Armenia-Azerbaijan: Garlic Wars

As Armenia and Turkey come to blows over a UNESCO decision to enter a meal eaten in both countries into its list of Intangible Heritage, the dispute over food now appears to have spread to once again include Azerbaijan.

Locked into a bitter stalemate over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, around 25,000 died in fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s and a million forced to flee their homes. A lasting peace remains elusive.

As a result, Armenians and Azerbaijanis naturally prefer to overlook the many similarities they share, but inter-ethnic rivalry over culture and tradition is perhaps most fiercest over food. Kebabistan sets the scene.

Feeling burned by UNESCO's decision, another group of Armenians is now taking steps to safeguard what they believe to be the Armenian lineage of tolma, stuffed grape leaves or other vegetables, which are frequently also served in Turkey, where they are known as dolma.


The Azeris, meanwhile, appear even more focussed on protecting their cuisine from what they believe are Armenian efforts to encroach on their culinary territory. Azerbaijan has its own culinary watchdog, an organization called the National Cuisine Center, whose director, Tahir Amiraslanov, appears to spend most of his time on an effort to teach the world that Armenian cuisine is actually Azeri cuisine. […]

Stay tuned. In this food fight, there is clearly more to come.

Arthur Chapman on Flickr

And it wasn't long before more did come, albeit in an unlikely form after one local historian in Armenia reportedly discovered that garlic from Azerbaijan was on sale in his local supermarket. Despite one local trader saying that the garlic was the tastiest as well as cheapest available, some local media responded hysterically.

Tamada Tales explains.

Armenians are constantly on the ball for possible attacks from implacable foe Azerbaijan, but who would have expected an enemy infiltration so unspeakably vile in nature? Garlic, grown on Azerbaijan’s hostile soil, apparently has found a way to penetrate the two countries’ sealed border, and then had the effrontery to appear on vegetable stands in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.


A concerned citizen, Karapetian sounded the alarm, and reporters hurried to the scene. “Garlic of the company based on [President Heydar] Aliyev Street in Baku is gleefully sold in… an Armenian supermarket,” the puzzled historian said.


Apparently, some fear that the garlic could be an early sign of more deadly forms of warfare. Investigators have already whisked off the offending bulbs, but did they act in time before unsuspecting citizens added the Azerbaijani garlic to dolma or khorovatz sauce? Wrote one publication ominously: “Today it’s garlic, tomorrow it will be something else.”

Ironically, however, this isn't the first time that Azerbaijani produce has been available to Armenians. At the end of November, for example, Ianyan blogger and Global Voices author Liana Aghajanian discovered another example in an Armenian Supermarket in the United States.

Unlike the Armenian media, however, her Tumblr blog was more enthusiastic about the unexpected find.

Pomegranate diplomacy: Pomegranate juice, product of Azerbaijan, bought at my local Armenian market that is probably in many Los Angeles-area Armenian homes right now. Also, you can’t see it but the juice brand is called “Real Deal.” Too good.

Meanwhile, in Nagorno Karabakh itself, Armenians still have a fondness for Azerbaijani cuisine while there is also a demand for Armenian products in Azerbaijan too, as one Karabakh journalist explains on the Caucasus Circle of Peace Journalism.

Azerbaijani dishes are still in high demanded at the restaurants of Karabakh. All over the region people speak about the Azerbaijani cuisine with respect. Despite a conflict that is ongoing between the two nations for more than twenty years, in many restaurants patrons can taste typical Azerbaijani dishes alongside the rich offerings of Karabakh cuisne.


Despite a great choice on offer at stores nowadays, Igor Davtian does not change his habits: he definitely drinks only Azerbaijani tea, which is sent to him by his relatives from Russia.

“I brew tea in a very particular way. I do not trust my wife in this matter at all. She just cannot brew it to the same taste. I order tea and my relatives send it to me from Russia – but they themselves order it from Baku. At the same time, and my relatives told me that their neighbors in Russia are sending Armenian cognac to Baku. What can we do, that’s just what our lives came to,” Igor Davtian says.


Armenia and Azerbaijan do not only have territorial disputes: there is also much argument about music, patterns of carpet weaving – and surely about the origins of dishes as well. Armenians and Azerbaijanis still discuss who of them came up with the song “Sari Gelin” and who invented tolma. As of the “ethnic origins” of shashlik [GV Note: Barbecue], even Georgians enter the debate. But that is a different story…

With tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan the highest they've been in years, the heated debate over cuisine will likely continue to overshadow any possibility for a sometimes shared culture, or even trade, to bring the two sides together. Certainly that seems to be the case for some media outlets in the region.


  • Kevork

    “Meanwhile, in Nagorno Karabakh itself, Armenians still have a fondness for Azerbaijani cuisine” – oh really Onnik, and what might that be? Are you confused between Iranian cuisine that Azeris eat, or do you seriously believe that a fake country like “Azerbaijan” in existence less than 100 years actually has cuisine to speak of… get a clue.

    The entire Azerbaijani culture of Turkish Azerbaijan is fake and a copy of Armenian, as is much of Turkish culture. This has nothng to do with nationalism, it has to do with logic. If you expect to convince the public that there is such a thing as Azeri and Turkish culture, then get ready to back their fake claim that Armenian never existed in history, and that they are “newcomers” blah blah blah, where in fact what they claim about Armenians is true about themselves… Armenian culture was already many thousands of years old before any Turko-Mongol stepped foot in historic Armenia.

