Friday, June 29, 2012

VIDEO: TEDxTbilisi - Justyna Mielnikiewicz - Frame by Frame: Creating My Life on My Own Terms (

Justyna Mielnikiewicz discusses her journey from a village in Poland to Tbilisi, and her unique path to becoming a successful international photographer.

Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a self-taught freelance photographer. Originally from Poland, she has been based in Tbilisi, Georgia for the last 10 years. Between 2001-2009 she worked on a documentary project dedicated to the South Caucasus and its conflicts, titled "Shared Sorrows-Divided Lines". Since 2010, she has started to explore a new topic dedicated to women, sexuality and gender issues in the former Soviet space.

In addition to working on her personal projects, Justyna regularly cooperates with The New York Times, Newsweek Poland and Her works have been published in various international publications such as Monocle, Russian Reporter, NG Travel, Le Monde, German yearbook of Reporters without Borders, among others. In 2009, she received Second Prize in the World Press Photo Competition (People in the News) for Coverage of War in South Ossetia. That same year, she was the winner of the Canon Female Photojournalist Prize, awarded annually in the International Photojournalism Festival of Perpignan - Visa pour l"Image.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CULTURE: The food and wine of Georgia. By Asya Pereltsvaig (

( Georgia has a rich and woefully underappreciated culture. Its history stretches back for millennia, and its literary traditions are deep. Georgia has its own epic literature, with The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin serving as the national classic. The poet, Shota Rustaveli, was prince and treasurer at the twelfth-century court of Queen Tamar of Georgia, under whose rule Georgia reached it apogee as a major state. Considering its distinctive history, it is no surprise that Georgia has developed it own sophistical traditions of gastronomy. But despite its riches, Georgia cooking is little known to the rest of the world. cuisine, like those of other countries, varies by region. A complex interplay of cultural influences has divided the country east from west at the Surami Pass (see map above). The dishes found on either side of the divide feature distinct ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavorings. Western Georgia is smaller in territory than Eastern Georgia, but more varied in terms of climate, ethnography, and historical influences. The main differences in the two culinary traditions derive from the influences of Turkey (and more generally, of the Mediterranean world) on the cuisine of Western Georgia, and of Iran on that of Eastern Georgia. Western and Eastern Georgians show preferences for different types of meat and bread, and they exhibit distinct uses of herbs and spices, giving a different overall aroma and flavoring to their dishes.

In Western Georgia bread is usually made of cornmeal (called mtchadi in Georgian), while in Eastern Georgia wheat bread predominates. Georgian cuisine, like Armenian, relies on a variety of meats: muzhuzhi is made out of pork, chanakhi out of lamb, chakhokhbili out of chicken. Beef is favored for the traditional kharcho soup. But as with bread, regional differences separate Western and Eastern Georgia: in the west, the most common type of meat is fowl (mostly, chicken and guinea-hens, as geese and duck are not eaten), whereas in the east lamb is much more popular.

The Georgian table is noted for its frequent use of cheeses. However, unlike French, Dutch or Swiss cheeses, those of Georgia are typically of the brined curd variety, like the Greek feta. Cheeses produced in Western Georgia (e.g. sulguni, imereti; the latter is named after the Imereti region where it comes from) usually have more subtle flavors than those found in the east. Georgian cheeses differ from those familiar in the West not only in their flavor and consistency, but also in how they are eaten. In contrast to the typical European cheese course, where different types of cheeses are consumed “as is”, Georgian cheeses are usually cooked: stewed in milk, grilled on a spit, fried in a skillet, baked in crust, or pureed and flavored by herbs and spices. This tendency to cook cheese derives in part from the fact that Georgian cheeses are seldom fully ripened and are thus thought of as a semi-finished product. There is also a general tendency of peoples living in the mountains to use the same cooking methods for meats and cheeses alike. For example, melting, cooking and frying cheese is also common in Alps: think of the traditional Swiss fondue!

Finally, differences between Western and Eastern Georgia are also marked by the use of herbs and spices. Overall, Georgian cuisine is more savory than spicy, with cilantro, tarragon, basil, savory, leek, chives, parsley, dill, and mint playing a crucial role. The only sources of “heat” are garlic (typically finely minced) and red pepper. The latter is associated with the Turkish influence and therefore is used much more heavily in Western Georgia and especially in Abkhazia, which for nearly two and a half centuries – from 1578 to 1810 – was under the Ottoman rule. Thus, the traditional spice paste known as adjika in Western Georgia consist up to 25% of the red pepper, but as one travels from west to east, the proportion of red pepper in such preparations decreases to just 5-10%.

Most Georgians are Eastern Orthodox Christians and as such are subject to fasting on certain days of the religious calendar. While some fasts are strict, forbidding all non-plant food, oils and sugar, others are light, allowing fish and vegetable oils. Throughout the Orthodox Christian world, such fast days constitute a significant portion of the calendar: for example, Russian Church imposes some 196 to 212 fast days a year (the number varies in different years). In the Russian and Armenian traditions, a wide array of fish and mushroom dishes were developed for such occasions. Georgian “fast food”—in the religious rather than the McDonald’s sense—focuses on vegetable and fruit dishes. As a result, vegetable- and fruit-based meals became popular in Georgia. Among the most commonly consumed vegetables are beans, eggplants cabbage and cauliflower, beets, and tomatoes (the latter are not traditional, of course!). Vegetables can be served raw (in a salad), or boiled, baked, fried, stewed, marinated or pickled. In Georgia, different types of vegetables are rarely mixed. Alongside vegetables and fruit, nuts – hazelnuts, almonds and most frequently walnuts – occupy a prominent place on the Georgian table, added into spice mixes and sauces, or served with chicken, vegetables and even fish. Meat soups, sweets, salads and hot main courses alike may contain nuts. In short, if I were to pick a “secret ingredient” for a Georgian “Iron Chef” battle, it would have to be walnuts.

