I'm totally down with Armenians–much more so than Turks (it's that whole genocide question, alas, although I know more than a few Turks who freely call the Ottoman Empire's slaughter of Armenians in the first part of the 20th Century a genocide . . . but never among other Turks). But I was totally taken aback by an op-ed piece published last week on Asbarez.com, the website for the country's oldest and most prestigious Armenian-American newspaper.
In the piece, contributor Garen Yegparian started by blasting some of President Barack Obama's diplomatic choices, choices beyond the scope of a food blog's interest. There was a mention of Orange County in Yegparian's analysis–and then, the conversation turned to food.
“While in Orange County, I should also mention that someone's offering 'Turkish' cooking classes there,” Yegparian wrote. “Isn't that just great? Not only do
we have to contend with Turkey usurping and 'Turkifying' the Armenian,
Greek and other cultural legacies of Asia Minor, but now we have Turks
in the U.S. passing off as their own the cuisines they stole from the
peoples they murdered!”
And it only got better.
Yegparian then went on to note that “Orange County serves as a locus (maybe I should say a plague of locusts)
of Turkish activity of all types because of the large Turkish community
there,” and that's just crossing the line. Oh, I have no love lost for the leaders of the Turkish-American community in Orange County–but locusts? Really?
Getting back to food: I know the Pacifica Institute, a nonprofit that hosts Turkish-culture classes and is based in Orange County, offers local Turkish cooking classes, and it's also in charge of the Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival–but stealing dishes from conquered cultures? I don't think anyone who eats food will ever think of doner as anything other than a cousin of shawerma, or baklava as having come from somewhere other than Turkey. And I always find one the sausage I consider Armenian–sojouk–far more frequently at Lebanese restaurants than at Turkish ones, but with no clarification it's originally Armenian. The Middle Eastern diet, from the reaches of Afghanistan to Greece and around the southern Mediterranean, is essentially local riffs on various cooked meats, rice pilafs, dips and flatbreads–to argue about which culture invented or owns one of their shared dishes is a futile exercise. And if you don't believe me, ask a Palestinian and Israeli about falafels. . . .