19 January 2019

Saturday, 09:47



How a meal, which has a Turkic name, turned into "traditional Armenian bread"



Flour, water and salt. You knead the dough with your hands, then you divide and shape it into small balls and then roll the balls out with a thin rolling pin for dough (named oxlov in Azeri). The kneading and rolling process is carried out on a round board named yuxa yayan. You roll the balls out to be 2 mm thick or even thinner. Thus you get thin flatbread - lavash, yuxa, yayma. Then you put the lavash on a saj, a shield-shaped cast-iron multipurpose pan with a concavity. Lavash is baked on its convex side while the back side is used to fry meat and offal.

Experienced Azeri housewives say that lavash should be thin to the point of transparency. At the same time, the Azerbaijani culinary culture features lavash varieties in different regions. In Naxcivan, for example, lavash is not so thin. It has an oblong oval shape; they add yeast to the dough and bake it in a tandir rather than on a saj.


Logical paradox

For us, Azerbaijanis, this component is so routine and so inseparable from our cuisine that, probably, for this reason, it has never occurred on us to prove that it is ours and to appeal to the international community. Such is our generous and at the same time ingenuous nature. In addition, the Azerbaijanis will never stoop to engaging in culinary or any other "plagiarism". As we know, practically the same kind of lavash as in Naxcivan is also used in Iran, let alone the fact that dozens of its varieties are baked in Turkey, actually the historical home of this multipurpose thin flatbread, speaking about the Turkic etymology of the word itself. Being people of sense, the Azerbaijanis are well aware of the fact today that, historically, the emergence of lavash and similar bread products was an event so ancient and widespread that it is very difficult to trace its origin.

Back at the time of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, matzah was invented: it is also a flatbread made from unleavened dough. This is why it is practically impossible to identify the region which was the first to invent, make and consume as food thinly rolled flatbread. It is like reasoning on the cause-and-effect relationship between the hen and the egg: which of them came first? This is a logical paradox. But just this and many other paradoxes give no rest to the Armenians seeking evidence of their uniqueness and perfection. It is no wonder. There is no proof of Armenian exceptional nature and this is why they have to resort to theft. And the fact that they tried to include lavash in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as "traditional Armenian bread" once again demonstrates the persistence with which the Armenians, feeling hatred for the Turks and all things Turkic, try to appropriate their heritage. Are the Armenians Turks? No, not for the world, the Armenians themselves will say. Then why should lavash be Armenian? Well, had this kind of bread been included in the UNESCO heritage list under some other sophisticated Armenian name, there would have been at least something to mull over. But probably they had no time to think and weigh all "pros" and "cons". It is just an Armenian deadlock!


Only one day!

Initially UNESCO included lavash in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity not as an expression of culture in Armenia but as "Armenian lavash". In actual fact, lavash stayed as purely "Armenian" bread on the UNESCO List of World Heritage only one day. Following a protest from the Azerbaijani and the Turkish delegations, the UNESCO commission essentially amended the document.

The original name of the file presented by the Armenian delegation and accepted by the UNESCO intergovernmental commission was: "Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional Armenian bread as an expression of culture". However, following a resolute protest from the delegations of Azerbaijan and Turkey, the commission changed the file name to "Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture IN ARMENIA".

Thus, accepting the arguments of the Turkish and the Azerbaijani sides, the commission removed the word "Armenian" before the phrase "traditional bread" and thereby recognized that lavash is not at all purely "Armenian" in terms of origin, or an "invention" of the Armenian people but it is really made in the territory of Armenia. 

Yes, indeed, lavash is made in Armenia but its geography is not confined to that country. For many centuries, 40m ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Azerbaijan proper and in Iran have been baking this bread on a saj or in a tandir, as well as some 70m Turks and only 5m Armenians. Given all this, how can it suddenly become "Armenian"? The UNESCO commission found the argumentation of the Turkish and the Azerbaijani delegations well-grounded and corrected its error by "de-Armenianizing" lavash.


Common heritage

Azerbaijan intends to submit next year its request to be added to the geographic area where this particular bread is baked. If the request is accepted, and UNESCO cannot deny the indisputable fact that the same bread with the same name is baked in Azerbaijan, this geography of lavash making will be supplemented with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Central Asian states. 

As has been reported to R+ by Anar Karimov, Azerbaijan's permanent representative at UNESCO, a regional meeting of country representatives decided at Azerbaijan's initiative to nominate lavash as a common culinary heritage of the entire region next year. "According to the 2003 Convention on preservation of intangible cultural heritage, if some heritage is present in many countries, the countries may either make a multinational nomination of that item or it may be represented by one of the countries. In 2009, for example, Azerbaijan jointly with six other countries of the region, included Novruz festivities in the Representative List; Azerbaijan and Turkey separately included the art of ashiqs [folk musicians] in the list," Anar Karimov explained. As regards lavash, according to the UNESCO envoy, as soon as the Armenian side made that provocative nomination, Azerbaijan and Turkey challenged that move. Their letters of protest pointed out that lavash is widespread on a vast area comprising many countries, that there were political and commercial reasons behind that nomination made by Armenia, that Armenia was putting emphasis on the consumprion of lavash rather than on the culture of its production, and that all those points were at variance with the very spirit of the convention. As the result, the Armenian attempt was foiled. Moreover, the committee resolution pointed out that, given that lavash is spread over a much wider area, this wording makes is impossible to judge about it as exclusively Armenian legacy. "It should also be said that, according to the convention, this fact will not impose any restrictions on Azerbaijan and other countries where lavash is popular in nominating lavash as a candidate for an item of intangible heritage in the future. On the contrary, according to some clauses of the convention, UNESCO welcomes multinational nominations contributing to dialogue and rapprochement of nations," Anar Karimov summarized.


