Local Armenian grocers compelled to enter ‘Turkish Product Free Zone’

WATERTOWN, Mass.—A grassroots initiative is prompting local Armenian grocers to re-evaluate their inventory amid Turkey’s outright support of Azerbaijan’s ongoing attacks on the Republics of Artsakh and Armenia.

“It’s really quite embarrassing when you go into an Armenian store and you see a box and it says on the box, ‘Turkish Delight,’” said Watertown resident Martin Haroutunian. “When I think of Turkish Delight, I think of a massacre…not sweets or pastries.” Haroutunian is at the helm of the social media campaign “Make Watertown a Turkish Product Free Zone,” and it’s putting pressure on at least four neighborhood grocery stores to pull Turkish products from their shelves.

Watertown’s Massis Bakery and Belmont’s Eastern Lamejun issued formal statements on Wednesday pledging their commitment to joining the Turkish Product Free Zone after Haroutunian said he met with the owners last week. “We never wanted to sell Turkish products to begin with,” said Massis Bakery co-owner Sarkis Ourfalian, who said that economic and political disarray in Lebanon and Syria lends to the challenge of securing vendors and suppliers that carry products designed for the Middle Eastern kitchen. “We realize now it’s impossible for us to even think about supporting the government of Turkey in any way, shape or form,” he continued. 

Just a short walk down Mount Auburn Street at Arax Market, store owners say they are busy clearing their shelves of Turkish products after sharing an image of the beginning stages on Instagram. “It’s the right thing to do,” said owner Betty Bassmajian Dimitian, who referred to Turkey as the “China of the Middle East.” “But it can’t be done in a day. I have to fill it up with stuff too. I can’t leave my shelves empty.” Store owners say they are scrambling to find other sources to substitute commodities like the ever popular pepper paste, which is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine.

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Next door at Sevan Bakery, owners are conflicted. “We’re trying our best,” said Nuran Chavusian, who told the Weekly on Thursday that his family-run business will try to answer these community-wide calls. Until then, they say they will be donating a day’s worth of proceeds to the Armenia Fund. “I agree with everybody, but it’s very tough at the moment. We’ve got a lot of product,” explained Chavusian. Haroutunian says that’s an admirable gesture, but it’s not enough. “They have to stop selling Turkish products—no if’s, and’s or but’s,” he stressed.

Considering Turkey’s denial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, its brotherly relationship and military alliance with Azerbaijan, and its egregious record on human rights, Armenian business owners and consumers alike are being urged to become economic activists and instead find products that are made in Armenia. “Be aware of where your money is going,” Haroutunian warned. “Every cent that goes to Turkey goes to buying munitions or bullets that eventually hit our people.” 

The US and Turkey have long maintained healthy trade relations. According to the most recent data from the Office of the United States Trade Representative, trade with Turkey totaled $24 billion in 2017 ($11.2 billion in imports). The US State Department considers these figures “modest,” noting a 2019 agreement between President Trump and President Erdogan to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion a year.

“We want to encourage businesses to sell products from Armenia,” said Haroutunian of the boycott movement that has been imported from southern California, where hundreds of Armenian and non-Armenian businesses have been branded as ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ by a stealthy team of volunteer shoppers. Haroutunian, who created the Facebook group back in late July when Azerbaijan launched a round of attacks on the Armenian region of Tavush, says his intention is not to put anyone out of business or shame them for their business practices, but rather to educate and empower consumers and raise awareness to help break the distribution chain. Customer Nanor Karagozian says she was surprised to discover her favorite Armenian grocery stores carried so many Turkish products and is pleased to see these changes taking place. “This is not the work of just one person,” said Haroutunian, urging consumers to check the labels. “This is the work of the entire community. Vigilance is required.”

(Photo: Make Watertown A Turkish Product Free Zone)

For Bedig Dervartanian of Eastern Lahmejun, which has been a part of the community since 1942 and was the first to announce the boycott, this is more than just business—it’s personal. “I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself knowing that my friends and their sons are dying on the battlefield for Armenia and Artsakh, while I’m here marketing the products of the enemy.”

Leeza Arakelian

Leeza Arakelian

Assistant Editor
Leeza Arakelian is the former assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She is a graduate of UCLA and Emerson College. Leeza has written and produced for local and network television news including Boston 25 and Al Jazeera America.