But Georgian food should not be imagined as a simple menu of grilled meats, boiled vegetables and nuts. Much like French cuisine, the Georgian tradition is based on complex and varied sauces. But unlike the French, who use cream (Normandy), lard (Alsace), or olive oil (Provence) to create body for their world-renowned sauces, Georgians favor sour fruit juices, soured milk (known as matsoni), eggs, and nuts to enrich their sauces. One of the best-known sauces (one can buy it in jars in ethnic food stores) is tkemali, made from sour plums of the same name. Other sour ingredients used in Georgian sauces include pomegranate juice, blackberries, barberries, and pureed tomatoes. Such sour liquids are also used to emulsify eggs for soups and sauces, in contrast to the European technique of tempering the eggs in custard-making. Such heavy reliance on sour components makes the food not only more flavorful but also more easily digested (the same motif of sour and fermented foods aiding digestion is commonly found in traditional Russian cuisine as well). Another celebrated Georgian sauce is satsivi, made from pureed nuts flavored with minced garlic and other herbs and spices. Typically, a cook selects three to four herbs among the wide assortment available; combining herbs and spices is part and parcel of the Georgian culinary sensibility and a true art. Unlike the Italians, who have strict rules for combining various sauces with different shapes of pasta, Georgians use the same sauces with different meats or vegetables; conversely, the same main ingredient may be sauced in different ways. For example, “chicken tapaka” (i.e. grilled under weight) can be sauced with satsivi, satsibeli or garo (all three based on pureed walnuts), tkemali (sour plum sauce), garlic-wine sauce, and so on. Sauces serve to flavor otherwise mostly neutral ingredients like chicken or beans.

Finally, no overview of Georgian cuisine can be complete without mentioning wine. Viticulture and viniculture have deep roots in the Caucasus; in fact, Patrick E. McGovern in his recent book Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, proposes modern-day Georgia and Armenia as the most likely sites of the domestication of the Eurasian wine grape, which occurred some 8,000 years ago. Winemaking spread from the South Caucasus into the Near East, with wines being produced in northwestern Iran (at Hajji Firuz Tepe) by 5400 BCE. A little more than 4,000 years later, Near Eastern wine culture had evolved to the point where amphoras found in the palace of Amenhotep III in western Thebes noted vintage, quality, appellation, and even the purpose or occasion for the blend. Today’s global multi-million dollar wine business apparently traces back to Georgia and Armenia. Some sources even derive our word wine, as well as the Greek oinos, the Latin vinum and the Hebrew yayin, from the Georgian word for wine, gvino.

Climatic conditions in Georgia are well-suited for viticulture: summers are warm but rarely excessively hot, while winters are mild. In addition, the mountains are full of natural springs, and rivers drain mineral-rich waters into the valleys. Topographic and climatic diversity allows Georgians to grow over 400 varieties of grape, a greater diversity than anywhere else in the world. Around 40 of these grape cultivars are used in commercial wine production. Roughy 40 million gallons (150 million liters) of wine are produced each year in Georgia, with around 45,000 hectares of vineyards under cultivation. Georgia’s wines are produced in several zones: most notably Kakheti and Kartli in the east, and Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Ajaria, and Abkhazia in the west. By far the most important of these areas is Kakheti, which produces 70% of all Georgian wine. In those zones, 18 Specific Viticulture Areas – a local analogy of the Controlled Appellations of Origin – are distinguished (see map above); planting density and yield in these Specific Viticulture Areas are tightly controlled. Much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy, Georgian wines – which are typically blended from two or more grapes varieties – traditionally carry the name of the source region, district, or village.

Unfortunately, traditional Georgian grape varieties, which are different from those cultivated widely in western Europe, are little known in the West. In fact, none of the three maps of major wine producing regions reproduced below feature Georgia at all! (The third map is from the Thirty-Fifty website.)

Not having an outlet in the West, most Georgian wines were either consumed locally or exported to Russia, but recent political tensions led to Russia’s 2006 embargo on Georgian wine. Emotions ran so high that a major Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda printed a Soviet-style poster extolling Russians to “Respect Yourself and the Motherland — DON’T DRINK Georgian Wine!”

Winemaking remains a vital part of Georgian culture and national identity. Georgian families throughout Georgia grow their own grapes and produce wine the old-fashioned way, by placing grape juice in underground clay jars, or kvevri, topped with a wooden lid, covered and sealed with earth, to ferment during the winter. This winemaking technique, especially in the colder mountainous areas, lends itself to sweet wines (both red and white): late harvest and early winter prevent complete fermentation so the wine stays sweet. In the spring, when the temperature rises, such wines tend to re-ferment and spoil. As a result, such wines were once consumed quickly and locally. Nowadays, famous Georgian semi-sweet wines such as Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara (the latter is said to be the favorite wine of Joseph Stalin) are specifically created to preserve their high sugar content.

Georgia not only has a well developed system of viticulture and wine making, but also an elaborated tradition of wine drinking. In the local wine culture, being able to say an eloquent, intelligent, sharp-witted toast is an all-important social skill, at least for a man. Male guests at Georgian feasts typically compete in their toast-making skills and only the best of the best can be selected as the tamada, who acts as a director of the party, teacher, and drinking-policeman of the feast table (to ensure that he can carry out such duties, the tamada is supposed to drink less than the other guests). And while Georgian toast-makers try to distinguish the most interesting, original, and praiseworthy features of the person toasted, such toasts are not viewed as flattery. Rather they are suppose to ennoble the object of the toast: for example, when a person is told that he is kind and honest, he will find it difficult to do evil; when he is told he is generous, he will try not to be greedy; and telling a person than he handsome is meant to help him avoid an inferiority complex. Not only the guests present at the table can be toasted but their ancestors too. And even such abstract notions as love, life, and friendship are frequent subjects of eloquent toasts at the Georgian table.

Georgian feasts are also important venues for the country’s noted tradition of complex, polyphonic singing, but that would have be the subject for another GeoCurrents post.