Turkic roots

Interesting facts have been disclosed by Elsad Alili, a renowned linguist, turkologist and connoisseur of ancient languages, in his talk with R+. According to Alili, it is beyond any doubt that lavash does not belong solely to the Caucasus; both Turks and Georgians as well as the entire Central Asian region and the Iranians enjoy making and eating lavash.

"It is only now that, if you query for the word 'lavash', the Internet will give you many thousands of results that it is Armenian and almost nowhere that it is Turkic or Azerbaijani. Armenian propaganda is at work, as they say. More than that, Wikipedia, which also says that lavash is Armenian, gives a translation of the word: "According to the Armenian Soviet Encyclopaedia, the word "lavash" consists of ancient Armenian roots 'lav' (good) and '(kh)ash' (food)". Meanwhile an etymological dictionary of Turkic languages was published in Soviet times under the editorship of Yervand Sevortyan, a scholar of turkology of Armenian origin (!). In that dictionary, the word "lavash" is of Turkic origin. Sevortyan wrote that the entire Oriental world had borrowed the word from the Turks.

According to the linguist, the word "lavash" is made up of two parts: the word "lav" or "lay" which means "layer" and the word "ash" which is known throughout the Turkic world as "food". This makes a word combination that means "layered food".

The word "lavash" applies not only to bread. As can be seen from the etymology of the word, all thinly rolled food is called lavash, he says. Suffice it to mention as an instance "tursu lavash" or, as it is called in many of our regions, "lavashana" which is made from dried juice of cherry-plum and other fruits. The bread product itself is called "yuxa" [or yuka in Turkey] in some regions, which means "soft, thin", or "fatir".

Alili said that the Armenians are making a strategic mistake deriving this word from bread while the Turkic world applies the word "lavash" not only to bread, despite the "pastry" origin being the most wide-spread one.

Even the Chagatai language which was popular in the territory of Central Asia until the 18th century has the word "lavash" which stands for any thin food.

Another proof that lavash is an original Turkic achievement is the very fact of its invention. As is known, historically, many dishes and food components do not come into being spontaneously, at a whim, but arise from vital necessity. An unleavened cake from thin rolled dough is an indispensable attribute of nomadic peoples to which a large majority of the Turkic world belongs.

"Nomads spent quite long periods of time travelling: from one or two to four or six weeks. This is why they baked such bread during rest halts for future use. Note (and this is another argument against the theory of Armenian origin of lavash as Armenians always position themselves as a settled people) that lavash is baked not only in tandirs, that our western neighbours have also successfully mastered and even take credit of its invention, but also on a saj - a big round-shaped disk that is handy to carry about. The saj itself, so common for us, is not widespread at all among the Armenians.

By the way, after the Armenian provocation at UNESCO, many experts began to speak out in the media against such an approach to things. In particular, Russian expert Darya Melikhova pointed out that it is incorrect to call lavash Armenian: "It was and is made throughout the Caucasus by the Azerbaijanis, the Georgians and in the North Caucasus by the Avars, the Ossetians and others. Lavash is also widespread in Iran and in Turkey. It is common national property!" 


Lobbying at UNESCO

Given all this, lavash unfortunately still remains Armenian today, judging by results of Internet queries. More than that, according to many witnesses, there are many bakeries in the Russian market, for example, in different towns of Russia, that make lavash under the name of "Armenian lavash". So an ignorant person will believe that lavash is produced only in Armenia. This is again a case where we can say that, by virtue of their simple-hearted nature, it may rarely occur to Azeris, Turks and people of other nationalities to push their culture forward by fair means (we need no foul ones - author). Despite the well-known proverb, this lie appears to have long legs. And to such an extent that even UNESCO experts failed to give a thought to the etymology of the word "lavash" and to the fact that it is made not only in Armenia. It did not dawn on them until after the protest of the Azerbaijani and the Turkish sides. After all, even a superficial look at this issue brings out facts that just should not have escaped the all-seeing eye of UNESCO experts. Prior to adding new items to the list, they should have verified them. For instance, it is quite easy to prove that kalagayi [women's headgear] relates to Azerbaijani tradition. At the same time it takes quite a lot of pains to persuade the international community that lavash is "Armenian".

But should we descend to the level of a penny gaff with the Armenian trick being followed by Belgium suggesting that French fries should be entered on the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage. Is it worth doing? And does gold need any gilding?