Monday, May 30, 2005

Today I got a phone call from a friend telling me that the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights was having a roundtable discussion about the Artsakh conflict at hotel Armenia and I should attend.

At 5pm the roundtable, which was actually rectangle, was occupied by a number of professors, socialist, human-rights activists, representatives of various political groups, an advisor to the President of NKR, a representative of the NKR Ministry of Defense and a representative of the NKR Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The discussion started with the question of how will the conflict be resolved and to what price we will are willing to pay.

It very quickly was agreed that the Artsakh “conflict” was not a conflict for us, but more a conflict for Azerbaijan. The people of Artsakh had resolved for the most part any conflict it had with Azerbaijan, when after 70 years of trying, had finally liberated Artsakh.

One other thing that was an issue for many people was the negotiation of the possible return of territories that Azerbaijan is claming recently we have agreed to give control to them.

It was agreed that the Armenian people have to demand to our government and put as much pressure as we can that we are not relinquishing even an inch of land and there is no need to discuss such possibilities with Azerbaijan.

For the most part the discussion went well and though there were a few people who were pitching their parties platform (at least this is how I interpreted it), I really thought that we have come to a turning point where a well represented part of the population made it clear that irregardless of what the government does or negotiates, the present day territorial integrity of Artsakh will not be compromised.
Yesterday I participated in a workshop entitled “Armenia: Financial Sector Development—Directions and Challenges,” which was organized by the Armenian International Policy Research Group (AIPRG) and held at Armenia’s Central Bank cash reserve storage facility in Tsakhkadzor.

I first of all want to thank David Grigorian of the IMF and one of the founding members of AIPRG for inviting me to the event.

I’ve been working for the last few weeks on a plan to stimulate the economy via a Diaspora investment company that invests in companies that are owned by good honest natives and during the many hours of presentations and discussion, I was able to make 63 individual notations that will be of use to form the structure of our investment company.

I also made some very good contacts, which not only will possibly benefit the investment company, but I also met someone who I believe will play a big role in our anti-trafficking efforts.

The event was attended by a wide range of Armenian and non-Armenians, including the president of the Central Bank.

One of the questions asked by a participant was a related to the major change of dollar to dram exchange rate, related to long term loans and what effects it will have to those people who work for dollars, but took out the loan in drams? Though the question was not directed to the president of the Central Bank and was not asking why the dollar was so weak, during the question and answer by one of the panelists, the president was literally covering his face with both hands and was kind of cruelled up in a ball in his chair, I kid you not. In fact during the workshop, the president who was unshaven, appeared to be very uncomfortable and was acting in ways that reminded me of my photography teacher in high school Ken Little, who ended up having a nervous breakdown.

Anyway, though the workshop ran over by 3 hours, I really enjoyed it, am glad that I participated and stayed until the end, as if I had not, like many didn’t, I would not have enjoyed the khorovads dinner which the Central Bank president put on for us.

BTW, I have so much to log about, but so very little time. I guess in the days when I was logging a couple times a day, I really was not doing much and had too much spare time on my hands. Now that I’m working on so many projects, time is very hard to come by. Oh well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Dubai is Hell on Earth
[May 25, 2005]

Aisha, whose real name is Lusine Hakobyan, is one of the most notorious pimps in Dubai. She is known among prostitutes for being cruel and slovenly. Like most Armenian pimps she first came to Dubai as a prostitute herself, but quickly worked her way up to boss. She got her Arabic nickname from a local man. Aisha has multiple scars on her wrists. "She told me once that her boss was very cruel to her, and that's why she tried to commit suicide,” said K. from Charentsavan, one of Aisha's victims. “But I don't think there is anyone crueler than she is. She beat us and forced us to work even on the days when it wasn't possible to have sex. I used to cry and tell her that I couldn't do anything, but she would throw me out of the house, and say, ‘Get to work!'” K. is now in her second year as a prostitute in Dubai, and has no hopes of returning to Armenia; Aisha tore up her passport. We tried to persuade K. to go to the police.

