Russian-language news site Russian Reporter yesterday published a WikiLeaks US cable in which former US Ambassador to Armenia John M. Evans raises the issue of sex and prostitution in Vanadzor, Armenia’s third-largest city.
Evans notes that poverty and desperation are the largest factors contributing to trafficking of persons in Armenia, according to prostitutes, police and NGOs in Vanadzor.
“Lack of jobs drove women to sell themselves both in Armenia and overseas, where the money was better, but where they often didn’t actually get paid. They told us that girls as young as 11 and 12 have started walking the streets. A police officer told us that parents send their daughters to Turkey fully understanding the cost at which remittances will be sent home,” reads the US cable, in part.
Evans then continues to present the situation of girls in Armenia lured into prostitution, in Armenia, Turkey or the United Arab Emirates:
“We went to Vanadzor expecting to hear stories of illicit smuggling across borders and of girls lured into prostitution under false pretenses. What we heard was significantly more pedestrian. According to [loca prostitutes] Aida and Suzy, very few Vanadzor women are tricked into working in Dubai or Istanbul brothels these days. They go knowingly, on legal passports, with legal visas, and for the most part without having to bribe border guards to let them through…
“Pre-teenage girls ride buses to Turkey carrying permission letters signed by their parents, who for the most part have dispatched their daughters themselves, and who understand exactly how young Anahit or Armine will earn the several hundred dollars she will send home each month. And while the prostitutes and the [Hope and Help, a World Vision-funded NGO that provides medical care and condoms to Vanadzor’s large prostitute population,] NGO employees we met said sometimes women are abused in the brothels, or aren’t paid in full, they said the greater part of women generally understand what they are getting themselves into, and may already have worked as prostitutes for years.
“Far from being the pursuit of violent smuggling rings who kidnap women and sell them into slavery, trafficking in Armenia is largely a result of the poor economy, they said, and has mostly to do with opportunistic pimps taking advantage of women who are already willing to prostitute themselves.”
The cable continues by noting that the US diplomats visited the “domiks” on the outskirts of Vanadzor that many prostitutes call home — domiks are “shanties built in the late 1980s to house homeless earthquake victims, but the day we visited, the domik residents weren’t any closer to moving out than they had been the day they moved in.”
Further, an increasing number of women go to Turkey (more than the UAE) to earn money in prostitution, and “are not lured under false pretenses,” said Rudik Varosyan, head of the department on minors in the Vanadzor police department, notes the WikiLeaks cable. “More and more underage girls are being sent by their families to go and earn a little money, Varosyan said, adding that he has never heard of a case in which a minor went without parental permission.”
This particular cable ends by noting the difference between the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and the rest of the country. Evans adds, the country has to offer an alternative to these women who are simply trying to make a living and put food on the table:
“Many visitors to Armenia who see only Yerevan — with its pretty main square and shiny Hummers and BMW X5s — and leave thinking the country is doing well economically. Armenians and seasoned expats often tell these visitors that there are two Armenias: Yerevan, and the rest of the country.
“Our trip to Vanadzor was like a spin on the focus dial of a pair of binoculars; afterwards, the distinction was clear to us, and in sharp relief. It is easy, sitting in the relatively well-to-do capital city, to put the problem squarely in the laps of lawmakers and law enforcement, and to bang our fists on the government’s coffee tables to demand that they work harder to stop the crimes.
“But fist-banging won’t change the fact that many prostitutes work simply to get food on the table, and that they believe they will be paid better in Turkey or the UAE. The Armenian government cannot improve a bad economy with stricter laws and harsher sentencing. While both are needed here, Armenia has to offer these women an alternative to turning tricks if it is to eradicate trafficking.”