  • Kevork, why do you address the comment to me? The post you take exception to with the reference to Azerbaijani cuisine comes from an Armenian journalist in Nagorno Karabakh who lost one of her parents during the war. Yet, she writes what you most object to, but she’s there and she quotes Nagorno Karabakh Armenians in that story.

    As for your other points, I agree that there has been Persian influence in Azerbaijan, just as there has been in Armenia. Likely that has manifested itself in the cuisine which explains some of the similarities to be found here and there. Certainly it can be seen in Persian words that have been absorbed into both the Armenian and Azerbaijani vocabulary.

    Indeed, this whole region has many cultural overlaps, from (Armenian) Sayat Nova who composed mostly in Azerbaijani in the 18th Century to Armenian contributions to Baku’s architecture. Just as Armenians contributed to the Ottoman Empire and Soviet Union, absorbing some elements back. Or as one reaction to this post on my personal Facebook page read:

    This is just ridiculous. People in both countries have been brainwashed for so long, they can’t even understand how similar we all are and how beneficial it would have been for us all to embrace those similarities instead :)

    Says it all really…

  • Kevork

    Which brings us to the point where Persian food is distinct from Armenian, whereas so-called “Azeris” and Turks have their food quite similar to Armenian. You cannot have it both ways, either original Armenian food does not exist, or original Turk and Azeri-Turk food does not exist, so you decide for yourself in which camp you want to find yourself in. And as I stated, taking into account that no Azeri nationality existed before 100 years, and when Turks invaded Armenia, Armenian culture was many thousands of years old, I suggest you pick very carefully. And as far as Turkish food, their input into the regional cuisine was very limited, if you want to see what Turks ate in their original culture, then check out Mongolian food, because the Turks lived alongside the Mongols in the same region and shared their culture.

    It’s true we have Persian influence, that does not mean we stole their culture like the impostor Azeris are doing to us. Armenia was under Persian rule for many centuries, so we have Farsi in out language naturally. Armenians in the Ottoman empire also spoke Turkish as their mother tongue, in many cases not even knowing Armenian, which explains why the foods eventually became turkified. Today these Turks and Azeris take advantage of this by claiming because foods have Turkish names, they are originally Turkish. If you identify yourself as an Armenian then it is your duty to protect the culture from these impostors instead of playing along with their propaganda in the name of peace. You may wish for peace, but the Turk does not.

  • Kevork, again, perhaps you should be leaving your comments on the post written by a Karabakh Armenian about Azerbaijani food. However, for the record, I will say this. Just because a country does not exist until a certain time does not mean that people didn’t. Indeed, again, Sayat Nova wrote most of his compositions in Azerbaijani in the 18th Century.

    As for cultural and linguistic absorption and adoption, I think Armenians have that too, For example, Western Armenian cuisine is different as a whole than Eastern Armenian with the former being larger because of Middle Eastern influence. I also suspect that genetics have been mixed too, with ‘purity’ found mainly in the most mountainous areas.

    However, there’s plenty of information on the Internet about both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Readers should consult it and make up their own minds:

  • Ross Marsh

    Azerbaijanis always been victims of armenianian propaganda, who is well known for plagiarism and inheriting other country’s cultures. Good example could be Karabakh as Karabakh itself in Azerbaijani means black garden, while armenians under russian influence try to make everything their own

  • Kevork

    Onnik, I don’t agree with what you said. Azeris of Turkish Azerbaijan are made up of many nationalities, and their claim that they were the rulers in their current confiscated lands is based on Persian or Turkish rule, not “Azeri” rule. The ruling class of today’s Azerbaijan are Turk-mixed Tatars. Their slave class consists of many other nationalities, which are more or less Iranian groups – for example the Talysh. The Turk-Bolshevik nationalists of WWI convinced everyone that they are “Azeris” with an “ancient history”.

    Also, Sayat-Nova did not compose most of his songs in “Azeri language”. There was Turkish in the songs for sure, and that is what today’s made-up nationality of Azeris wants us to believe that there is such a thing as “Azeri language”. After all, if they succeed in this lie, then they are half way there… the rest is easy. I suspect you are reading Azeri influenced sources for your information, and when it comes to Armenian history, do not rely on wipkipedia, because that site is full of Azeris trying to spread their lies. The “Azeri language” is like me living in America and saying I don’t speak English, but I do speak American. Only those uninformed of this Azeri lie would fall for this nonsense about “Azeri language”.

    The Iranian part of the Azeris once spoke Farsi (Persian) as their mother tongue. This only changed when Turks took over the region for some centuries and turkified that region, which is why Azeri Turkish has some differences: the assimilation and turkification was apparently not 100% complete. According to the Turkish nationalist plan it will be complete when Armenia is wiped out, Iran is conquered, and a new Turkic empire is crated spanning from Asia Minor to Central Asia. And in this framework, cultural theft of the Armenians is part of it.

    If you think this is a joke, then you are extremely naive as both a budding historian and a journalist.

  • […] i Azerbejdżanem Armenia Azerbejdżan Kultura Szybki link Paweł Lickiewicz @ 01:02, 22.12.2011 Czosnkowa wojna pomiędzy Armenią i Azerbejdżanem – artykuł na Global Voices. Dodaj do sieci […]

  • Kevin

    Why would you cite Wikipedia as your reference knowing the kind of foul play that goes on by both sides on these articles? perhaps a more legitimate source?

  • Aygun

    why fight over who invented what food when you might as well just enjoy it. it is so medieval to fight over such things…

  • […] Onion War Armenia Azerbaijan Culture Shortcut Paweł Lickiewicz @ 01:22, 22.12.2011 The onion war between Armenia and Azerbaijan – a food-themed article on Global Voices.  Dodaj do […]

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