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.


  • Kevin, given the nature of inter-ethnic rivalry between Armenia and Azerbaijan I’m not sure there’s any ‘legitimate’ source nationalists on both sides will accept. Wikipedia does, however, flag contested content and do not fear. The two sides will be quick to make any clash known to all and push their own version of history.

    For example, Kevork’s comment about the Azeri language not existing in Sayat Nova’s time whereas Charles Dowsett, a Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian at the University of Oxford, writes this in his opus, Sayat’-nova: An 18th-century Troubadour: a Biographical and Literary Study:

    Sayat Nova was established as a minstrel by 1742, the year of his earliest dated poem, in the lingua franca of the Caucasus, Azeri […]

    Interestingly Sayat Nova is also said to have written his autobiographical poem in Azeri too.

  • More references, but this time from Armenian scholars such as Ronald Suny in Transcaucasia, nationalism and social change: essays in the history of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia:

    The fact that Sayat Nova composed his poems in three languages: Georgian, Azeri, and the Tiflis dialect of Armenian points to the continuing cultural unity of the region despite the language and religious differences.

    Or how about this by Richard Hovannisian in The Armenian people from ancient to modern times:

    As many made a livelihood by going on tours of eastern Anatolia and Caucasia, like the most famous of them, Sayat Nova (1712-1 795), they composed a large part of their compositions in Azeri Turkish, the lingua franca of the region.

    And, indeed, in many other works on Sayat Nova:

    But, of course, that won’t please some and they’ll refuse to accept the work of recognized scholars on the matter, hence why we also get situations such as this ‘garlic war.’

  • Last word as there really is no point in continuing if the work of historians and musicologists is dismissed because it doesn’t fit in with a nationalist narrative:

    The majority of the poems and songs of the Armenian minstrel at the Georgian court are in the social, commercial and also artistic lingua franca of the Caucasus, Azeri Turkish, in which ashiqs of all nationalities in the region would be expected to perform. The profound musical influence may be guaged by the number of important Armenian songs that Sayat Nova annotates as having sung to Azeri tunes. One may count 128 Azeri poems of his against 63 Armenian, 35 Georgian, and 6 Russian […] Thus there are roughly 20% more Azeri poems than all the others put together.

    Sayat’-nova: An 18th-century Troubadour: a Biographical and Literary Study, Charles Dowsett, Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian at the University of Oxford

  • […] Быстрая ссылка Культура Павел Лицкевич @ 01:22, 22.12.2011 Чесночная война между Арменией и Азербайджаном – статья в Global […]

  • […] Быстрая ссылка Культура Павел Лицкевич @ 01:22, 22.12.2011 Чесночная война между Арменией и Азербайджаном – статья в Global […]

  • […] Text Size: A | A | A | A 1 of 2By Onnik Krikorian for Global Voices Online […]

  • JosephRadical

    I bet Azerbaijan Finance Minister has his garlic and eats it too…claiming he has the nation’s best interest at heart while stirring up trouble with his pal George Soros by either promoting another Rose Revolution or pushing the region towards war with Armenia. Just the idea of the two of them together leaves a bad garlicky taste in people’s mouths…

  • The people of the two countries should come together as friends, and realize it’s the two GOVERNMENTS who are enemies, not the people. I’m worried though, about
    Garlic from Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Finance Minister Samir Sharifov. Word around the globe is that billionaire financier George Soros is funneling money from a slush fund to Sharifov. For what? Who knows…. But I’m sure it’s not for growing more garlic.

  • We have the Dolma or Tolma 2 in Lebanon !!!
    This food battle also reminded me about the Hummous and the tabboule fight btw Lebanon and Israel and all what followed …
    I wont join the Azeri/ Armenian issue …since i believe I am not entitled to do so
    but honestly, looking at what’s happening in my country and seeing the similarities w the rest of the world, i deduce sadly that Human stupidity and imbecility is the only universal feature in this world

  • Thalia, indeed. However, as a humus fanatic, I do like those giant bowls you guys make as part of the competition. :)

    Not meaning to belittle the tensions, there’s also this Facebook page:

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