In December 2014, International Alert and its partner the Caucasus Business and Development Network (CBDN) visited Kars in Turkey as part of our Recipes for Peace project.
The aim of this initiative is to counterbalance negative narratives in the Armenian and Turkish context by discovering and raising awareness of the similarities between the culinary cultures of these communities, which we believe can contribute to long-term reconciliation efforts.
Turkish–Armenian relations have been soured by historical conflict, troubled political relations and Armenia’s ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh. As a result, the border between the two countries remains closed and communities across the border are isolated from one another. Negative stereotypes and the perpetuation of the ‘enemy’ image hamper prospects of reconciliation.
Recipes for Peace aims to counter these negative relations by exploring how the emotional and cultural experience of food and cooking can be channelled as a platform for peacebuilding, by identifying common traditions and practices and exploring the narratives associated with them. The project brings together culinary experts from both sides of the border to taste the dishes cooked in different villages, visit the homes where they are cooked, and hear the stories behind them.
The programme for the trip was designed to capture the multicultural setting of the Kars region, incorporating visits to the different ethnic groups who reside there, including Azeris, Kurds, Terekeme and Yerlis.
Over the course of the five-day trip, culinary professionals from Armenia and Turkey visited more than 10 kitchens in different locations, including households and restaurants in the Kars city centre and villages across the wider region. The variety of different contexts visited on the trip was reflected in the diverse range of dishes cooked, just a few of which included lahana sarması (stuffed cabbage – pictured left), pishi (fried dough), evelik corbaci (sorrel soup) and et kavurmasi (chopped roast beef).
As well as visiting kitchens, the team also spent time talking to different people in many of the towns and villages, especially those close to the border with Armenia. The local people we met proved to be extremely open to the idea and were excited to engage in the project activities.
This is our second field trip to the region as part of the project. The first trip was to the Shirak region in Armenia and demonstrated that food encapsulates not only a source of nourishment but also has an entire culture and history of its own, and triggers nostalgia for bygone days. When people cook and eat together, they develop strong bonds, which is an essential part of promoting peace and trust in communities. The trip to Kars once again verified that cuisine can be an extremely effective topic to advance Turkish–Armenian discourse.
The next stage of the project, which will take place in spring, will involve culinary workshops in Gyumri and Kars, and will showcase some of the recipes from both field trips, giving members of the public the opportunity to taste and discuss the dishes.