Food for diplomacy: Turkish project hosts Armenian chef

Kadir Has University’s Lifelong Education Center, in collaboration with its Culinary School, has initiated a project that blends food and diplomacy, with an award-winning Armenian chef from Yerevan cooking dishes with students.

Khashntur Vahagni, an ancient lamb dish named after the Armenian god of war, Vahagni, a pre-Christian 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 in Istanbul, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

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 Aydin, 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 Mkrtuich Hekimyan, one of Ottoman Turkey’s first wine producers, before continuing his speech with an overview of Turkish-Armenian relations.

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.

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