AmazonShop: Books, Maps, Videos, Music & Gifts About The Caucasus

CULTURE: The Role of the Caucasus in Russian Cultural and Intellectual History. By Vitaliy L. Rayz (

(by guest blogger Vitaliy L. Rayz, in collaboration with Martin W. Lewis)

( The present GeoCurrents series has focused on the peoples of the Caucasus, examining Russia and Russians only insofar as they have impacted the region. But the Caucasus has played a significant role in the politics of Russia, and in its cultural history as well. The most prominent Russian poets and writers, including Alexander Pushkin, Michael Lermontov, and Lev Tolstoy, traveled through the region and described it in their renowned books. The “cultural exchange,” moreover, went both ways: many members of the Russian elite served, worked, or vacationed in the Caucasus, while quite a few Caucasians made it to the top ranks of Russian society.

Several Georgian nobles, for example, gained fame for their service to the Russian Empire. Prince Pyotr Ivanovich Bagration (“Prince Pyotr”), depicted on the left, a descendant of the Georgian royal family, became one of the most successful Russian generals during Napoleonic wars. In 1812 he led one of the Russian armies fighting the invading French troops. Bagration heroically fought in the bloody battle of Borodino, where he commanded the left wing of the Russian position. After repelling more than half a dozen massive attacks led by the most talented French marshals, Bagration was mortally wounded.

As the Russians advanced into the Caucasus in the first half of the 19th century, their armies included a number of nobles. For many, service in the North Caucasus—a land of unrelenting war—was itself a form of punishment, entailing exile from the capital. Some Russian nobles serving in the region were actually de-ranked from the officer class and reclassified as ordinary soldiers. Such a penalty could stem from many kinds of misbehavior, ranging from participation in a duel to the holding of “untrustworthy” political views.

Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s best-loved poet, visited the Caucasus twice and described its snow-covered mountains and proud highlanders in poetry and prose. In his famous poem “The prisoner of the Caucasus,” he describes a Russian captive who falls in love with a Circassian girl. “A Journey to Arzrum,” written during his second visit in 1829, provides a detailed account of his trip. In this remarkable work, the ever sharp-witted and discerning Pushkin describes different peoples, their traditions, and their cuisines. He also had sharp words for the relationship between the Russians and the Circassians:

"The Circassians hate us. We have pushed them from free pastures; their villages are devastated, whole tribes are exterminated. With every hour they get higher and higher in the mountains and from there launch their raids. Friendship with the “pacified” Circassians is not reliable: they are always ready to help their violent kinsmen."

In order to safely get to Vladikavkaz in what is now North Ossetia-Alania, Pushkin had to join a regular military convoy, protected by infantry, mounted Cossacks, and a cannon. After crossing the formidable Caucasus range, Pushkin was delighted to see the “fair-looking” Georgia. After arriving Tiflis (Tbilisi), he described the city’s inhabitants:

"The Georgians are warriors who had proven their courage under our banners… They are in general of cheerful and sociable spirit… The wines from Kakheti and Karabakh are not inferior to some of the Burgudian ones. … In Tiflis the main part of the population is Armenian: in 1825 there were up to 2500 Armenian families… The Georgian families are no more than 1500. The Russians do not consider themselves to be local inhabitants"

On his way to Armenia, Pushkin ran into a gruesome procession, one carrying the body of another famous Russian poet, Alexander Griboedov. Griboedov had lived in the Caucasus for many years. Owing to his knowledge of the region, he was sent as a Russian ambassador to Teheran, where he was murdered by a crowd storming the embassy.

In Michael Lermontov’s book A Hero of Our Time, widely considered one the best examples of Russian prose, a St. Petersburg aristocrat named Pechorin travels to the Caucasus. Pechorin undergoes a variety of adventures, dueling in Pyatigorsk, serving in a small fort at the frontier, and even getting involved with a beautiful Circassian girl. He kidnaps the girl, according to the local custom, only to see her killed by an avenging kinsman.

In the late 19th century, Lev Tolstoy published his own work entitled “The prisoner of the Caucasus,” echoing some of the themes deployed earlier by Pushkin. Again, a Russian military man is captured by local insurgents. They keep the unfortunate officer, in hopes of getting a ransom from his family, but he eventually escapes with help from a young daughter of his captor who had taken pity on him. Interestingly, Tolstoy refers to the Chechens as “Tatars”, a term familiar to his Russian readers, based largely on their Muslim faith. Tolstoy had also served as a soldier in the Caucasus, and the story is said to be based on real events. Tolstoy’s final work, the posthumously published Hadji Murat, also takes place in the Caucasus.

The very same themes of the Russian-Caucasian war, captivity, and love between a Caucasian beauty and a Russian hostage are further explored in yet another “Prisoner of the Caucasus”, a 1996 film directed by Sergei Bodrov and based loosely on Lev Tolstoy’s story. This film is set during the First Chechen War and was shot in the mountains of Dagestan, only a short distance away from the then-ongoing battles of that war, giving it an eerie almost-documentary quality.

Quite a few Caucasians numbered among the revolutionaries fighting in the Russian Civil War and serving in the subsequent Communist regime. These figures include: Anastas Mikoyan, a shrewd politician, who managed to survive in the top echelon of the Soviet government from the time of Lenin to that of Brezhnev; the infamous henchman Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the Soviet secret police apparatus (NKVD); Politburo member Sergo Ordzhonikidze; the terrorist and master-of-disguise “Kamo” (Semeno Aržakovitš Ter-Petrossian); and, of course, comrade Stalin himself (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili). (As was brilliantly said by one of his Georgian countrymen, Stalin became a murderous tyrant only in Russia; in Georgia he was merely a petty criminal.)

In Soviet times, the Caucasus became the prime attraction for mountain climbers from the western USSR, as the loftier Tian Shan and Pamir were too far away. The Soviet government wanted to train climbers capable of fighting in alpine terrain. In pursuing this goal, it established a number of alpine training camps along the ridge of the Great Caucasus Range. Many intellectuals from Moscow, Leningrad, and other large cities in Russia and Ukraine regularly spent a few weeks a year in such camps. In addition to climbing the challenging mountains, they enjoyed relative freedom from the oppressive grip of the regime: on the steep slopes they could freely talk with friends and make decisions independent of the government and the bureaucracy. As the brilliant poet Vladimir Vysotskiy put it, “You trust only in the strength of your hand, in a hammered piton and the hands of a friend and pray that a rope belay will never betray”.

