Gyumri-Kars Culinary Workshops

Locals try the shared recipes in Gyumri
Locals try the shared recipes in Gyumri

In May and June this year, the Caucasus Business and Development Network (CBDN) presented the results of the ‘Recipes for Peace’ initiative at a series of public workshops in Gyumri and Kars. These events provided a great opportunity for the guests and residents of the towns in Armenia and Turkey to engage and taste the dishes prepared by chefs and homemakers, and learn the history of the recipes handed down by family members through the years.

Preparations

Following the field trips to Gyumri and Kars in December 2014, organisers set to work designing the content and the format of the public workshops, developing the menu and recruiting the participants.

The project team set the dates for the workshops in Gyumri (29 May – 1 June 2015) and Kars (19-21 June 2015). We identified the participants, many of whom had taken part at the inception stage of the project, and the venues for the event: “Slavyanskiy Dvor”, located in the central square of Gyumri, and “Simer Hotel” garden in Kars.

Workshop in Gyumri

Gata/kete is a traditional pastry baked on both sides of the border
Gata/kete is a traditional pastry baked on both sides of the border

On May 29th the Kars delegation, including culinary participants and experts, arrived in Gyumri. An introductory dinner on arrival day gave the women from Gyumri and Kars a chance to get to know each other and socialize prior to the event.

The following day was spent visiting the houses of the participants in the Gyumri region and preparing food together. In Aregnadem village, Marine hosted Serap in her kitchen. Together they made gata (Gyumri pronunciation) or kete (Kars pronunciation) in a tandir (an underground clay oven). Satenik and Annik hosted Serap and Turkan to prepare dolma (stuffed vegetables). Perihan and Anahit cooked icli kofte (meatballs with wheat) in Anahit’s kitchen.

The kitchen is a sacred place for both cultures: to invite a person into one’s home, especially into the kitchen, is to pay them special respect. This made the experience especially meaningful for all participants.

Cooking became a means of communication between the women
Cooking became a means of communication between the women

The second half of the day brought the women into the restaurant kitchen, where they began cooking for the event. Their preparations continued until the afternoon of the following day. The women did not speak each other’s languages, and no interpreter was present; however, they found a common language through their cooking. The recipes they prepared are almost the same on both sides of the border, but participants all shared the individual touches and details they add to make the dishes their own. The songs and jokes which accompanied their work created a positive and friendly atmosphere.

The menu consisted of a variety of dishes which are cooked in both cuisines and share similar names, including aveluk/evelik (sorrel soup), herisa/arissa (porridge with chicken) and erishta/erishte (home-made pasta). The women themselves served the food to the guests, facilitating communication between participants and locals. The tasting was accompanied by traditional regional music and a performance by the Gyumri Dramatic Theatre company.

Around 200 attendees enjoyed food prepared in the name of peace and reconciliation. Representatives of city and regional governments, NGOs, businesses, universities and the Russian Consulate in Gyumri were among the guests.

Kars Workshop

As the date for Kars workshop coincided with Ramadan, the event was designed as a fast breaking dinner (iftar), and organisers and participants developed the menu accordingly.

On their arrival to Kars on June 19th, the women from Armenia and Turkey visited the local market together to choose the ingredients for the workshop, and set out to begin preparations in the restaurant kitchen. The following day, the Simer Hotel’s kitchen turned into a boiling pot with 15 women preparing food, comparing recipes, debating whose techniques were better, making coffee and telling each other’s fortunes from the coffee grounds, discussing peace and the Turkish-Armenian relationship, singing songs and hugging each other.

Dinner took place after sundown
Dinner took place after sundown

Around 400 people attended the iftar dinner to taste the food of peace. As well as Kars residents, guests included representatives from Swiss and US embassies, Kars Municipality and the newly elected Kars deputy of People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

During dinner, guests enjoyed the musical stylings of award-winning jazz pianist of Gyumri origin Tigran Hamasyan, and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir directed by Harutyun Topikyan. After dinner “Luys i Luso” presented a fresh interpretation of sacred Armenian music from the 5th to 19th centuries.

The event was widely covered by local and national press, including Radikal Daily, Kars Manset and Serhat TV. For a full list of media coverage, please see the ‘Press’ page.