The recipes in this book are from Cilicia. This is the name Armenians still use for the land between Mount Ararat and Kayseri, which stretches out southwards to Aleppo and covers most of what is now Eastern Turkey and Northern Syria. Cilicia is a magical name; we sing about it. It is the homeland we lost.
We travelled to Cilicia to discover where these recipes came from, and to collect stories and recipes. It was a very emotional journey over 2,800 km from Erzerum to Kars, Ararat, Van, Diyarbakir, Urfa, Antep... all the places we had heard so much about. The nature is beautiful and generous here, with wide plains, fertile earth and lots of water. Here you see Mount Ararat from the other side: the same majestic mountain, with its big peak Masis and his smaller brother Sis, that we are so used to seeing in pictures of Yerevan.
It was a tough journey too, looking for what remains and finding... almost nothing. There are no Armenians left here. We encountered a few persons who admitted having an Armenian grandmother, and we heard that the last remaining families had left the area in the 1980s because of the political situation. No traces of the language, very few traces in the architectural fabric... only here and there a church.
We saw beautiful churches, deserted and in decay, used as stables for cows or left to the carelessness of birds on an isolated island. Many were plundered by the local population in search of the treasures hidden by the Armenians when they had to flee. The signs in English and Turkish do not mention the Armenians. The subject is still banned, the events of the beginning of the twentieth century still covered with silence and denial.
My father used to sing "Tsangam desnem zim Giligian (I wish to see my Cilicia)" Cilicia was the name of the Armenian state that flourished here from the eleventh century onwards. Even if Cilicia was conquered by the Ottomans in the fifteenth century, the cities and villages preserved their Armenian character. In this region, commerce and industry were almost entirely in the hands of Armenians.
Many Armenians still hope to recover their lands and homes one day; they still carry with them the documents of the properties that were theirs. But today Kurdish families have taken their place and the Kurds in their turn struggle with the authoritarian Turkish state and dream of independence. They welcomed us warmly, inviting us to stay. One of them told us: "Soon we will have an independent Kurdistan here, and then Kurds and Armenians will live again side by side like they used to do before the Turks created conflict." This Kurdish land might be much closer to realisation than our Armenian dream, but to us, hearing these words felt as if they were stealing Cilicia for the second time.
The land still brings forward all the rich and tasty ingredients of our recipes: the best pepper paste, the juiciest aubergines, the best meat, honey, milk and cheese. And of all that was, still the recipes remain, still su beureg, mante, and all the variations of dolma are prepared with love and care, very similarly to the way we prepare them now in the diaspora. They were the most tangible and vivid traces we found of the Armenians who used to live here.
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