Professional mountaineering instructors supervised the training of the alpinists, and a rigorous system of ranks and examinations ensured that the abilities and experience of a climber would correspond to the difficulty of the climb. Considering the casual disrespect for human life in the Soviet Union, this strict system kept the number of casualties relatively low. Many songs were dedicated to courageous mountaineers, describing beautiful mountains such as Ushba (see picture on the left) and Shhelda. Quoting again from Vysotskiy: “The one thing that can be better than mountains is mountains that nobody has climbed yet”.

Many Soviet intellectuals and other members of the elite who were not interested in mountaineering would still regularly visit the Caucasus. Most would head for the warm Black Sea coast of Georgia, where they would enjoy authentic Georgian food, fine Georgian wines, and unparalleled hospitality.

Georgian poetry was highly respected by Russian literary figures. The works of the best Georgian poets, Shota Rustaveli, Titsian Tabidze, Ilia Chavchavadze and others, were translated into Russian by the finest Russian masters, including the Nobel-prize winner Boris Pasternak. In the second half of the 20th century, Russian culture came to be influenced by prominent intellectuals and artists with Caucasian roots. The list is long, but a few deserve special mention: the poet Bulat Okudzhava, a revered founder of the “singing poetry” genre (see picture on the left); the famous Abkhazian writer and thinker Fazil Iskander; the celebrated theatre directors Georgiy Tovstonogov and Yevgeny Vakhtangov; the beautiful actress Sofiko Chiaureli; and the talented film director, Georgiy Daneliya, who showed authentic Georgian culture in such films as “Mimino”. These names are recognized by most Russian intellectuals, celebrated as cultural leaders who had helped form their views and beliefs. Current Russian public figures of Caucasian background include the novelist Boris Akunin (Grigory Chkhartishvili) and the famed chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is also an important leader of the Russian opposition.

On maps of the both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, the Caucasus appear to be a small and rather insignificant place. In Russian cultural and intellectual history, however, it looms large indeed, having profoundly influencing the development of Russian civilization.

(Translations by Vitaliy Rayz)

CULTURE: The national cuisines of the South Caucasus as a melting pot of Mediterranean, Persian and Central Asian influences. By Asya Pereltsvaig (

[Many thanks to Lusine Sargsyan for sharing Armenian recipes and for a cooking demonstration!]

( As was pointed out by Martin Lewis in an earlier post, Caucasus is “a key place, one that historically linked the Black Sea and Caspian Sea basins, and, more broadly, the greater Mediterranean world with the Central Asian realm of the Silk Roads”. The complex mosaic of intertwining influences of the Mediterranean (especially, Turkish and Greek), Central Asian and Iranian cultures are nowhere better revealed than in the culinary traditions of the Caucasian peoples. In this post, I focus on the national cuisines of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the next post will be dedicated to Georgian food and wine. word of caution before we proceed: as is true in many other parts of the world, there is no uniform Armenian, Azeri, or Georgian cuisine. For instance, the world-famous “French cuisine” is but a collection of distinct regional culinary traditions stemming from Normandy, Alsace, Provence, Languedoc, and other regions of France; similarly, “Chinese cuisine” consists of Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Szechuan, and other regional foodways. In the same fashion, one can talk about regional cuisines in the South Caucasus: for example, “Georgian cuisine” is an umbrella term for cooking traditions and peculiarities from Adjara, Abkhazia, Migrelia and Svanetia, Kakheti (see map on the left), and other regions. Such “dialectal” differences within each national cuisine in the Caucasus are due to both geophysical and cultural-historical factors. For example, high mountain ranges and deep ravines separated such groups as the Svans, the Khevsurians, and the Tush from other Georgian-speaking groups. In addition, cultural influences of major powers – Turkey, Iran, and to a lesser extent Russia – have affected different parts of the South Caucasus in different proportions, thus creating a kaleidoscopic culinary landscape, well-preserved to this day.

While each national cuisine can be seen as a collection of regional culinary “dialects”, the whole of the South Caucasus region is also in effect a culinary “sprachbund”,tied together by cooking ideas and common ingredients (particularly lamb, eggplant, and savory herbs). A certain unique flavor is shared by the three national cuisines. Food similarities stem in part from climate. Although South Caucasian climates range from humid subtropical (Circassia, Abkhazia, and Western Georgia, and Lankaran in Azerbaijan) to dry subtropical to semi-Mediterranean, all have long and hot summer season and relatively mild winters. Climatic similarities translate into similar agricultural traditions, and since Armenians, Azeris, and Georgians grow similar crops, they eat similar foods.

But physical geography is not the only explanation for the many commonalities among the Armenian, Azeri, and Georgian culinary traditions. Cultural factors, such as the mutual penetration among the various cuisines and the influences of other culinary traditions from the Mediterranean, Central Asian and Near Eastern worlds, have played a significant role in creating convergent gastronomic motifs in the South Caucasus. Extensive borrowing between the Armenians, the Azeris, and the Georgians often makes it hard to tell which dish is original to which group. Take, for example, pilau, a rice dish known as palav in Armenia and as shilaplavi in Eastern Georgia. Although the Armenians and Georgians would claim it as their own, its Turkic-derived name, as well as the peculiarities of the cooking technique, indicate an Azeri origin (more on the pilau below).

