'Food for diplomacy' project hosts Armenian chef

'Food for diplomacy' project hosts Armenian chef

Barçın Yinanç ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Food for diplomacy project hosts Armenian chef

Award-winning Armenian chef Grigori K. Antinyan cooked dishes with university students within the project ‘diplomacy for food.’

Khashntur Vahagni, an ancient lamb dish named after the Armenian god of war, Vahagni, a pre-Chrstian deity, was the main dish cooked by award-winning Chef Grigori K. Antinyan at a dinner organized as part of the “food for diplomacy” project.

The first four letters of the dish may have suggested a link to the dinner’s host, Kadir Has University, but it was just a charming coincidence. However, the fact that Armenia was chosen as the first country for the university’s project was not a coincidence, since "food for diplomacy" aims to harness the common heritage of culinary culture to enhance political, social and cultural dialogue between Turkey and its neighbors, near and far. With a rich common heritage, but closed borders, Armenia appeared to be a good choice as the first in the project.

“As part of the 'languages for peace' project, we opened courses to teach neighboring countries’ languages, and Armenian was one of them. We decided to continue the languages for peace project with food for peace,” said Mustafa Aydın, the rector of Kadir Has University.

The University’s Lifelong Education Center, in collaboration with its Culinary School, invited Antinyan, who is also the founding member of the Armenian traditional cuisine association, to cook together with the university's students.

The dinner was also designed to brainstorm about the state of bilateral relations. Ünal Çeviköz, Turkey’s former ambassador to the U.K. and Azerbaijan, spoke about the current situation between the two countries. Çeviköz was one of the diplomats involved in the proposed reconciliation process in 2009 with Armenia, which ended up failing. In his speech, he paid homage to Mıgırdıç Hekimyan, one of Ottoman Turkey’s first wine producers, before continuing his speech with an overview of Turkish-Armenian relations.

A menu combining ancient and modern Armenian culinary heritage

The menu consisted of dishes served during special events such as New Year, Easter and other religious holidays, and combined ancient and modern Armenian culinary heritage.

The dinner started with “putuk,” a thick soup cooked in a clay pot; Salad Nairi, a modern salad recipe that was developed by local chefs; and Khashnatur Vahagni as the main dish.

In line with the Turkish saying “Let’s eat sweet, let’s talk sweet,” Çeviköz’s speech was followed by a Q&A session accompanied by Klondrak, a ritual dessert, which is made from roasted, ground wheat stuffed into dried apricots and dried prunes.

With the cooperation of the Istanbul Culinary Institute, Kadir Has University is planning to continue its series of monthly dinner meetings throughout the 2014-2015 academic year, with Israel, Ukraine and Chile in line as the next countries. The project is supported by the Black Sea Trust.

Former Turkish diplomat pays homage to Mıgırdıç Hekimyan


Ünal Çeviköz, the first speaker of the Food for Diplomacy project, pays homage to Mıgırdıç Hekimyan, one of Ottoman Turkey’s first wine producers:

“This is a story about an Ottoman citizen and his interest in the production of wine. The reason for that interest was a disaster that the European wine industry suffered.

“It was in 1874 when American grape vines were first brought across the Atlantic Ocean for the purpose of introducing a new brand to Europe. Unfortunately, those vines carried phylloxera, an agricultural disease which ruins vineyards. The vineyards in Germany were the first to be affected by the disease, which spread like an epidemic in a very short time and created a disaster for the entire European wine production industry at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of 20th century. All the vineyards dried, and grape and wine production in Europe practically stopped. European merchants started to import wine into the Ottoman Empire through ports in Foça and Galata. This gave investors an opportunity to expand wine production into the Ottoman Empire, and new vineyards were planted.

“This is the time when a modest man named Hekimyan Mıgırdıç Efendi, who lived at Poland Street, No: 45 in Beyoğlu-Istanbul, got interested in wine production. He thought his land in the Tuzla-Pendik area would be quite suitable for the purpose. It was fertile land of around eight to 10 acres. If everything went according to expectations, within around four to five years he would be able to produce up to eight tons of grapes annually, which would mean five tons of wine.

“Hekimyan was apparently a good accountant. His records on the transformation of his land into a vineyard show the registration of every piece in detail, starting in 1912. How many investments he made and his expenses were very carefully put into his black covered notebook, in the proper format of a responsible merchant. The first years of the notebook were covered extensively on numerous pages; however, the records start to diminish as time goes on and ultimately, in 1922, the notebook ends with a balance of a loss. Hekimyan’s wine production adventure had come to an end within 10 years.

“What he could not have foreseen calculate was the First World War that started in 1914 and which became a disaster for the whole European continent. The years after the war were the Turkish War of Independence, with the Ottoman Empire at war with countries that it had initially intended to sell wine to. Nobody was thinking of wine production or commerce anymore; the sovereignty and independence of the country was instead the priority. Hekimyan retired back to his house on Poland Street, No. 45 in Beyoğlu-Istanbul, continued to live there, and peacefully died in 1927 as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. But who was Mıgırdıç Hekimyan?

“He was born in 1847 as a citizen of the Ottoman Empire. He was one of 10 students in forestry school who graduated on 21 July 1868 in Istanbul. He continued his education in the Raphaelian School in Italy, and later in France. After his return to Istanbul, he became a teacher in the School of Forestry and kept this position from 1881 to 1893. Mıgırdıç Efendi, as he observed there was not enough scientific material in the Turkish language on forestry, wrote a book which was entitled “İlm-i Nebatat ve Teşhis-i Ahşap” which translates into English as “The Basics of Botanics and Anatomy of Trees.” The book is 391 pages long and has a very good index, as well as an extensive glossary. One of the most interesting things about it is that all the scientific terminology is in Turkish; all the foreign scientific terminology relating to the subject matter of botanics is explained, translated or reformulated into Turkish vocabulary.

“Hekimyan also served as the undersecretary of finance and accounting for the Sultan and continued his teaching position in the School of Agriculture and Forestry in Istanbul, which is now the Forestry Faculty of Istanbul University today. He was born in 1848 as a subject of the Ottoman Empire and died in 1927 as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey.”