Yegparian: Thought for Food

No doubt you heard about Azerbaijan’s recent bellicose pronouncements about “cuisine plagiarism” by Armenia, i.e. we are “stealing” their food. As if that weren’t enough, Armenians stand accused of doing all that Azerbaijan actually does by way of cultural destruction (think-khachkars in the Julfa cemetery), changing place names (think-Gandzak becoming Gyanja), and misappropriating national values (think- the Azerbaijani invented history of Armenia). These people must have psychologists drooling over a potential study of the psychological phenomenon call projection.

Is it really plausible that they carried with them a food as complex and requiring agriculture—not something nomads engage in—as sarma?
Is it really plausible that they carried with them a food as complex and requiring agriculture—not something nomads engage in—as sarma?

All that is pretty cheeky for a country that never existed before the birth of the Soviet Union. Not only that, but there was never a recognition of the people living there as a nation. They were just called Turks or Tatars. So how there could have been a “national” cuisine attributable to these people is really a mystery. But, it all fits the pattern of behavior—using any and all excuses to defame, vilify, and beset the Republic of Armenia and Armenians—that Baku has adopted as state policy. How ridiculous it is that the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan is spearheading this ridiculous campaign.

Contemporaneously, you probably also learned of Turkey’s effort in the halls of Europe to register sarma/dolma (mispronounced by Eastern Armenians as tolma) as its national food. Again, this is pretty cheeky for a country whose origins stem from a bunch of murderous horsemen arriving on the Armenian plateau and Anatolia from Central Asia. Is it really plausible that they carried with them a food as complex and requiring agriculture—not something nomads engage in—as sarma?

While admittedly the word dolma is Turkish, and is prevalent throughout much of the territory occupied by the Ottoman Empire, there’s a reason for this phenomenon. It turns out the Ottomans had a policy of spreading the food of the lands they occupied throughout the empire, but exclusively under Turkish names. Now, it’s hard to tell where any of these foods originated as a consequence. I had this experience in college. My freshman year, I’d brought some sarma to the dorm. I shared some with a sophomore who was a Croat. We were both surprised to learn we had the same name for it. Gee, I wonder if Croatia ever suffered Turkish misrule…

This vying over the ownership of food is not unique to Armenians and Turks. For a while, I was getting videos or other forms of news about what can only be described as food “wars” between Lebanon and Israel. People there were making outsized versions of what they considered their “own” dishes. The example that stands out the most is the 5 meter-wide, 233 kilogram (16 ¼ feet, 513 pound) seenee koefteh (again, the Turkish name for it), kibbeh in Arabic, cooked in Lebanon. This is how people are vying to retain ownership over “their” cuisines.

It’s no surprise that something so viscerally important as food triggers such emotion, energy, and even jealousy.

That’s why it’s galling, on one level, to learn, from the Turkish Cultural Foundation’s newsletter that it held a lecture Constantinople (renamed Istanbul as part of Turkey’s cultural destruction practice) about Armenian food, then served up some of it. On the other hand, this might also be good in that it helps reestablish the Armenian presence where it was brutally ripped out by the Genocide.

That fervor is also why a cookbook such as Armenian Cuisine by Aline Kamakian and Barbara Drieskens, published last year, is so important. These ladies went to occupied Western Armenia and other areas of pre-Genocide Armenian habitation to gather recipes for various dishes, compared them with the traditions handed down to us from our great/grandparents from the same locales, and served them to us in this very well done book.

All this is the best response to Gustavo Arrellano who, writing in the Orange County Register two years ago, reacted almost contemptuously to one of my pieces in which a criticized the usurpation of Armenian dishes through the teaching of “Turkish” cooking classes in Orange County under the auspices of the Pacifica Foundation (one of the Gulen Movement’s front organizations).

Let’s proudly retain and regain what’s rightfully ours, despite what the murderous cousins—Azerbaijan and Turkey—might say and do.

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

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  1. Interesting article Mr. Yeg parian:
    It left me on my appetite (pun intended)
    So nomadic tribes cannot find grape leaves, wheat and ground meat to make an ‘elaborate’ sarma like my mother makes. Though we admit ‘sarma & dolma’ are words with a Turkish root, they were spread ‘by force’ across the empire. A friend of mine suggests the word ‘լիցք’ which according to the series of great free online Armenian dictionaries ( does mean ‘tolma’, but I have not seen anyone use it at all. My friend also wants us to use ‘Մսահաց’ or ‘Մսաշորտ’ instead of “Lahmajo” which you can find at so many street corners in Armenia. How about what is sold as (sweet) ‘sujuk’ everywhere in Armenia, why aren’t we using “Ռոճիկ / շարոց”? is anyone still forcing us?
    How about the misnomer ‘Shawarma’ used erroneously in the Middle-east and Armenia instead of ‘donair’ (shevermek and doyundermek are verbs in Turkish that specify whether the meat skewer lies horizontally or vertically against the fire)? Was the error also ‘forced’ upon us?
    And why aren’t we defending ‘pakhlava – պախլավա’ as originally Armenian (see its armenian history on: )
    The weirdest I faced was when I was in Moscow over 20 years ago and looking on the menu of a famous Soviet restaurant I found a dish called, now you may not believe this, ‘BASTURMA’, yes the Basturma that Nigol Bezjian dreams about. I ordered it, it had no resemblance to what we know as BASTURMA or ‘ապխտած միս’. When I complained, I was told it was a typically “Uzbek dish”. Go figure!
    Dear Yeg payr, I hope you read humour in these lines.
    Antoine Yeg eknadzorian.

