Gyumri-Kars Cuisine and Personal Relations Discussed at Tufts University

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MEDFORD, Mass. – The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University held its Food Symposium on food and conflict on April 19 to 20. As part of this symposium, the film “Haven’t We Shared Much Salt and Bread Together” was screened on April 19 and a discussion and question and answer session held with the film’s producers, Ihsan Karayazi and Armine Avetisyan. Prof. Nadim Shehadi, Director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at the Fletcher School, served as moderator.

Prof. Nadim Shehadi (photo: Aram Arkun)

Karayazi is the Kars office representative of the Caucasus Business and Development Network, and president of Kars City and Culture Research Association (KasKa). He first went to Kars as a student and stayed ten years there with various jobs. He traveled to Armenia across the border because the mayor at the time was interested in establishing such ties.

Armine Avetisyan and Ihsan Karayazi [photo: Aram Arkun)
Avetisyan, his partner, is from Gyumri, and has a master’s degree in Cultural Management from Bilgi University in Istanbul. She is currently pursuing another degree from the Heller School of Brandeis University in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence and working as Project Manager at IMPACT (Imagining Together Platform for Arts, Culture and Conflict Transformation), run by Brandeis University. The two ended up marrying about ten years after meeting in Kars.

First, the film was screened. It depicted a group of women from the Armenian town of Gyumri visiting the Turkish town of Kars, and women from Kars going to Gyumri to observe the similar cooking and lifestyles. Some of the Kars women knew that certain foods or customs remained from the Armenians who used to live there, while some of the Gyumri Armenians understood some Turkish and knew that their families originally came from Kars or other parts of Turkey across the border. They told some of their family stories from the Armenian Genocide and how their parents or ancestors escaped.

After the film, the discussion began. Dr. Shehadi declared that he saw the film three times and each time he noticed something new. He said that because he did not know either Armenian or Turkish, it took him time to even understand who was who. Karayazi said this was done on purpose.

Avetisyan pointed out that there were so many common words in the everyday language of each group of women though they had been separated from one another for one hundred years. The region, climate and geography formed the cuisine of both peoples, which explains the similarity.

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Karayazi said that initially some institutions provided some financial support for fieldwork to prepare a bilingual Armenian/Turkish recipe book, which recently was published under the name Beraber Az Mi Tuz Ekmek Yedik / Քի՞չ ենք միասին աղ ու հաց կերել. They collected recipes and stories from people living in the two cities. For more information or to obtain a copy, email info@kaska.org.tr.

He and Avetisyan understood that it would be possible to make a film documentary (and used the same title). They thought the two groups of women should actually meet in person so they did fundraising from the US State Department, International Alert, the Gulbenkian Foundation, the German Marshall Fund and some other sources, and began to film the two groups.

Avetisyan said they knew some of the women already and the other they just met on the spot. Some of the Armenian women were conflicted about joining this initiative initially, while some of the Turkish ones were unaware of the issues concerning the Armenians. A few women dropped out during the process.

The two groups now remain in touch with each other through social media like Facebook, and even if they don’t know each other’s languages they have friends who can translate for them. They try to visit each other when they can.

Karayazi said he hoped restaurants might begin to use bilingual Armenian and Turkish menus with the names of the same foods in both languages in Kars and this would be part of tourism but there was too much resistance. Instead, he might try organizing occasional food-related events. Political conditions in both Turkey and Armenia at the moment, he said, were not that enabling for cross-border events. Turkey was preparing for its elections and Armenia just had one.

This was the first time that Karayazi and Avetisyan have made a documentary. They hope to improve some of the technical aspects of the film over the summer of 2018 before showing it more widely and in festivals. It was shown to the participants and small groups of friends in Kars and Gyumri and was screened at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in Great Britain in 2017 as part of a symposium. They also have the idea of doing something to make Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents more visible in his native Kars, perhaps through a type of virtual museum.

The film producers also participated in a panel discussion on peacebuilding, food and integration on April 20 together with Gonca Sönmez-Poole, documentarian and founder of the Turkish Armenian Women’s Alliance, Anna Ackerman, cofounder of World to Table and Alex Galimberti of Oxfam America.

An excerpt from the film is embedded with this article.

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