The Wild Wild East: A visit with Armenia’s Sheriff Abo

The rattle of heels and the clang of spurs becoming one create a symphony played by boots. The major key sounds before the instrumentalist bobs up and down the central streets of Yerevan and the looks of passers-by are drawn to a gray-haired man wearing a weird outfit.

The 67-year-old man is Sheriff Abo, the de facto Sheriff of Armenia.

And, de jure, there are no sheriffs in Armenia.

Simply Albert Simonyan from Yerevan assuming this image, is expressing the cry of his soul, whose cause are the popular Hollywood westerns of the 1960s.

And like “Lonely Wolf” actor Chuck Norris, but thousands of miles away from Marlboro country, Sheriff Abo lonely and “there” in his thoughts is walking along the streets of Noah’s biblical country, at ready to say “howdy”, if such a word exists in Armenian.

His slow cowboy-style steps lack only the camp-fire melody of a harmonica, which willy-nilly become audible whilst his story unfolds.

It is about 20 years that Sheriff Abo has been working on his image. With every step, he hopes to mimic the moves of his distant heroes – of actor Clint Eastwood (El Dorado, 1966; Coogan’s Bluff, 1968; Joe Kidd, 1972), and the heroes from The Magnificent Seven (1960).

He wears a wide-brimmed hat, colorful shirts with a leather jacket, holiday jeans and eye-catching riding boots, and sunglasses.

“I feel like a sheriff in this outfit,” says Abo. “My soul is at ease this way. I have always liked movies about cowboys and have been fascinated by their lifestyle. I tried to resemble them and create the items that they wear in movies.”

Among the white-bearded sheriff’s items are:

A sheriff star on the hat, two orders on the shirt, a big glittering cross tied around the neck and a pendent with a horse image, a big gold ring, and the belt with a golden head of a horned bull. He always carries a metallic cigarette-case in his pocket, but the Marlboro country fan doesn’t smoke.

There is a (gas-powered) pistol on his side. He carries the gun legally.

“There are no such things in America. What I have is much better,” Abo says with pride. “I have always improved it. I stamped on my boots ‘Albert’ and ‘Sheriff’, and knives come out of the heels of my boots. I have adjusted everything to my mindset and done it so that they would be unique and unparalleled.”

And perhaps such a mindset has its bases.

“My mother always dressed me fashionably from my early childhood,” says Sheriff Abo. “I was dressed in an English style: I had breeches, a nice coat and a cap,” he says, showing his black and white photographs.

A few years ago Abo had a partner in Yerevan. It was Yerevan Sheriff Ando, or Andranik Martirosyan, again a “Lonely Wolf” fan.

The men fond of adventures found each other by chance and often communicated with each other. But Sheriff Ando went to Chicago, U.S.A., for permanent residence in 2003.

Abo was in the United States, too. This man living by his own version of the call of the wild, admits that the everyday life in America is far from cowboy movies. He says that there, for example, they treat husbands without respect.

“Women there are a sort of free-thinking. They can spend time with any man, and then return to their hubbies,” he says. “It is alien to Armenians. What is yours is right, it must be yours – end of story. How can a man tolerate his beloved creature to love someone else?”

(The “sheriff” himself was married twice. But, characteristically cowboy, he doesn’t talk about why he now lives alone. He does, though, speak with love about his son and two daughters and is a proud grandpa.)

The Sheriff has himself dodged a bullet or two: Twice he had car accidents and underwent serious surgeries, including having his gall bladder removed.

When he says that his gall-bladder was removed, he mutters below his breath: “Chuck Norris also had his gall-bladder removed, too.”

Abo worked in different municipal companies as an average laborer. During the ‘90s he owned a small diner.

How do you make a living now?

The cowboy persona emerges again: “I manage.”

Now he intends to open a tavern like he saw in movies – with small chairs, wooden tables, and where brave men would drink only beer and eat only khashlama (national dish).

Today, Abo’s trusty steed, a Nissan SUV, is under repairs, after which the “Lonely Wolf”, with halogens on, will again drive around nighttime Yerevan streets.