Thursday, August 25, 2016


Food Fight Rages In The Caucasus

Many in Armenia have been incensed that "keshkek" has been added to a UNESCO heritage list on behalf of Turkey. They claim that the wheat or barley stew is actually an Armenian dish known as "harissa."
Many in Armenia have been incensed that "keshkek" has been added to a UNESCO heritage list on behalf of Turkey. They claim that the wheat or barley stew is actually an Armenian dish known as "harissa."
There is perhaps nothing more closely bound up with one's national identity than food.

Specific local dishes are often seen as the embodiment of various cultures and many nations promote their food as a celebration of national identity.

Sometimes, however, a country's cuisine can also be used to highlight national rivalries.

Czechs, for example, sometimes affectionately (some would say condescendingly) refer to their Slovak cousins as "halusky," after the typical gnocchi dish that comprises part of their national cuisine. Similarly, the English often disparagingly call their French neighbors "frogs" because of the Gallic penchant for eating the legs of said amphibians.

Culinary flashpoints can also arise when neighboring nations all lay claim to the same regional dish.

For instance, the Scots, English, and the Irish often bicker about whose fried breakfast is the original and the best of the species.

In the volatile Caucasus region, though, it seems that such food fights have now been taken to a whole new level.

As reports, many Armenians are up in arms about a recent UNESCO decision to add the Anatolian stew "keshkek" to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List on behalf of Turkey.

They claim that "keshkek" is actually an Armenian meal, which they call "harissa."

Now a group of ethnographers from Turkey's eastern neighbor are actually compiling information on the dish to appeal the ruling by the UN's cultural agency.

According to the website, Sedrak Mamulyan, the chairman of the Development and Preservation of Armenian Culinary Traditions organization, is intent on demonstrating that "the utensils, methods, and ingredients used for making...harissa have a pure Armenian origin and it is a purely Armenian dish."

The traditional khash soup is another dish whose "nationality" is disputed.
The traditional khash soup is another dish whose "nationality" is disputed.

The same organization has also attacked Georgia for commandeering "khash." It insists that this tasty beef soup is in fact an Armenian national dish.

Armenia, meanwhile, has itself come under fire from Azerbaijan, which has accused its neighbor and regional nemesis of "cuisine plagiarism."

Baku's National Security Ministry has even set up a National Cuisine Center to reinforce its claim to the nation's cuisine and, in particular, to help counter any Armenian efforts to appropriate what it feels are Azerbaijani dishes.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are at loggerheads over the origins of tolma.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are at loggerheads over the origins of tolma.

The "tolma" dish, which consists of meatballs wrapped in grape leaves, seems to be a particular bone of contention between the two countries, especially since Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev publicly announced last year that it was an Azeri national dish.

This provoked a furious response in Armenia and various initiatives have been launched to help save the country's national dishes from "occupants." This even includes holding an annual Tolma Festival to reinforce the idea that it is a typically Armenian food.

Whatever the upshot of these culinary claims and counterclaims, it sadly doesn't seem like these regional rivals will be sitting down to break bread with each other anytime soon.

-- Coilin O'Connor
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mamuka
January 17, 2013 14:54
If UNESCO decides to honor khash (khashi) in any manner, then it will definitely be time to abolish the UN.
In Response

by: from: Djulfa, Armenia
January 31, 2013 07:18

UNESCO became a puppet organization on Baku Sultanate's payroll. They "honor" the dictator's wife-gyzy Aliyeva-Pashayeva with diplomatic titles and refuse to act against her husband's barbaric destruction of ancient Armenian monuments that were left on the lands currently occupied by these nomads.

Actually, the whole issue should be viewed from the perspective of a conflict between civilizations. The nomadic Turkic tribes made their way to Armenia from the Altai mountains destroying everything on their way. Now they are trying to get legitimacy for their robbery and theft acts by claiming that they were always there.

They should look at their own history and be proud of it. Read for example their historic folk epic of Dede Korkut. It documents their centuries of wondering behind their sheep, attacking villagers, stealing horses, cutting throats of non-Turks for fun, etc, but never about dolma or lavash. This is because you can't make these dishes while constantly on the horse running away from your Kazakh and Kyrgyz cousins or hiding in the steppes waiting for a dark night time to attack a village.

