I was wrong in thinking a bit of bad news would spoil my appetite for dolma. Really, nothing could!

I’ve been
slacking in my consumption of Armenian coffee lately, so I’m moving slowly.
That’s the best excuse I have for not writing sooner about Azerbaijan’s claim
to victory over Armenia in the quest for international dolma supremacy.

Stuffed grape leaves, also known as sarma, yalanchi, yaprakh …
friend Lucine Kasbarian passed along news a few weeks back that UNESCO, the
UN’s cultural arm, had included Azerbaijani dolma on its cultural heritage
list. I replied at the time that it’s a good thing I didn’t read her email
before dinner or I’d have lost my appetite.

I’m ready
to argue with anyone who thinks dolma isn’t Armenian, although I’ve more often
argued with Armenians who have different ideas about dolma.
The Armenian Kitchen‘s Eggplant dolma

When Mom
said she was cooking dolma for dinner, I expected stuffed baby eggplants.
Sometimes she’d stuff peppers, too, or zucchini or even cucumbers. Armenians
will stuff
just about any vegetable fat enough to be hollowed out and small
enough to be tucked in a pot and covered in broth.

It’s all
good, and its even better the next day.

The dolma
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tussling over in recent years  is the stuffed grape leaf variety, which no
one I knew called dolma. It was sarma
or yalanchi or yaprakh or . . . well, the list just seems to go on.  

bother to tell me that this name is Turkish or that one’s Arabic, or that the Greeks
call their version dolmades while the
Persians call theirs dolmeh. As I
said, it’s all good.  

So I’m
not going to get into a stew about Azerbaijan’s boast but I do think the
outcome raises an important point for Armenians to consider before we move on
to the next dispute over culinary origins—and make no mistake: there will
surely be a next dispute.

put, international recognition can be both sweet and sour.

all, Armenians celebrated this same group’s recognition of lavash as an
Armenian heritage food just a few years ago. Reading through the cultural
heritage list, it’s clear to me that the honors aren’t necessarily based on

Read the text closely and you’ll see that UNESCO does not conclude that Azeris invented
dolma. It basically recognizes dolma’s rolling-and-stuffing ritual as a
national tradition. Yet that’s also clearly the case within the borders of any
country between Iran and Hungary.

It’s also
important not to get too wrapped up (so to speak) in the varied naming
protocols noted above. The folks at UNESCO did just that and wound up taking a wrong
turn before cresting the Caucuses.

UNESCO citation states that the word dolma is derived from the “Turkic word” doldurma, meaning stuffed. I don’t speak Turkish, so I won’t dispute their root.

But to accept that explanation you’d have to believe the Azeris and their Turkish cousins came up with a name identical to ours by sheer coincidence before ever encountering an Armenian.

In fact, Armenian scholars note that our word tolma (remember that Eastern Armenian transliteraion reverses the “t” and “d” sounds) dates to our Urartuan ancestors, long before the first Turkic nomads arrived in Asia Minor. It is derived from the name for Armenia’s wild grape vines, toli. 

You can read more about this but I’m satisfied that we’re right. I’ll be even more satisfied by a large bowl of dolma with a portion of lavash for dinner.

(Note to Robyn: I’ll get the pot on the stove if you make sure there’s plenty of madzoon to go with it!)
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  1. Ara February 7, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Doug, also note that, per Wikipedia, classical Armenian pronunciation was close to Eastern Armenian. So we may presume that Mesrop Mashtots ate his tolma with a side of matsoon.


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