While it was probably the Azeris who brought pilau to the South Caucasian table, it is the Armenians – and not, as often thought, the Georgians – who devised another popular dish (and cooking technique), that known as “chicken tabaka” (or more precisely, tapaka, after the skillet in which it is cooked, known as tapa). Somewhat similar to the American “chicken under brick”, tapaka involves chicken butterflied and cooked in a wide lidded iron skillet under heavy weight. In Georgia, chicken prepared in such a manner is often slathered in the famous Georgian sauces (more on which in tomorrow’s post). Yet, despite its frequent association with Georgia, the tapaka technique comes from Armenia, as do numerous other Caucasian cooking methods, kitchen implements, and dishes. This spread of Armenian culinary tradition is due largely to the Armenian trade diaspora (which will be discussed in more detail in a forthcoming GeoCurrents post). In many areas, the typical caravan-serai (a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey) was maintained and manned by members of the Armenian community.

Another shared gastronomic concept in the Caucasus is that of grilled skewered meat, known as khorovats in Armenia, kebap in Azerbaijan, and mtsvadi in Georgia (note the complex consonant cluster in the beginning of this word, so typical of the Georgian language!). Russians call this dish – which they consider to be quintessentially Caucasian – shashlik, using a Turkic word they borrowed from Crimean Tatar in the 18th century and which they later loaned to many other languages. While the idea of “meat on a stick” seemingly unites the three national cuisines of the South Caucasus, it is common to many other mountainous regions inhabited by pastoralist groups. In the Caucasus, Georgians, Armenians, and Azeris each have their own peculiar techniques for cooking kebabs, as they are generally termed in English.

Despite the many commonalities among the South Caucasian cuisines, each country has an authentic culinary tradition of its own, as well as its own distinct tastes. The names of dishes may be the same, but the aroma and the flavors reveal the cultural sensibilities and the distinctive histories of each group. Let’s consider them one by one.

We’ll start with Armenian cuisine. Rooted in antiquity it is thus one of the oldest culinary traditions in Asia. Throughout its 3,000-year long history, Armenian food culture has been influenced by the Roman, Persian, and Byzantine empires, and by the Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. During the 16th century, Armenia, weakened by incessant Mongolian and Turkic invasions, was divided between the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia. In the early 19th century, the Russian Empire incorporated Eastern Armenia, consisting of the Erivan and Karabakh khanates. After the Bolshevik Revolution Armenia was integrated as one of the fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics constituting the Soviet Union. In August 1990, Armenia become the first non-Baltic republic to secede from the Soviet Union and proclaim its independence. Through all these political changes, gastronomic influences changed as well.

All of these twists and turns of Armenia’s history left an indelible mark on the cuisine of its people. Already in antiquity, the particular natural conditions in the Armenian highlands and the Ararat plain nurtured a diverse agricultural system that produced a great variety of meats, vegetables, grains and legumes. For centuries, Armenians have been raising cows, sheep, buffalo, pigs, guinea fowl (today, also turkeys), chickens, geese and ducks, in addition to utilizing wild game. Armenian cuisine is unusual in combining different kinds of meat in one dish. One noted traditional Armenian dishes, arganak, combines chicken and venison. Similarly, grains (such as spelt, millet, barley, wheat, and rice) and legumes (e.g. beans, broad beans, lentils, and chickpeas) and nuts are often used in combination; for example, zernushka soup is based on wheat, lentils, peas, broad beans, and nuts, and is flavored with onions, mint, basil, and savory.

Contacts with Persians, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks influenced Armenian cuisine as well. But culinary penetration was not a one-way street, and Armenian traditions have been adopted (and adapted) by many invading groups, especially the Seljuq Turks. Several of the better known “Turkish dishes” have their roots in Armenia, and have been spread across the Ottoman Empire and into Russia, the Middle East, Azerbaijan and Central Asia by both Turkish military conquest and the Armenian trade diaspora. One dish closely associated with such processes is dolma, which includes not only the familar grape-leaf dolma, but also a variety of other vegetables stuffed in a similar fashion, including onions, zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers. The stuffing may or may not include meat, and dolma can be served hot or cold. The name of the dish seems to be Turkish in origin (from the Turkish verb dolmak ‘to be stuffed’), but the dish itself is more Armenian, where it is known as tolma. Traditionally, minced lamb or beef is mixed with rice and wrapped into grape leaves (in Armenian, tpov tolma – թփով տոլմա) or occasionally in cabbage leaves (in Armenian, kaghambi tolma – կաղամբի տոլմա). Coriander, dill, mint, pepper, cinnamon provide flavor, and melted butter adds richness and yogurt with garlic often serves as a sauce. One specific variety of Armenian tolma, which hails from Echmiadzin (or Vagharshapat, the spiritual centre of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church) utilizes eggplants, green peppers, tomatoes, apples, and quinces. A vegetarian version, useful for Lent and other fasting days, is based on lentils, red kidney beans, peas, wheat grits, fried onions, and tomato paste.

The Middle Eastern and especially Persian influence on Armenian cuisine can be seen also in the use of fruit, both fresh and dried, in soups and main dishes containing meat and even fish. Cooked fruit gives a characteristic taste to many Armenian dinners. Meat soups may contain not only vegetables like potatoes and onions, but also fruit, including apples, quinces, dried apricots, and even walnuts. Fish dishes may contain the fruit of the dogberry-tree, and mushroom dishes are often flavored by sour plums (alycha), prunes, or raisins. Such quintessential Near Eastern fruit as lemons and pomegranates also find their way into Armenian soups and stews.

Armenian cuisine is peculiar in the South Caucasus in its use of fish, which is much less commonly eaten in Georgia and Azerbaijan. In Georgia, fish is not very popular, except in mountainous areas, where lightly cooked carp and trout from clear mountain lakes are a real delicacy. In Azerbaijan, fish dishes are more common that in Georgia, and in contrast to the subtle cooking techniques favored by Armenians, grilling is common. Azeris especially like to grill sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, which is sturdy enough to withstand such treatment, over open fire, shashlik-style; it can also be baked, cooked into soups, or smoked.

