The People's diplomat
With cowboy hat on his head and rucksack slung over his shoulder, 71-year-old Sergey Martirosyan walks briskly along the streets of Yerevan. It is the same speed that he has used to travel 45,000 kilometers through 67 countries of the world over the past 10 years to publicize the cause of Nagorno Karabakh.
If the equator is 40,000 kilometers long then I'm starting my second lap, he says.
At this time of year, he allows himself a vacation and spends time together with his wife Svetlana, daughter Aelita and two grandchildren Yuliana and Diana. The rest of the year he is on the road.
In ten months I manage to travel through 8 to 10 countries walking 30 to 35 kilometers in six or seven hours every day, he says proudly.
Martirosyan takes out numerous photographs from his rucksack and talks about them. In each photograph, he is wearing a shirt with the words Armenia and Karabakh printed on it in English and Armenian. In his hand he holds an Armenian flag with Karabakh's flag on the reverse side. This Armenian national ambassador is known to the world for precisely this look.
This is the Gates of Damascus and this is Jaffa Gate. In this photograph I'm in Jordan. In this one I'm on the way from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires. This is the White House, here the Capitol building. Here I'm standing next to the Eiffel Tower. Here I'm in Dubai. In this one I'm next to the Pyramids, Sergey explains with amazing speed.
In the photographs, he is surrounded always by numerous people, foreigners and Armenians alike, who welcome him enthusiastically.
He admits that he never considered that one day he would be a traveler and people's diplomat. When he lived in Baku, he went in for sports and used to run five to ten kilometers every day. Like many Armenians, in 1988 he left Baku for Yerevan, then traveled to Stepanakert to take part in the war for Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani and Turkish propaganda machine was functioning quite well. They were telling the world that Armenians are invaders and aggressors, he says. I thought why doesn't one of us go to Europe and tell that it is not the truth. My wife told me, you thought about it, ok, then you go and accomplish that mission'. And I went.
Martirosyan started his marathon from Stepanakert on August 6, 1993 and thousands of people gathered to see him off. He received official support from the Government of Karabakh, then headed by Robert Kocharyan
The People's diplomat was also given a Yeraz model car, which had been wholly painted with the words Armenia, Karabakh and Artsakh words. The tricolor was fluttering on the roof of Yeraz. During his tour, a nurse, a manager, a driver and a secretary, all friends or relatives, accompanied Martirosyan.
Armenia was the first country he visited.
My goal is to tell the world about Armenia and Karabakh as much as I can. We know our country very well but there are many people abroad who don't even know about Armenia and cannot show it on a map, he says.
In 1993, the Armenian office of the United Nations granted Martirosyan a special document permitting him to go on his round-the-world trip-marathon. He mentions that many countries permit you to cross their border with such a document, though others still demand a visa. He regards himself as a peace-loving road runner.
Before each visit to a country, his manager informs either the Armenian embassy, if there is one, or leading representatives of the local Diaspora community. In every country, Martirosyan holds a press conference. His photograph appears in different newspapers and the Armenian traveler tells the story of his native country over the TV.
Of course, I'm not a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but I make my contribution. I take numerous photographs of Armenia and Karabakh with me, I tell people general information about the land and the people so that they have an idea of who we are. And I distribute Armenian flags, he says.
Martirosyan has already worn out 46 pairs of Adidas sport shoes, which the company provides free of charge. Once, when he was in France, one of his shoes wore out near the Eiffel Tower and a Frenchman offered 200 francs for them as a souvenir.
A Medal of Gratitude shines on his coat, conferred on him for his 70 th birthday by the President of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkady Ghukasyan, to mark his achievements on behalf of his homeland.
Martirosyan's 47th but not the last pair of shoes
Martirosyan hasn't been in Australia or Central Asia yet. Pakistan, India, China and Japan are waiting for him. He says that he has promised to walk until he is 75 and he hopes that he will have enough time to complete his round-the-world trip.
He has been in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya and wishes very much to visit Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya.
He has walked the entire length of the River Volga from Astrakhan to Nizhni Novgorod. Many cities have made him an honorary citizen. In Moscow, he was received by the Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov.
For me the meeting with students University of California, Los Angeles was especially significant. I delivered a lecture there. The three days I spent with my benefactor Vahagn Hovnanyan at his home in New Jersey were memorable for me too, says Martirosyan fondly.
He says that he and his team don't have problems during his travel apart from financial ones. He spends about $1,500 each month while traveling abroad. Often, they take food with them, especially Armenian conserves. They continue to use their Yeraz, which by now is pretty worn-out but still is a strong attraction for people during Martirosyan's travels.
There are many benefactors abroad, who help me with my travels and I am very thankful to them. We mostly spend money for staying somewhere at night. However, it sometimes happens when we are received as guests and our hosts cover all hotel expenses, he says.
One of his goals is to visit Baku. He has already made such an attempt, but was informed that his safety could not be assured.
Anyway I don't give up. I must go and tell that it cannot be this way anymore and that they must reconcile themselves, he says.
Sergey Martirosyan has two wishes. He wants Artsakh to be recognized de jure and Armenia to be recognized in the world as a just country.
Now we are labeled as aggressors and a nation of invaders. When they stop addressing us with these words I will realize that I'm a lucky man and that I have nothing more to do, he says.
"After that I will retire on a pension. I will sit with my neighbors in the yard under the tree and play backgammon.