Dolma requires sedentary lifestyle - you need to cultivate grapes. While doing so you also make wine. Nomadic Turks genetically did not develop the ferment to process alcohol. This is why they can't drink wine and use drugs instead.

Their staple food was a chunk of meat stored under the saddle - a day of riding on the horse a the dinner is ready.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
February 01, 2013 06:33
There are here two levels of origins of cultures, including food.
Pre-Georgia started Caucasian race and Human Civilization,
About 11-12 milleniums ago, once again after Ice age fload,
According to agriculture excavations, reference publication,
Editor Mitchel. So, culture and food used be of same roots.

Through history the new dishes adapted all over the World.
If there are too many potato dishes, under different names,
One can't claim potato invented by Belarus, who have it all,
Eating a lot of potato and call it Bulba, it came from indians.
It is easier to classify particular recepies and names - fools.

Sharpness of agrument defy reason, trying devide and rule.
In Caucasus imperial resurrectors using cornered peoples,
As Turkish Armenians (Urartu), Adyga (Gad-Pechenegies),
WW2 military crime secretly tried, children of Caucasians.
Even foods are battlefields of loud mouth of recrouted fools.

Turky populated, for about 10 milleniums, by pre-Georgians,
Later invaded by Persians and Greeko-Macedonian empires
And finally by Turkmens. They inherrited from local ethnoces
And Turkmens also part of Median "Common Wealth", ways.
Also Caspian Albanians and Erevanian Iberians, later Urartu.

by: Kevork from: USA
January 17, 2013 15:40
In foods, there is absolutely NOTHING of Turkish origin. Proof: Mongol dishes have no similarity to so-called "Turkish" dishes. And "Azerbaijan"?? What in Hell's name is that?? A century old puppet republic is now claiming thousands of year old Armenian dishes? Yeah now we know how a people are dumb enough to become "Turkic".
In Response

by: Will from: Oz
January 21, 2013 23:09
Not sure how I missed this earlier, this has to be one of the most ill informed comments I have seen.

Ok, so first lets clear something up "Tartar-Mongols" are not one people. There are Mongolian people, who are culturally and historically distinct, then there are Turkic people who are also culturally and historically distinct. Likewise, the group was not solely Turkic or Mongol, there were also elements of the various indigenous Siberian tribes (such as Nenets, Ugric, etc) as well as Kazakhs (yes, yet another separate group) and many others who were picked up, recruited, subjugated along the journey from east to west. Hence today we have Turkic peoples from West China, through out Southern Russia, all long Central Asia and as far west as Turkey.

With regards to food, Mongolian and Turkic food is not at all similar and there is no reason for it to be, they are not the same people. Furthermore, if you want to see what Turkic food is like, you can travel from Turkey all long Central Asia in to Western China and you will find that the Turkic peoples along the "Silk Road" share very similar culinary pallets, with slight variations due to geography and available resources. All in all, there is quite a lot of homogeny between the various Turkic group's cuisines, which implies that it is not plagiarized from Armenia, if anything I would say it is quite likely that it was Armenians who were influenced heavily by the rich "Silk Road" culture of Turkic cuisine.

Word of advice, dont let nationalists tell you what to think, they have an agenda and they are stringing you along. Do your own research (internet is perfect for this) and formulate your own opinions based on facts, not fantasy.
In Response

by: Jonathan from: Ottawa
January 22, 2013 17:53
Will I think you hit the nail on the head with that comment and frankly it summerizes the whole debate.
Humans are influenced by those around them, whether they are Azeri, Georgian, Armenian or anything else. Many of these recipes exact origins can never be truely known, because the region is so diverse and so many people have come through it.. Each place will put there own spin on them.

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
January 17, 2013 16:08
Of course all this dishes are turkish and azeri.When the great modern most humanist turkish state was founded upon the millions of armenian,assyrian,arab,bulgarian,greek,kurdish,and even its own turkish copses,its fouder-an impotent castrate ordred the great turkish scientists to invent the so-called sunny theory of the origin of the turkic peoples.It states that the turkic peoples came to this earth from the sun and that they invented all modern civilization and culture as we know it today.Milk and all milk products were a turkic `inventions`,language,alphabets,letters too,as well as many other things too numerous to mention here.So everything in this world has its turkic origin.And to be more specific-an azeri one prove the azeris with their centuries old civilization of a `state`,I repeat,a `state`,not a petrol station 1918.This is not a bloody joke,but an official state document issued and printed in many languages in luxury hardback way back in the 30`s and edited and reprinted umpteen times since.We can only add the wily turks invented the wheel and hot water too,which they fail to mention,being the shy,modestand humble souls they are.Besides they are chief US ally in the fight against whatever necessary-one more proof they are right ,because might is right and we have our NATO boys and gals and hillarys to prove that!!! Long live American hot dogs and cool cats.And kasher,too!!!