The Azeri culinary tradition – like that of their Armenian neighbors – shows an amalgam of different cultural influences. The basic formula of Azeri cuisine can be stated as “Turkic (or Central Asian) with an Iranian (Persian) accent”. Take, for example, the pilau (better known in English as pilaf, probably a Turkish or Uzbek borrowing). As mentioned above, this rice-based dish has spread from Azerbaijan into the cooking of neighboring peoples, but what of its origin? The name suggests roots with the Turkic-speaking peoples of the Near East and Central Asia. However, Azeri-style pilau is closer to the Iranian version of the dish. Thus, in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and southern Kyrgyzstan, the rice and the so-called zirvak, a variable blend of meat, fish, vegetables, dried fruit, and spices, are cooked together, whereas in Persian cuisine – and in that of Azerbaijan – the two components are cooked and served separately. The Persian terms are chelow for the rice and khoresh for the delicate stew of meat, fish, vegetables, and/or fruit. And as in Iran, Azeri pilau is traditionally washed down with a cold sharbat (which, unlike the familiar sorbet, is a sweet drink rather than a cold dessert).

This strong Iranian influence on Azeri cuisine is old, dating to the 6th-4th c. BCE, when most of the territory of present-day Azerbaijan was part of the Achaemenid Empire (sometimes known as First Persian Empire). From the 3rd-4th c. CE this same area became a vassal state of the Persian Sassanid Empire. During this period many aspects of Azeri material culture seem to have been formed. The later invasions of the Arabs (8th c.), the Seljuk Turks (11th-12th c.) and the Mongols (13th-14th c.) brought changes to the area’s religion and language, but did not significantly transform its cuisine, although the influence of Seljuk Turks can be seen in the predominance of lamb, compared to other types of meat. In the 16th-18th c. Azerbaijan once again fell under Iranian rule, and came to share with Iran the Shi’a denomination of Islam, even though the closest linguistic relatives of the Azeris – the Turks – are Sunni Muslims. This commonality of religion allowed for the continued penetration of Persian cultural influences. Despite the difference in language, the Persian and Azeri cultures are closely linked. Far more Azeris, after all, live in Iran than in Azerbaijan.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

MODE: Die Georgische Designerin Tamara Barnoff in Budapest.Von Elisabeth Katalin Grabow. (

"Für dieses Geschäft musst du ein Träumer sein" (Tamara Barnoff)


( Tamara Barnoff strahlt von innen heraus. Genau festmachen kann man nicht was es ist, aber sofort zieht ihre offene und charismatische Art den Besucher in ihren Bann. Der Showroom in einer Querstraße zum Andrássy út wurde erst vor wenigen Wochen eröffnet und man merkt, mit wie viel Liebe zum Detail alles gestaltet wurde. 
Noch vor Beginn des Inter­views fragt Tamara, ob es stören würde, wenn sie währenddessen noch etwas arbeiten würde. So sitzt sie also nähend da und berichtet aus ihrem Leben als Künstlerin und Designerin.

Als Künstlerin geboren

Tamara wurde in Georgien geboren und schon von frühester Kindheit an faszinierte sie alles, was mit Kunst und Ästhetik zu tun hat: „Ich bin schon als Künstlerin zur Welt gekommen. Sensibilität, Ästhetik und Gefühl waren schon immer unglaublich wichtig für mich“. Als Kind oft mit dem Gefühl konfrontiert, nicht dazu zugehören, weil zu sensibel, brauchte es einige Jahre, bis sich die junge Künstlerin als der Mensch akzeptieren konnte, der sie ist. „Ich habe tausend Persönlichkeiten und jede bin ich“ gesteht sie, während ihre auffallend zarten, aber trotzdem kraftvoll wirkenden Hände stetig den vor ihr liegenden Stoff bearbeiten. Diese tausend Persönlich­keiten kommen auch in den Kol­lek­tionen des Labens Barnoff zum Tragen. Tatsächlich ist Tamara schon lange im Geschäft: „Ich arbeite seit etwa 15 Jahren als De­sig­nerin, habe aber mit dem Desig­nen von Schuhen begonnen“. Bisher wurden ihre Kollektionen in ausgewählten Shops verkauft. Nun haben Kunden auch die Möglichkeit sich im Showroom die einzelnen Stücke anzusehen und zu bestellen.
Eine Künstlerin ist Tamara wahr­lich – neben vielfältigster De­sign­arbeit malt sie und arbeitet an einer Kunstinstallation. Doch auch das Filmgewerbe ist ihr nicht fremd. Schließlich war sie schon für mehrere internationale Film­pro­duktionen Headdesigner oder hat Kostüme für die Produktionen gefertigt: „Ich liebe die Arbeit mit Schauspielern. Überhaupt liebe ich Menschen. An der Arbeit mit Schauspielern hat mir vor allem die Kreativität und die Extrover­tiert­heit gefallen.“

Kreationen so unterschiedlich wie die Menschen 
Auf die Frage, wer ihr Vorbild sei, antwortet sie mit einer Ent­schlossenheit und Selbstverständ­lich­keit, die überraschend wirkt von einer sonst auf Sensibilität ausgerichteten jungen Frau: „Ich selbst!“ Dabei ist dies keineswegs als Arro­ganz zu verstehen, wer Tamara erlebt, wird schnell verstehen, dass sie in sich selbst ruhend und aus sich heraus kreativ ist. Genau das macht auch ihre Entwürfe so vielfältig und einzigartig. Während die aktuelle Sommerkollektion mit leuchtenden Farben und teils fast mädchenhaft wirkt, sind die Schnitte und Farben für den Winter klar und beschränken sich auf schwarz, weiß und Erdtöne. Fast fühlt man sich durch die Klarheit der Formen und die Farbwahl an Klassiker von Chanel und Karl Lagerfeld erinnert. Wenn da nicht diese kleinen Extrava­gan­zen wären, die Branoff zu einem ganz einzigartigen Label machen. „Ich habe Freunde gefragt mit welchem anderen Designer sie meine Arbeit vergleichen würden. Sie waren sich einig: Branoff kann man nur mit Branoff vergleichen“ lacht Tamara.