"I am afraid. You know, a couple of our girls went to the police. Their boss paid money to Omar, and he got them out of jail, and brought them back. The girls were beaten until they almost died," said K.

A year ago, Aisha renting an apartment from an Arab named Khalet. But Khalet cheated her, borrowed a big sum of money and never paid it back. Since then, Aisha has been working with Omar. Omar is from Yemen. He finds fake visas for Aisha's girls and takes care of their problems with the police. Salem, an officer in the Raffa Police Department, is Omar's connection there.

Posing as American tourists in the Hotel Metropol, we asked Aisha about Khalet. We told her that we were old friends who were looking for him. Aisha told us that we could find Khalet at the pool hall in the Titanic Building where he often spent the evening.

Aisha is in Dubai on a resident visa, which gives her permission to work. "She told us that the visa was made by Khalet and Omar,” K. told us. “But she said that the visa is fake, and she is afraid that she might be arrested.” says K from Charentsavan.

According to our sources, Aisha is currently in Armenia and has already been questioned once by the Prosecutor General's Office. Months ago, when she was being pursued by the Armenian authorities, she met with prosecution representative Aristakes Eramyan in Dubai. He told her to go back to Yerevan. "Aisha told us that she had to go to pay off the prosecutors, so she could come back, “ said A. from Yerevan, another one of Aisha's victims. Lusine Hakobyan was once arrested in Armenia, in 2003. She paid off the authorities and was released.

“In Armenia, the girls are recruited by Lusine's mother, Hasmik. She lives in Abovyan,” K. told us, the second time we met. “She and her boyfriend Spartak, known as Spo, go through the villages looking for girls from poor families. They persuade the girls to come to Dubai. So actually the mother sold us to her daughter.

"There was a girl with us, her name was Nelli. She ran away later. She was an orphan,” K. continued. “You know how they brought her here? That Spo had a friend from Abovyan called Armen. They registered a fake marriage between him and Nelli. They came to Dubai together. Nelli stayed and Armen went back. That's how Armen brought girls to Aisha on several occasions."

"When I first came, I thought Dubai was a paradise, but now I know that it's hell on Earth," says Arus, who works for a pimp called Nano (nicknamed Horse). Arus is a prostitute in one of Dubai 's rabochkas (a Russian word meaning a district with a lot of workers). Those girls who can't make money anymore in discos and bars are taken to rabochkas, where they charge $3, $5, or $10.

Their clients are construction workers from abroad; they can service up to fifty men per day. Arus is now working in a rabochka, under Aisha's supervision. She has no documents, and no idea how things will turn out in the end.

Edik Baghdasaryan

Saturday, May 21, 2005


STEPANAKERT, May 18. /ARKA/. Quantity of people seeking jobs made 4334 in NKR as of May 1, 2005, of them 4007 are women. As Lenston Gulyan, the NKR Social Security Minister told ARKA News Agency, the status of unemployed was given to 3403 people, of which 3133 are women. According to him, the quantity of people receiving unemployment benefits makes 251, 209 of which are women. During January-April 52 got fixed up in a job, 47 of them were women. "The quantity of jobseekers as of January 1, 2005 made 4223, which is by 1,1% or by 49 people less compared to the indicator of the same period of 2004", noted Gulyan. L.V. -0—

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Why is it that when I read such articles, I get upset?

I guess since I know all of 4,334 people who are seeking a job personally. For this, I believe the real number is probably closer to 40,000 people.

I guess my pal Lenston is only counting those persons who have taken the time to register with the government to find a job with them. I would guess this is also why the majority of them are women.

If you take the real number of people who are seeking a job and base unemployment on that, the real number would be closer to 50%. I say this as half the employable people in Martuni are always asking about me giving them a job.

But why would the NKR government report the reality? That would indicate that they were not working well in the area of economic development.

All I know is that this one of those many articles which say nothing and in fact misrepresent reality.