by: Zareh from: Canada
January 17, 2013 20:13
For the uninformed reader this subject might sound trivial, even laughable. But there's more to it than what dish belongs to what nationality. Any dish can have its variation from region to region, nation to nation. But the real issue here has political undertones. Let me explain.

It is a fact that Turks came to Anatolian region in the Mongol-Turkic invasions of 11th century. The Tatars of now-called Azerbaijan are part of these tribes that took over the region and want desperately be part of its "historic" past.

Not long ago one visiting Anatolia would have seen a placard on the entrance of the ruins of an Armenian church reading "Turkish church of Christian ancestors". Turkey has in the past systematically destroyed traces of Armenian existence in Anatolia. The Azeri Tatars today claim whole of Armenia as their "ancestral lands", The Armenian churches are presented as so-called Albanian Christian ruins of the ancestors of today's Azeris.

One has to look at the "food fights" thought this prism. If you destroy the churches, rename them as someone else's and claim the culinary origins of Armenian food as their own, you can score one more point in "eliminating" any of the national heritages of a nation that was there two thousand years before the appearance of the Turkic tribes.

Azerbaijan, just a few years ago, has completely destroyed a millennia-old Armenian cemetery at Julfa, and now Azeri officials say...."what cemetery?"

I can vividly remember a Turkish cultural exhibit in Montreal where the title was "come and see 8000 years of Turkish Anatolian culture", and the images on the walls were that of Greek ruins.

There is no such thing as Turkish Anatolian that is 8000 years old. But Turks seem to believe it.

...thus the food fights.
In Response

by: Will from: Oz
January 18, 2013 12:45
Going by that logic, this would mean that prior to the arrival (almost a thousand years ago now btw) of the Tartar-Mongols, either there were no inhabitants or all inhabitants were Armenian. Also, it would seem most of Eurasia should be populated by Mongols, yet they only exist in 2 small pockets in Russia, namely Kalmykia and some areas surrounding lake Baikal, such as Buratia.

It should be noted that the Tartar-Mongol hordes were made up of many nationalities by the time these hordes arrived in to Western Asia, including all manner of Russian (peoples located in the territory of modern Russia) and Central Asian peoples. Furthermore, the Tartar-Mongols exterminated local inhabitants only if their rulers resisted, most rulers did not resist. Tartar-Mongols were nomadic and allowed their subjects a large amount of religious and cultural freedoms. In other words, the land formerly conquered by Tartar-Mongols are mostly not populated by Tartar-Mongols, but by a mixture of indigenous peoples, peoples passing though and the conquerors.

Likewise, the Ottomans had a very similar approach to the Tartar-Mongols and allowed a large degree of religious and cultural freedom to their subjects. This is perhaps a contributing factor for the alleged Armenian genocide, due to a large degree of freedom the Armenian's were in a position to betray their Ottoman overlords to their Christian Orthodox Russian kinsmen and therefore were seen as enemies/traitors by Ottomans and dealt with accordingly.

The fact that Iranian, Armenian and Azeri DNA consist of extremely similar if not identical markers, suggests that all of the Caucasus was similarly influenced by Tartar-Mongol and Ottoman rule, so any talk of 'us and them', 'ours and theirs' is purely nonsensical and used as a means of political, social, economic and religious control.
In Response

by: AKS from: Los Angeles
January 20, 2013 07:42
Wow "Will", nice one.

So paying a tax for not being a Muslim is religious freedom?
Did the "ungrateful" people of Balkans also misunderstand the "kindness" of the Ottomans when they kicked their butts out of their respective countries?

Were the 300,000 slaughtered Bulgarians "allegedly" slaughtered as well?

Anyone who puts "alleged" or "so called" in front of Armenian Genocide, is either extremely uninformed or a Turkish shill. You seem to be the the latter.

In Response

by: Will from: Oz
January 21, 2013 12:23

Are you saying only biased, nationalistic Armenian opinions are valid?