Die zweifach diplomierte Desig­nerin (eines in Malerei, eines in Design) sieht ihr Schaffen als ständigen Lernprozess: „Schon als kleines Kind habe ich genäht, zuerst nur mit Nadel und Faden, etwas später, etwa mit neun Jahren, durfte ich dann auch die Nähmaschine meiner Großmutter benutzen“. Dabei sei es unerlässlich, niemals mit dem Lernen und dem Beo­bachten aufzuhören. Auch ihre Ideen schöpft die Künstlerin so: „Ich sehe etwas und habe eine neue Idee. Dabei ist es vollkommen egal, was mich inspiriert, ich gehe mit weit offenen Augen durchs Leben“. 

Neue Winterkollektion: 2012/2013

VI. Nagymezõ utca 14
Auch zu finden in:
Ourstyle (Aréna Pláza)
Lauren Vidal
(V. Fehér Hajó utca 10-14)

Tamara Barnoff
0036 30 525 1283

++++ VIDEOS +++


Tamara: "I would like to thank everyone Who helped in the successful completion of Barnoff Spring Campaign: Meszaros Laszlo (photo), Bence Bakonyi (photo), Poharnak Gergely (DOP), Dorottya Nagy (Make up), Sophie Magalashvili (Art director). Mark Kiss (Stylist), Bendil Boglar (Assistant), Melinda Toth (Model), Kati Farkas (Model), Alexandra Elbert (Model), Fazakas Palma (Model), Sterling Hudson (Model), laszlo More (Model), Hassanan Gonzalez Otero (Model)

ARTICLE: Iran's New Oil Discovery May Be In Azerbaijan's Waters. By Joshua Kucera (

( Iran recently announced that it has discovered a substantial oil deposit -- about 10 billion barrels -- in the Caspian Sea. That would be about seven percent of Iran's total reserves, and the country's first discovery in the Caspian in over a century. That in itself is pretty remarkable; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it will "change the energy and political balance of the region."
Iran's New Oil Discovery May Be In Azerbaijan's Waters
But the situation could get a lot more complicated, according to regional analyst Alex Jackson. In a recent presentation, which he provided to The Bug Pit, Jackson noted that the discovery appears to actually be in waters claimed by Azerbaijan. Iran hasn't provided a precise location, but has said it is 188km north of Roudsar in Gilan province and 250 km northwest of Neka. See the map here, from Jackson's presentation, where the white dotted line is what Azerbaijan considers to be the southern boundary of its waters, while the brown dotted line represents what Iran considers to be the northen extent of its waters. And right in the middle of that is this new discovery (actually two separate, though connected, fields, called Sardar Jangal and Sardar Milli). In addition to the 10 billion barrels of oil, it also holds 50 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to Iran.
The rig that discovered the oil, the Alborz, happens to be the same one that figured into a standoff between Azerbaijan and Iran in 2009. In that incident, recall, Azerbaijani officials reported that the Alborz was prospecting for oil in waters that they considered theirs. The Wikileaks cables that reported on the incident didn't specify the precise location, but given this recently announced discovery was apparently made in early 2010, it seems reasonable to believe that it is the same thing. 
Jackson notes that there are reasons for skepticism on Iran's claims, that there has been little evidence provided of the discovery and that it could be an "attempt to maintain international interest and project an air of confidence." Still, if it is true, it could have several significant effects, he says:
-- If the claim is true, it could cause a political crisis with Azerbaijan over the border
-- Maritime tensions are likely to rise in light of increased militarisation and other points of stress in the relationship
-- The issue may provoke a broader push (led by Russia) to force Iran into accepting the common position on the Caspian
-- Other options: a demand for joint sharing of resources; a call for a moratorium on developing disputed fields.
So far Azerbaijan hasn't publicly said anything about this new discovery. This could be because Azerbaijan's government, prone to overheated military bluster directed towards Armenia, is worried that it will be exposed as a paper tiger if it tries that with Iran.The cables describing the 2009 tension reported that one Azerbaijani official said the country "lacked the ability to mount a significant military response. 'You know our military capacity on our borders. We do not have enough capacity.'" Another added that "'sometimes we prefer to close our eyes,' because possible courses of action appear difficult or unpalatable." That may still be the case today.

INTERVIEW: Metropolis: Bonus-Video Rena Effendi (

Das ungekürzte Interview mit der Dokumentarfotografin Rena Effendi über die Auswirkungen des Ölbooms in Aserbaidschan.

Erstausstrahlungstermin: Sa, 5. Mai 2012, 17:30

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

PODCAST: Gio Shengelia, Tbilisi, Georgia (

( Gio Shengelia is one of the most well-known DJ-s in Georgian clubbing. Gio is admired because of his outstanding professionalism and taste in music. after listening to some sets done by Kraftwerk, Frankie Knuckles, Ricardo Villalobos, Danny Howells, Deep Dish, John Digweed, Sasha, Steve Lawler, Tiefschwarz and other big names. 

In the 90's Gio became seriously interested in electronic music. This interest turned out to be a basis for his love to music. Since that period the main purpose for him was becoming a DJ. He would work hard and all the time he would seek for acquiring something new in music. It was quite difficult to reach the goal without special musical equipment, but with the help of his friends he had the opportunity to learn the mixing techniques . The training, love to music and the will to become a DJ has an evident result. ‘house', ‘deep', ‘tech', ‘funky' ‘progressive” are still just some of the directions in electronic music that Gio uses in his Mixes. 

In 2005 Gio Shengelia was invited in St.peresbourg@Manej . This position turned out to be a lucky turning point in his career. It was followed by playing at some private parties in Moscow, and in an open-air cafe “publika”. 

In 2006 Gio Shengelia went back to his hometown Tbilisi, where he was already famous for his specific sound and skillfulness. After all his name was known in many countries. 

Gio Shengelia has played in all clubs of Georgia, Played in KAZANTIP Summer Festival (Ukraine, Crimea), Played in Baltic Countries and etc.

