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Four arrested in Armenia for illegal adoption ring

20 December 2019
Razmik Abrahamyan, Director of the Institute of Reproductive Health, Perinatology, Obstetrics and Gynecology. Image via RFE/RL.

Four people have been arrested in Armenia in connection with an organised crime ring alleged to have coerced and lied to pregnant women to sell 30 children for adoption abroad, the Investigative Committee has announced.

The suspects were arrested on 18 December. The first news of the crime ring surfaced in late November, though no suspects were named at the time.

One of the suspects arrested is Razmik Abrahamyan, Director of the Institute of Reproductive Health, Perinatology, Obstetrics and Gynecology. The Institute, popularly known as the ‘Republican Maternity Ward’, is the largest maternity ward in Armenia. 

The three other suspects are Arshak Jerjeryan, deputy director of the same institute, Liana Karapetyan, director of the Yerevan Children’s Home (an orphanage for children aged up to six), as well as an unidentified 43-year-old woman.

According to the National Security Service (NSS), the adoption scheme included several maternity wards, government agencies, and orphanages. 

The scheme

The NSS claims that from 2016-2018, a number of young women who had applied for abortions were coerced into carrying their pregnancies to term and giving their children up for adoption.

Other cases include medical workers fabricating or exaggerating a newborn’s illness and pressuring mothers to give up their babies up for adoption based on false information. 

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Once the parents officially gave up their parental rights, most of the newborns were sent to orphanages. Thereafter, many of the children had their medical papers doctored to include fake details about their health status.

The orphanages allegedly used these documents to deter Armenian citizens from adopting the children. 

When the investigation was first announced, The Armenian Times claimed that the Republican Maternity Ward was allegedly involved in the criminal ring. 

At the time, Director Razmik Abarahamyan denied the allegations.

‘The hospital has nothing to do with adoption processes’, Abrahamyan told reporters on 9 December. ‘These processes are carried out by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and orphanages. You should be asking them your questions. If you have other questions for me then ask our press service.’

‘National values’

During a Government session on 19 December, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke of the arrests, using the occasion to condemn the former ruling Republican Party, which has criticised Pashinyan in recent months for ‘undermining national values’. 

‘It’s very interesting that it was specifically our government that is undertaking a politics of returning children to their families’, the prime minister said. ‘But, for example, the mechanisms of illegal adoption existed in the years of that government who operated under the flag of “national values” ’.  

On the evening of 19 November, the head of public relations for the Investigative Committee, Naira Harutyunyan, posted on Facebook that Abrahamyan would not be let out on bail.

According to Hetq, Abrahamayn was admitted to the Armenia Medical Centre the day after his arrest. His lawyer, Samvel Dilbandyan, told Hetq it was due to his age.

‘He is a 76-year-old elderly man who has to be under constant supervision by doctors’, Dilbandyan said. ‘I don’t know what would happen to his health if he is sent to jail without medical supervision.’

In an interview with Azatutyun, the head of public relations for the Armenia Medical Centre, Varduhi Simonyan, stated that the adoption process goes through state bodies. 

‘Hospitals can’t have any role in this process’, she said. She added that for children to be adopted by foreigners, a complicated process involving up to 10 institutions must be followed, from local administrations to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. 

Other allegations

On 29 August, Abrahamyan was accused by  33-year-old Haykuhi Khachatryan of lying and ‘stealing her baby to sell’. She claims that the stillbirth the hospital told her she had was a lie. The whereabouts of the body of the newborn are unknown and she said was offered ֏1 million ($2,100) by Abrahamyan as ‘help’. 

‘How dare they offer me money?’ she told Azatutyun, ‘I told them I’m not selling my child.’

An investigation was launched on 7 October and is ongoing. 

Abrahamyan was also indicted on corruption charges in April 2019. 

On 9 December, Abrahamyan pleaded guilty to bribing former Deputy Minister of Health Arsen Davtyan to provide support on a variety of issues. Davtyan was responsible for coordinating the funding of different medical facilities in his capacities as deputy minister. 

The Armenian Government is currently attempting to dismantle the orphanage system in the country by launching a deinstitutionalisation programme. The programme includes returning children to their families and developing a foster care system.

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