  1. They should have seen this inventory problem decades ago, certainly last July when Azerbaijan attacked Tavush, Armenia. I’m glad they’re doing it now, but what took them so long? Seriously, there shouldn’t be any backed up Turkish inventory to even photograph, because it should’ve been dumped into trash cans, no later than last July.

    There’s another problem, namely, that large grocery mega corporations are selling Turkish goods, but no one complains, so they just keep doing it, decade after decade. Diaspora Armenian Communities should raise hell about it now, because the have a casus belli (more than ever) now,

    We can start with Trader Joe’s, and get them to stop selling Turkish Honey, Turkish Figs, and Turkish Apricots. And, we can go after Safeway, which also sells Turkish Figs and Turkish Apricots.

    The orange stripe on the Armenian Flag represent the fertility of the land and the Armenian Apricot. Perhaps, Turkish Apricots are actually Armenian Apricots renamed by the benefactor of the perpetrators of the century old genocide (1915-1923); I mean, Armenian homes, churches, cemeteries, farms and estates have all been looted, degraded or destroyed, and much of the destruction of churches happened midway into the 20th Century, by Modern Day Turkey.

  2. Turkish products pop up in the most unlikely places such as LL Bean which sells towels made in Turkey. Every bit of pressure should be applied wherever possible.

    • These are indeed very good principles that all Armenians should follow. We should never buy Turkish nor Israeli products. Turkey and Israel, are both huge enemies to our Armenian homeland.

  3. Great Article. Armenians must boycott Turkey and Israel, and support BDS. Israel must be held responsible for the killing of many Armenians in Artsakh, Nagorno Garabakh. Israel is supporting a terrorist government of Azerbaijan, by sending them drones, Scud missiles, spying planes, hardware and technology to kill Armenians. Why would Israel do such a thing?! Did Armenia ever stand or supported the enemies of the Jews? Why don’t you ask Naom Chomsky?! or Israel Charney?! Did anyone knew that Charles Aznavour put his family’s life in danger just to save 11 Jews from the Nazis? How would Israel or any Jew around the world feel if Armenians helped or supported the Nazis in killing Jews? What Israel’s government and its people are doing is what the Nazis did to them in World War II. I am appalled by the behavior of a country that preaches peace to the eyes of the world, and supports terrorist country, Azerbaijan and ISIS, and Jihadists against peace loving Christian Armenian nation.
    Armenians will not forget what Israel is doing, KILLING MY PEOPLE. I am Armenian, and you and I know that the friend of my friend is my friend, but the friend of my enemy is my enemy. Israel just lost another friend, a friend who shared similar past and similar history. I resent the barbaric acts of Turkey and Israel for killing hundreds of my Armenians. Artsakh , or as you know it, Nagorni Garabakh is Armenian. For those who don’t know, let me remind you that when Coca Cola was invented, Azerbaijan was not in existence.
    Armenians, here and everywhere should and must stand against anything Israeli or anything Turkish. UNITED WE STAND AND DEVIDED WE FALL.
    Let us remember the words of our president George Bush:
    “You either with us, or against us” . Turkey and Israel proved they are against us. So, let us get down to business: Support Armenia, Send Money, Make friends with countries that REALLY believe in democracy, with countries that are “REAL” democracy and not hypocrites. What I have discovered that Israel advocates peace to the eyes of the world, but their behavior proves otherwise. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
    Let us not trust what we hear, but what we see. Just as our president Ronald Regan said: “Trust but Verify”
    Every Armenian must give as much possible to save our homeland Armenia.
    Every Armenian must Call, Fax, Email, Text all senators,, congressmen, and the president, as well as all newspapers, radio and TV stations and pound on their doors so they realize that we Armenians: “Yegank, Linenk ou Bidi Shadanank”
    If we all work together, the future is bright and near.

  4. I have been shopping in mentioned places for years as a Turkish person, have been not just shopping, chatting about the food, the daily matters etc. with the owners and workers in the markets. This is a very unfortunate choice they’ve made. I surely won’t feel welcome anymore in these businesses which have been selling Turkish goods forever. I remember at least a dozen parties I’ve brought food from there and recommended to people to shop in these establishments. I didn’t know businesses work with this mentality.

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