By Karine Kalantarian
Growing cooperation between Russian and Armenian law-enforcement bodies has prevented more than one hundred Armenian women from being trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation, Russia’s Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said on Friday.
Nurgaliev said “criminal groups” neutralized in joint Russian-Armenian police operations planned to transport the mostly young women to third countries, mainly the United Arab Emirates, via Russia. He revealed that members of one such group, allegedly intent on forcing six Armenians into prostitution in the Gulf state, were arrested as recently as on June 24. He did not give details.
The total figure cited by Nurgaliev was questioned by an Armenian police source, however. He told RFE/RL that it is somewhat exaggerated.
The Russian police chief was speaking at a brief news conference that a following an annual meeting in Yerevan of the leaderships of Armenia’s Police Service and Russia’s Interior Ministry. The issue of human trafficking was high on its agenda.
The problem, dating back to the mid-1990s, came under public spotlight in 2002 when the U.S. State Department placed Armenia in the so-called “Tier 3” group of states which Washington believes are doing little to tackle illegal cross-border transport of human beings. The embarrassing criticism led the Armenian authorities to take what the State Department sees as “significant efforts” to reduce its scale.
The country was removed from the blacklist and upgraded to the “Tier 2” category last year. Its status remained unchanged in the State Department’s latest global trafficking report issued last month. “The Government of Armenia does not fully comply with the minimum standards
for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so,” it said.
According to the report, the Armenian police have investigated suspected trafficking operations to Dubai involving an estimated 90 women over the past year. Local courts handed down few convictions in connection with such cases, however. “The sentences handed down ranged from substantial fines and correctional labor to one year imprisonment,” said the U.S. report.
Meeting with President Robert Kocharian later in the day, Nurgaliev said that cooperation between the Russian and Armenian law-enforcement authorities is “becoming increasingly effective.” Official figures show that the Russian police arrested and extradited 48 criminal suspects to their Armenian counterparts last year and 23 others in the first half of 2004. The Armenian side has handed over 84 individuals accused of committing crimes in Russia since the beginning of 2003.
Nurgaliev told reporters that the Yerevan meeting also discussed joint measures against organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking. He played down the scale of criminal activity in his country by so-called ethnic criminal gangs made up of Armenians and other Caucasian nationalities -- a major topic of crime reports in the Russian media. “I believe that ethnic crime can be mixed and we know that there are ethnically mixed criminal groups in Russia,” he said.
Still, Nurgaliev added that presently there are at least five major Armenian gangs operating in Moscow and other parts of the vast country.
(Photolur photo: Nurgaliev, right, speaking with Armenian police chief Hayk Harutiunian.)