  2. I definitely agree with you Antoine, and your friend, Dolma & Sarma are not armenian words and I will simply add that first of all, menk hayeres, should call a cat a Gadu (կատու) before……!

    Litzk (Լիզք) is the armenian word for Dolma, and Pattoz (Բադդոզ) for Sarma (represented here above on this picture).

    By the way…
    “Տջվջիկը բարակ բարակ պիտի կտրես” :)

    Բարի ախորժակ:

  3. I believe it is the Pacifica Institute which is tied to the Gulen Movement.
    The Pacifica Foundation was begun in the late 1940s by pacificists for listener-supported radio stations.
    Pacifica Institute was established in 2003 as a non-profit organization by a group of Turkish-Americans.

  4. I’ve heard tell that pakhlava in Armenian is ‘tert annoush’ … be interesting if others have heard the same …

  5. As I am very interested in all aspects of Armenian history, I will give some of my thoughts on Armenian foods.

    It is partly our fault as Armenians that our foods have been stolen from us in plain sight. Unfortunately we simply don’t care enough, to make a big stink about it, and this is how the Turks/Azeris have successfully stolen our culture from us, and continue to do so. Just a year or so ago, harissa got ripped off from us as keshkeg and included in UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage. Azerbaijan has already done the same at UNESCO with historic Armenian carpets as well. What did we do? Nothing.

    Granted, European and American ignorance (and financial interest) does play a role, but it is our unfortunate fate that our ‘mother tongue’ was Turkish for at least four centuries, which is why I presume ‘Turkish foods’ today have Turkish names. Although we know it to be true, there is no ‘proof’ that what the majority of Turks eat is of Armenian origin, because until recently, food origin was not a realm of scholarly study. But there is circumstantial evidence, and we can only go so far with it.

    For example, what the Turks have as ‘specialties’ from certain locations in Turkey are invariably from places of former major Armenian presence: “Western Armenia”, with small exceptions like Constantinople (Istanbul). Also, before the Turkish invasions, as Armenian culture existed for several thousand years, their foods obviously existed. No one can argue that “Armenians threw away their traditions of food as the wonderful Turks arrived and served delicious “Anatolian” foods which originated in Central Asia from within their tents to the Armenians and were also kind enough to give them all the complex recipes”. If we accept the existence of “Turkish Food”, we accept the silly notion above.

    Turks will not for one second admit they have based their entire line of “Turkish Cuisine” on Armenian and Byzantine Greek. And one of their most cherished method to spread their food propaganda is through wikipedia: and they apparently have non-Turkish supporters. And here, again we are partly to blame. There are not enough Armenians on wikipedia to stand guard on all articles of historic Armenian interest, and the Turks have gone crazy appropriating all our cultural historic foods for themselves, if nothing else, taking advantage of the fact that in the Ottoman empire, foods were simply communicated in the Turkish language. As if that is not enough, there are a sizable number of Azeris who also engaged in the “let’s deny everything Armenian and call it our own” party.

    On wikipedia, every food you can imagine which is part of our traditional western Armenian cuisine is on there, albeit with its Turkish spelling. I do not edit wikipedia because it is futile. Anyone can come and undo your edit and if you spent a lot of time on research and don’t follow up on what you contributed, typically a Turk or Azeri will come along and undo everything, and insert their own false ‘history’. The whole process is a big waste of time, and the propaganda the Turks and Azeris have already established through their articles of “interest” is so extensive, it makes me wonder if it even can be undone.

    On a side note, on the Sayat Nova wikipedia article, the Azeris once wrote that Sayat Nova wrote ‘most’ of his songs in “Azeri”, although he also wrote in Armenian and Georgian, etc. Although I no longer see that on the page, this is the kind of wickedness we are dealing with, but this is their method of operation, to abuse and misrepresent sources.

    I wish that one day we can have a scholarly book on our foods to put the Turkish propaganda machine in its place. And this book must be purely scholarly research and not a ‘cook book’. Professor Bournoutian did that for Karabakh, we need the food equivalent of it. I am sure proper sources out there exist. If anyone also has any input of historic sources, please also state them here.

  6. Who cares “whose” food it is, if it’s good and vegetarian I’ll eat it. Btw, you’re right about Ottomans labeling food in their empire with Turkish names. Doesn’t mean Turks “invented” the food itself.

    One thing I’ve learned with age and by travelling is that the cuisines of various countries are often surprisingly similar. For example, there is no big difference between Italian pizza and Georgian khachapouri.

    I think people all over the world have been eating pretty much the same things throughout history.

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