Friday, May 20, 2005

For those intersted, I have started to post the Jennifer Smith Armenian adoption letters on a blog that those intersted in this subject can read.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
[May 18, 2005]

Authorities Give the Shaved-heads Carte Blanche

On February 4, 2005 at 8:30 p.m. there was an exchange of gunfire in the TETS-i Krug neighborhood on the outskirts of Yerevan . The shootout lasted fifteen minutes; one man, Mher Ter-Harutiunyan, was killed, and dozens were injured.

The perpetrators faced justice in a trial that concluded on April 29th.

The incident began with a disagreement over Microbus Route 69. The two parties that had laid claim to the route called in reinforcements in the form of gangsters and oligarchs' bodyguards. About 200 people took part in the armed clash. Bullets from 7.62mm and 5.45mm caliber machine guns were found at the scene.

Look at these faces carefully. Tomorrow, in a week, or in a couple of months they are going to commit new crimes. They are going to commit these crimes because they have received carte blanche from the authorities. They've had it since September 25, 2001 when President Kocharyan's bodyguards beat Poghos Poghosyan to death in the Aragast Cafe and were never punished for it.

These three “good guys”, as they refer to themselves, attacked reporters on April 5, 2004 (See: Violence against journalists).

Two of them were questioned at the time and given fines of 100 thousand drams ($200) each.

The first man in the photograph is Hamo from Bangladesh, or Armen Avetisyan. The next is Hro from Artashat, or Hrair Harutiunyan, a former bodyguard and current business associate Member of Parliament Gagik Tsarukyan. Hro is a small businessman, with stores and various industrial units; the way is paved for him in his business career. Hro was also the leader of one of the sides in the shootout in TETS-i Krug. The other side was led by Lyovik, a reputed criminal from Yerevan 's Charbakh district.

The third man in the photo is Vrezh Osipyan. He also happened to be near Cinema Nairi during the events of April 5 th , but the Prosecutor's Office did not question him at all. Politician Ashot Manucharyan recognized Vrezh Osipyan as one of attackers (See: Ashot Manucharyan recognizes one of his attackers). The police questioned Osipyan once when this piece of information came to light, and that was all.

All three men were participants in the TETS-i Krug shootout. The courts let them off easily this time, too.

The trial following the violence against journalists on April 5 th is a classic example of the ineptitude of those entrusted with defending the law: the way the judge investigated the case and reached a verdict was amazing. There was no “questioning” in the case at all, and knowing the names of the people involved in the TETS-i Krug case, it's easy to predict that this one will turn out the same way, i.e. no one will be punished. It is reasonable to surmise that if the shaved-headed thugs responsible violence of last April had been punished, then TETS-i Krug would not have happened in February of this year. It is even more certain that the incident will prove to be the first in a series, because defenders of the law are hostages to these thugs.

“TETS-i Krug” has become famous for its showdowns. It is at the intersection of Artsakh and Arin-Berd Streets, where many of Yerevan 's largest factories are located. In Soviet times the, the area was always busy; today there is not much traffic. Why did the February 4 th showdown happen here?

Last year when we were trying to find out about the men responsible for the attack on the journalists, the trail led to TETS-i Krug. We knew that the men frequently got together here in a local factory, the headquarters of the shaved-heads. One of our journalists managed to get inside at one of their gatherings, and saw Hamo from Bangladesh , Hro from Artashat, and Vrezh Osipyan there.

Showdowns are common in the neighborhood and law enforcement knows it. Sometimes people are brought here “for purposes of instruction”, after which different issues are quickly resolved—debts are paid, and dues are collected. The criminal world in Armenia has fused with the legal system, and law enforcement officials often take part in the showdowns. February 4 th was no exception. Investigators know the names of those who took part, but they are not mentioned in the case. It has even been discovered which armed man called which general, member of parliament, and oligarch from the scene of the incident, but the justice system closes its eyes to the facts, because it has been ordered to do so.

Members of the governing coalition have stated again and again that the rule of law must be established in the country, and that no one should be above the law. They haven't, however, gone beyond words.

One point should be addend to the draft constitution that's being discussed these days: “The shaved-headed bodyguards of officials and oligarchs are national treasures and as such are under the protection of the State.” Otherwise, we won't have a document that truly reflects the Republic of Armenia .

