there that we’d be doing the same thing.”

The criminal case file reads, “…threatening that they would leave them alone, hungry and without passports in a foreign land, depriving them of freedom of movement and any possibility to return to Armenia, Oumit Poujlu and Gagik Karapetyan, in prior agreement with Laura Azaryan, forced the girls to perform belly dances and perform the wishes of clients; to sit on their laps, allow them to be kissed and to place their hands on intimate body parts. This took place in the “Melody” and “Kartila” night casino-bars in Antalya. These establishments belonged to others.”

“…There was no other alternative. We were forced to work in these bars and entertain the clients, however disgusting the work. We get the clients to drink up. The daily minimum we’d make off the drinks was about $200. It all went to Oumit and Gagik. We never got paid a dime. They’d even get angry when the daily take was low.”

Nuneh testified in court that, “We’d eat once a day and sleep on the floor. They generally wouldn’t let us leave the house, fearing that we’d get picked up by the police and give them away. They’d lock us inside the house and take us to the bar by car.”

“You can’t imagine the state I was in. I held back my tears and put on a fake smile for the customers; so that they wouldn’t complain. The bar owners weren’t satisfied with how Rima was working. Gagik then began to threaten me and even slapped me around a few times, saying I wasn’t pulling my weight and wouldn’t get anything to eat. We showered with cold water. Gagik said heating the water used up too much electricity.

Irina remembers that, “From day one Gagik tried to butter me up, saying that he was in love with me. He even proposed that we live together and said that if I didn’t agree to marry him he’d throw me from the 10th floor…They had taken my passport and only handed it back when I went to work. They said it was just in case authorities from Istanbul came. If only just one policeman had shown up. But no one ever came.”

During court interrogation Gagik stated, “I’m a 40 year-old man and never in my life would I allow myself to do such things. Irina didn’t get along with me because I would make comments about her cleaning.” He added that he proposed marriage as a joke. Laura, Gagik’s sister, testified that she was in Armenia and knew nothing about what was going on.

“I telephoned my husband and asked if the girls had adapted and if they were all-right. He said they were OK. They travelled around there for more than a week. I gave them a place to stay. I’m not the person that usually does that. I’m also upset that my husband took the girls to the sea-side. I asked my husband on the phone whether he wasn’t embarrassed of what the neighbors would say; that he left our building with these girls in tow and drove off to the beach? I told him to send them back to Armenia immediately,” Laura testified, arguing her innocence in the matter and denying any involvement in any sexual exploitation of the girls.

“About 10-15 days after the girls left, Irina secretly called me from Turkey and said that Laura had tricked them and that they were engaged in some pretty ‘inappropriate’ work, recounts Armineh, who is included in the case as a witness. “I immediately went to see Laura who said nothing of the kind was taking place and that it was all a pack of lies. She phoned her husband Oumit and conversed in Turkish with him, but I could make out that she was angry with him for giving the girls phone access. I directly went to the police and informed them about the entire matter.”

According to the time frame presented by Armineh, the police had been informed about Laura and her Turkish operation no later than August 25, 2008. However, on September 3, 2008, she was able to cross the Armenian border at Bagratashen and make her way to Batum. Her Turkish husband Oumit was waiting for her there and for the “cargo” she was bringing – Lilit, born in 1979, and her 8 year-old daughter.

(To be continued)

P.S. Names in the above article have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved

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