Gio has experience of playing with such a names like Steve Bug / Tiefschwarz / Audiofly / Nic Fanciulli / Dop / Aril Brikha / Jimpster / Fafa Monteco / King Unique / Manuel Tur / Jazzanova / Dave Dk / Neil Quigley / Spiller / Oleg Poliakov / Shur-i-Kan / Format:B / Desyn Masiello / Add2Basket / Luke Fair / Martin Eyerer / Paolo Mojo / and Many Many More:) 

For Bookings :

MUSIC: Gio's Vodkast. Tbilisi, Georgia (

Gio's Vodkast is weekly podcasts of dj sets and compilations first started by our dear friend Gio Bakanidze in 2010. 

Watch for upcoming podcasts! 

Email us at and check Gio's Vodkast on FB:
pimp royal aka ericsson by Gio's Vodkast

WEBDOKU: Klanglandschaften. Upload from Urban and Natural Sounds zwischen 20. Juni und dem 10. Juli (

Welche Töne bevölkern unseren Alltag? Kann man all die Laute benennen, die unsere Städte ausmachen? Was hören unsere Ohren in freier Natur? Und wie viel Platz bleibt dabei noch für die Stille? „Klanglandschaften“ ist eine interaktive Entdeckungsreise, die unsere Umgebung durchs Zuhören erforscht. In einer Zeit des Bilderkultes zeigt uns dieses Programm dabei auch, dass Landschaften nicht nur mit dem Blick, sondern auch mit Gehör erforscht werden können.

Sehen Sie die Weboku auf

ARTE hat daher beschlossen, dieses 2011 in seiner ersten Version vom kanadischen Office national du Film (ONF) produzierte Programm auf seiner Webseite auszustrahlen und es so seinen französischsprachigen und deutschsprachigen Usern näherzubringen.

Für diese „Wiederausstrahlung“ laden wir Sie ab jetzt dazu ein, an unserem „Klanglandschaften“ Wettbewerb auf Soundcloud teilzunehmen. Hören Sie genau hin, nehmen Sie die Töne in ihrer Umgebung auf und teilen Sie sie mit uns!

Eine Jury, zusammengesetzt aus Ton und Bildexperten, wird den originellsten Klang bestimmen. Zu gewinnen gibt es:
-Für den/die Sieger/in: ein Olympus LS-5 Aufnahmegerät + den dazugehörenden Antiwind Vorsatz „Windjammer“
-Der Publikumspreis wird zudem jene drei Klänge auszeichnen, die von den Usern am häufigsten als „Favoriten“ auf Soundclound genannt wurden. Die drei Gewinner erhalten Einkaufsgutscheine in der Online-Boutique LPO

Was muss ich tun, um zwischen dem 20. Juni und dem 10. Juli teilnehmen zu können?
1. Nehmen Sie Töne in den folgenden auf der Webseite erscheinenden Themen auf:
In der Landschaft „Stadt“: Verkehr, Summen, Park, Kulturerbe Ton
In der Landschaft „Vorstadt“: Sonntagslaute, Gezwitscher, Pause
In der Landschaft „Natur“: Am Fluss, Lagerfeuer
In der Landschaft „Einsiedelei“: Ihre Stille
Laden Sie die Klänge auf Ihr Soundcloud-Konto.

Wie lade ich Klänge hoch?
- Sie können den Ton mit Ihrem Smartphone aufnehmen und ihn mit der Soundcloud App einfach hochladen.
- Sie können den Ton ebenfalls mit einem Aufnahmegerät speichern und dann einfach auf ihren Computer und die Webseite laden.
- Ihr Ton darf nicht länger als drei Minuten sein.
- Ihr Ton muss auf einmal aufgenommen worden sein und darf keine Schnitte enthalten
- Sie dürfen keine Musik aufnehmen
- Jeder Teilnehmer darf maximal nur 20 Töne abschicken

2. Um Ihren Ton zu benennen, verwenden sie folgende Namensgebung:
Klanglandschaften ARTE/ONF – [Themenname]: Titel
Beispiele: „Klanglandschaften ARTE/ONF – Park: Vogelgezwitscher“ oder „Klanglandschaften ARTE/ONF – Summen: Müllabfuhr am frühen Morgen“

NB: Eine zusätzliche Beschreibung ist nicht notwendig, aber willkommen, damit wir ein bisschen mehr darüber erfahren können, wo und warum sie Ihren Klang aufgenommen haben.

3. Fügen Sie Ihren Klang in die Soundcloud Gruppe von „Klanglandschaften“ ein:

Die kompletten Teilnahmebedingungen finden Sie hier.

Haben Sie Fragen? Dann stellen Sie sie uns auf unserer Facebook Fan-Seite oder auf unserem Twitter-Account. Ein frohes Zuhören und viel Glück!

WEB: Index für Gewürze und Kräuter auf Georgisch (Kartuli) (

Trigonella caerulea: Brotkleeblüte            



დარიჩინიdariç̌iniCeylonesischer Zimt(ka)
დაფნის ხეdaṕnis ḫeLorbeer(ka)

ვარდიvardiDamaszener Rose(ka)


თეთრი პერიცაt́et́ri p̣eriçaPfeffer(ka)
თეთრი პილპილიt́et́ri p̣ilp̣iliPfeffer(ka)




მდოგვიmdogviSchwarzer Senf(ka)
მუსკატის კაკალიmusḳaṭis ḳaḳaliMuskat(ka)



პირშუშხაp̣iršušḫaMeerrettich, Kren(ka)




უცხო სუნელიuçḫo suneliSchabziegerklee(ka)




ყაყაჩოს თესლიq̣aq̣aç̌os t́esliMohn(ka)
ყვითელი ყვავილიq̣vit́eli q̣vaviliFärbersaflor(ka)

შავი პერიცაšavi p̣eriçaPfeffer(ka)
შავი პილპილიšavi p̣ilp̣iliPfeffer(ka)




წითელი წიწაკაc̣it́eli c̣ic̣aḳaChili(ka)

ხახვიḫaḫviZwiebel & Schalotte(ka)
ხოხნოტაḫoḫnaṭaMeerrettich, Kren(ka)