Edik Baghdasaryan
[May 18, 2005]

Until the Next War

"Ever since I was a boy, when I studied Armenian history, I dreamed about going to war. If you don't have that dream, then you're as sick as the current government," said Hovsep Aghabekyan, whose friends call him Mr. Hovsep.

From 1992 to 1994, Mr. Hovsep fought in the battles for Zangelan, Ghubatlu, Jebrayil, Fizuli, Shushi, Hadrut, and Kelbajar. The commander of Shushi's elite reconnaissance brigade, he didn't go home throughout the war. He cannot say how many of his comrades died in front of his eyes.

After the war Hovsep returned to Yerevan and briefly held the position of assistant commander of Yerevan 's 5th division. The government didn't like him, he said, explaining, "I had different principles."

Today Mr. Hovsep is a construction worker, but it's not a steady job. He says he won't ask for help from the government since he knows they won't help him. "I have friends who are first or second degree disabled, and they get no help," he explains. He has a wife and two children; they live in a rented apartment. Some time ago the landlord increased the rent by from $30 to $50 a month. Hovsep's wife, Lusine, says that the landlord didn't even ask them if they could afford to pay that much. "In the neighborhood, prices are high, so he probably he decided to raise our rent as well," she said.

The couple married when Hovsep returned from the war. Their children are in school now. Lusine describes their life together in one word: survival. Lusine confesses that their problems are disheartening, but said about being married to Hovsep, “ I am happy and proud."

I asked Mr. Hovsep whether he had known what he was was fighting for when he was fighting. "I didn't fight for the situation we have today; I fought so that social problems could be put right," he said.

Was there anyone he could go to for help, for instance his wartime friends? He fought alongside the current vice minister of defense, Arthur Aghabekyan. "During the war he was a great friend," Mr. Hovsep said. But later, things turned out differently: "My close friend asked him for help. My friend is 1st degree disabled, but the vice minister didn't help him. He and my friend fought shoulder to shoulder. Now my friend's life is broken, he's in jail," he recounted. 41 years old, Hovsep Aghabekyan plays soccer regularly. "Tomorrow there might be another war, and soccer is a good way to stay physically fit," he explained.

Khachatur Giloyan went to war when he was seventeen. He had grown up knowing all about war. "It's probably in my blood. My grandfather told a lot of war stories; he was a soldier for Nzhdeh, Andranik," he said.

He decided to go to war himself when he saw the first corpses of the victims in Yerevan. His parents were against it. "The first time, I ran away from home, and they understood I had to go," Khachatur remembered. He lost his right leg in the war, and was granted 2 nd degree disability. The government, however, refused to recognize him as permanently disabled. Why? "If your leg doesn't grow back within ten years, they give you permanent status. That's our law," he explained.

The government pays Khatchatur a soldier's pension that he considers a humiliation. He went to war as a volunteer, below draft age. "Tomorrow you won't be able to prove to them that you went on your own, and not because you were forced to,” he said. Did Khachatur understand what was he fighting for when he was seventeen? "There are times when you shouldn't look for an explanation," he said, added philosophically, "The motherland won't forget you, but it won't remember you either, since it doesn't know about you."

The "motherland," in this case Karabakh, did however show its appreciation to Khachatur in the form of two medals—“Mother's Gratitude" and "For Bravery". "Everyone gets this medal,” he said of the second one. “Those who fought and those who didn't.” As a result, the efforts of those who fought and those who didn't were rendered the same. "Today, people who didn't fight at all receive that medal. It happens all the time. And there are people from my division who were wounded, but they don't have any papers; they go to the hospital and ask for money."

Khachatur Giloyan is now 29 years old. He got married five years ago and has two children. Though he is young, he has serious health problems. Even so, he says that if there is another war, he will try to go and fight. What is he doing in the meantime? "Mainly I do buying and selling, because who is going to keep me?" he said. He explained the current state of mind of his fellow freedom fighters: "You know why 90% of fighters who say they don't have a job or anything are like that? It's because they only know how to fight. And our government is bad; it doesn't take care of these people. So these people are waiting for another war, so they can fight." He described a case in which a 2nd degree disabled fighter received a three-years sentence for stealing. “His child had bronchitis. He went and stole some medicine. They caught him and he confessed."

