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Armenia-Azerbaijan: Garlic Wars

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Arts & Culture, Citizen Media, Ethnicity & Race, Food, International Relations, War & Conflict

As Armenia and Turkey come to blows over a UNESCO decision to enter a meal eaten in both countries [1] 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 [2].

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 [4].

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 [5].

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 [6] 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.