I use the word “alleged” due to several factors, firstly conflicting evidence, secondly it was over a 100 years ago, finally if this genocide was a fact, then there would be no debate about its validity and obviously that is not the case. In fact I would say that there is more evidence pointing to it not being a genocide, I mentioned some of this earlier.

With regards to Ottomans tax on non-Muslims, you try to make it out like a bad thing, it seems pretty fair to me and will probably seem fair to you, if you actually bothered to research teh topic:

Under Islamic law, jizya is a per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state's non-Muslim citizens, who meet certain criteria. The tax is and was to be levied on able-bodied adult males of military age and affording power. From the point of view of the Muslim rulers, jizya was a material proof of the non-Muslims' acceptance of subjection to the state and its laws, "just as for the inhabitants it was a concrete continuation of the taxes paid to earlier regimes." In return, non-Muslim citizens were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to the Muslim state's protection from outside aggression, and to be exempted from military service and the zakat taxes obligatory upon Muslim citizens.

Furthermore, it also must be pointed out that it is generally accepted by historians the world over (probably not Armenia, as they have a grudge and are biased) that Ottoman religious tolerance was notable for being much better than that which existed elsewhere in other great past or contemporary empires, such as the Byzantine or Roman Empires.

300,000 Bulgarians killed by Ottomans? Is that a joke? I have never heard anything remotely similar to this, ever and I spend a large amount of time in Sofia. Care to provide some evidence? Of course, this has to be not falsified Armenian evidence.

Balkan people kicked out of their countries? You can’t just make stuff up and pretend it’s history? Are you Armenian by any chance?
In Response

by: Random Armenian
February 08, 2013 17:17
"This is perhaps a contributing factor for the alleged Armenian genocide, due to a large degree of freedom the Armenian's were in a position to betray their Ottoman overlords to their Christian Orthodox Russian kinsmen and therefore were seen as enemies/traitors by Ottomans and dealt with accordingly."

This is a ridiculous argument. You're accusing an entire group of people, young, elderly, women, men, children, toddlers of treason. This is an impossibility. You also say " ... were in a position to betray ..." Does this mean they did or could have betrayed. There were Armenians in the Ottoman army leading up to 1915. There were Armenians on the Ottoman side at Gallipoli. So which Armenians are you talking about? It can't be all of them.

You're saying that it is acceptable to target and "deal with accordingly", and people simply because they belong to an group. The vast majority of Armenians were not armed. They were massacred and marched into the Syrian desert so easily. How were they a threat?

Do you understand what happened in 1915-1917? Entire Armenian populations were targeted deliberately because they were Armenian. Read the American and German diplomatic cables.
In Response

by: Jonathan from: Ottawa
January 18, 2013 18:17
There is a subtle difference between Caucasian Albanian and Armenian. Adapting cultures is part of what humans do. In the case of your Turkish exhibit, for some Turks, the Greek remains are part of their heritage, they may not be saying that the Turks and the Greeks are the same, but they recognize that there were Greeks there. I have seen the Caucasian Albanian churches in Azerbaijan and seen their artifacts in museums in Baku, and they do not say they are Azeri, but they recognize that they were present in the location that is now Azerbaijan.
In Response

by: Random Armenian
February 11, 2013 16:54

But when it comes to Armenian artifacts, history and monuments, Turkey is very careful not to mention Armenians. See the treatment of the Akhtamar church and island over the decades and how it was not mentioned to be an Armenian church. Or how the ruins of Ani are not mentioned to be Armenian, even though there are Armenian churches and cathedrals all over the site and was a thriving Armenian city before the Seljuks took it by force. Even the Balyan family of Armenian architects are sometimes referred to as Italians by the name of Balyanni. There has been a concerted effort to hide traces of Armenian history within the borders of Turkey, even though Armenian history in those lands go back at least 2500 years. Even the Armenian schools in Istanbul are afraid to teach their own history.

There are hardly any Armenians left in Turkey, and to make sure people were not reminded of that, historical traces of Armenians needed to be forgotten as well. This may be changing and I hope soon Turkey no longer needs to fear Armenian history.
In Response

by: Kevork from: USA
January 18, 2013 20:30
Bravo Zareh, your post is accurate and true to the last word.