These two Artsakh freedom fighters celebrate May 9 th as a day of remembrance, the one thing the government hasn't managed to take from them. They say the government should have understood that it had to keep working with the soldiers who kept reliving the war after it ended, like the US did with Vietnam veterans. That didn't happen and now the fighters are waiting for the next war. The war for liberation ended, but the dreams of war did not.

Mher Arshakyan

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Sorry again for not logging more often.

I guess there is not all that much I can report these days, though my days have been filled meeting with officials and NGOs to address issues related to human trafficking.

I can report that we have been moving forward and I’m hoping in the very near future, we will see our first victims return to Armenia, where they will receive rehabilitation.

One other thing I have been up to is writing lyrics. I guess this is my new hobby and is only possible thanks to a 17-year-old conservatory student named Nick.

Nick is what I can only call a music genius. He takes my words and thoughts and puts them to music. He does all this in English, which his language of choice, as for some reason, Armenian just does not work for him. My fiancé and I went to his house for dinner the other night and his mother was telling us about Nick and how at the age of three, surprised them when he played the Armenian national anthem on the piano after hearing it on the radio.

So far, we have written 2 songs together, one titled “Living My Life”, which is a song about victims of trafficking and “All Eyes On Me”, which is a kind of humorous dance song about how guys are dogs and can’t keep their eyes to themselves when a girl walks by.

I wanted to write this song since I’ve noticed this problem long ago thanks to having a fiancé who I would say is somewhat good looking and during times when she is dressed down, still gets these dogs staring as if in a trance. The worst is the old men, who in their 50’s and 60’s are not ashamed to undress my poor fiancé, who is made very uncomfortable.

Once we have recorded “All Eyes On Me”, the plan is a video, which for he most part will be a girl who is dressed very normal walking and we will videotape the staring eyes of the dogs that roam the streets of Yerevan, especially the old men. I want them to understand that this is not only rude, but also makes us (the girls too) indifferent to some of our cultural norms.

Here is one of the verses from the song, so you can get an idea of what it is about:

There are some kind of boys
Were not your cuddle toys
Don’t strip us with your eyes
It’s cold out here tonight

Take me out of your dreams
Erotic fantasies
Baby just let me breath
Nightmares are not for me

The next song we will be writing will be about genocide, which I wanted to do right after the genocide conference, but never found the time to do. I’m not sure how it will turn out, as that conference is now a faded memory. At that time I was really inspired and had some really good ideas.

As for the weather here, it’s great!!! I just love this time of year in Armenia. Not too cold, not too hot.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I drove into Yerevan today after a 10 day stay in Martuni, for the most part working on getting rid of a stubborn flu.

On the way in, our taxi who was being driven by Arthur, the former military police officer who was fired for striking his commanding officer, was stopped by the police.

I guess Arthur was speeding (though I was not looking at his speedometer) and the cops were waiting for him around a blind corner with a laser speed gun.

After a 3 minute conversation and Arthur reaching into his pocket of money which he gave the cop, he got back in the car and drove off.

It seems that they cops claimed that they stopped him not because he was speeding, but because they were conducting a raid to make sure that the car and documents were in order.

I asked him if that was the case, why then did he give them a bribe?

Arthur said that first of all, they wanted from him 15,000 dram, to which he talked them down to 3,000 dram.

He went on to say that if he didn’t give them the bribe, then they would have checked his car and found something wrong, even though there was nothing wrong with his car.

Last year when I was driving into Yerevan, I got stopped by the same cop in the same spot and after arguing with him, he let me off with a warning, though I had done nothing wrong.

The cops in Yerevan today were out in force, all along the road leading into the city center. I guess the chief’s birthday is coming up or his money is running out, thus the shake-down.