@Will the Turk: your ridiculous and lousy post does not hold water, as doesn't all Turkish propaganda meant to downplay their total THEFT of Armenian culture. When you invented and committed genocide against the true indigenous Armenians of Armenia, you consciously created "us and them" and in so doing, through your lack of education and IGNORANCE did not realize you are on the wrong end of historical facts.

@Jonathan: what Azeris present is totally irrelevant in studying history, as they have already proven far beyond any doubt they are a bunch of fakes, impostors, and plagiarizers. Caucasian Albania and Armenia co-existed before anyone knew of Mongols, Tatars, and the like. The CA alphabet in fact was invented by the same Armenian who invented the Armenian alphabet, and because the alphabet, religion and culture were similar to Armenian, as a result of the low numbers of Caucasian Albanian, they assimilated into Armenian culture. End of story.

In Response

by: Will from: Oz
January 18, 2013 22:00
Thanks Kevork! You prove my point perfectly!
In Response

by: Jonathan from: Ottawa
January 18, 2013 22:59
Because if an Armenian historian says it.... it must be true. The Caucasian Albanian history is related to the area that is now the modern republic of Azerbaijan. In their museums they do not say that the Azeri and and Albanians are the same thing... they do recognize that the Albanians are an aspect of their history though.

by: steve from: los angeles
January 18, 2013 05:21
Let it be Armenian, Georgian and Azeri Dish who cares, put efforts to make peace in this region.
In Response

by: Random Armenian
February 11, 2013 16:55
I'll raise some Armenian brandy to that :)

by: Kevin from: Seattle
January 18, 2013 17:46
Notwithstanding that the RFE/RL story is utterly condescending and patronizing, bemoaning that Armenians, Georgians and Azeris are preoccupied with irrational culinary feuds, this story and those like it wholly miss the larger issues that underpin particularly Armenians' conceptions of existential threat. The article's author would likely similarly argue that Ashkenazi Jewish survivors of the Holocaust would be irrational if Germany claimed Challah or Matzah brei as a traditional Germanic cuisine. There is no parity among the perceptions of the Caucasian groups when it comes to perceptions of threat and security-- only one, the Armenians, were subjected to a genocide whose existential consequences reverberate to this day. For Armenians, one would imagine, cuisine takes on a much more symbolic role of survival amidst threat, than for other cultures, much like Challah or Matzah do for Ashekhansim. A plea to make these articles or blog posts a bit less hackneyed and a bit more substantive-- they ultimately debase RFE/RL, undermining its stated mission.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
January 19, 2013 04:06
Looking at all these Food Fights In The Caucasus, immediately realize that humanity is rapidly moving towards a "happy future"
Let us hope that the end of humanity will be quick and painless.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
January 20, 2013 11:36
Aah,Vakhtangian`s larger than life concern with humanity!!! You are right as always my Moss mad cow st,georgian vityaz!!! Just substitute `humanity` with Vakhtang!!!

by: Will from: Oz
January 21, 2013 23:18
For those historically challenged amongst us:

by: g'lookin man from: Azerbaijan
February 02, 2013 22:06
once in Bishkek a a good looking older Georgian woman asked me whether I was Georgian. I asked her why she thought so, she told me that I was a good-looking man. And because I had been asked similar questions by Armenian ladies earlier (they wondered whether I was Armenian) I kind of gave a blunt answer to her saying "Why everything looking good from Caucasus must either be Georgian or Armenian. I said I am proud that I am Azerbaijani. Armenians can't even explain the name DOLMA in turkic languages means filling, which the stuffed grape leaves or cabbage means, which by the way greeks also call dolmates. And by the way, I have tasted Armenian, Azeri, Turkish, and Greek dolma, and ours is the BEST. When it comes to antiquity, please do not privatize the ancient Urartu or Armenia, it has nothing to do with HAYs which you call yourselves. And you call your country, which you built on the Azeri Khanate Irevan some 100 years ago, HAYASTAN. As far as I know the Hays are gypsies from India.
In Response

by: Random Armenian
February 10, 2013 17:30
"As far as I know the Hays are gypsies from India."

This makes no sense. The Romani started their migration 1500 years ago. Armenians have been living in the Armenian highlands much earlier than this. You're confused about who the Armenians are.
In Response

by: parvenu from: US
February 12, 2013 14:11
No need to be surprised (at the questions you were asked in Bishkek). You are newcomers to Caucasus, not yet ingrained in collective human memory like Georgians and Armenians have been for many centuries.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

Most Popular

Editor's Picks