For eons, hummus remained one of the best kept secrets amongst Middle Eastern communities. Eaten on the daily as a "mezzeh" or appetizer, it was an essential part of the dinner table. And in the last 30 years, as more communities from the region for whom the humble chickpea was of utmost importance established communities across the U.S., hummus not only continued to be made at home, it slowly ventured out to conquer the palates of Americans. Through restaurants, cafes and delis run by immigrants, mainstream America developed a taste for hummus, which literally translates to "chickpea" in Arabic. With the advent of the most recognized hummus brand, "Sabra," coming on the scene on supermarket shelves, it morphed into as regular a food item in the the U.S. as salsa and egg rolls have become. But a new, shocking chapter in the history of hummus in America has arrived. In fact, it's been lurking around for years, in the shadowy corners of refrigerated aisles and the annals of the dark web, where poorly executed business ideas try their luck in the digital market, with no Shark Tank industry titans in sight to stop them. Whether it was Sabra's domination of the American hummus market and its profitability (an estimated $800 million in annual retail), which was appealing to American entrepreneurs, or the tendency to create self-serving narratives over histories that already exist, hummus was thrown into the blender with a does of capitalism and colonialism and turned into something else entirely, a Frankenstein-esque chickpea spread catering to sweet tooths and lovers of savory flavors. It was misinterpreted as a blank slate in which other, horrifyingly mismatched flavors have made their homes, completely destroying the very essence of hummus: the little legume that could, the garbanzo that has sustained ancient communities for so many centuries. Here are some of the worst offenders yet:
The Van Cat is one of the most beloved cultural symbols for Armenians. Not only is it mesmerizing to look at, it's also interpreted as a link back to their indigenous homeland in the what is now known as Eastern Turkey. One of the oldest felines around, the Van Cat is named after the region it most commonly inhabits - Lake Van in the historical Armenian highlands. The lake was the center of several Armenian kingdoms dating back to around the 6th century. Akhtamar Island in Lake Van, houses a 10th century Armenian church called the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Though it's unclear how long the Van Cat has existed in the area, recent DNA analysis by researchers revealed that cats were domesticated around 10,000 years ago by the first farmers in the Near East. A 2015 study indicated that Armenians and other isolated populations of the Near East like Cypriots and Lebanese Christians are more closely related to the Neolithic farmers who spread agriculture to Europe around 8,000 years ago than present-day inhabitants. It is worth pointing out that while Turkic tribes and Kurds generally practiced and brought with them pastoral nomadism to the region (now referred to as Anatolia), Armenians, who were farmers and crafts people had been settled in the area since antiquity. The Armenian Genocide of 1915 systematically cleansed the area of its Armenian population. 1. It's Known as the "Swimming" Cat Legend has it that the Van Cat was on board Noah's Ark when it came to rest on Mt. Ararat and left the ark to swim in the receding flood waters. Though it makes for a nice story, the Van Cat's habit of taking a dip in water while most cats run the other way at the sight of it, is more likely a sign of it adapting to its environment near Lake Van, the largest lake in the country. 2. It Has Different Colored or "Odd" Eyes While cats born without it are also classified as Van Cats, many (including Armenians) regard Van Cats whose eyes are mismatched to be the true embodiment of the feline. One eye is green (or amber), while the other is blue. This is actually a condition called heterochromia, which occurs in humans too. It most commonly affects white cats. 3. The Van Cat is a "Land Race," not a breed of cat Despite Western attempts to standardize the Van Cat as a breed (and with characteristics which people from the Near East do not recognize as "true"), it's actually a landrace, meaning that it's a naturally occurring, free-breeding animal "largely developed through adaptation to the natural environment and traditional production system in which it has been raised," according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Other animals that are part of the landrace classification include Shetland sheep and the St. John's water dog, a now extinct native of Newfoundland which the standardized breed of the Labrador Retriever descends from. 4. There's a Research Center Dedicated to the Van Cat With fears that the cat was near extinction, the Van Cat Research Center was established at Yuzuncu Yil University in 1993 and a breeding program was initiated in order to increase Van Cat numbers. Open to visits from the public, the research center raises the kittens and prohibits them from being removed from the city. Sometime in the 1990s, a statue of the Van Cat and her kitten was erected at the entrance of Van, officially becoming a symbol of the city. 5. Arshile Gorky Sculpted Van Cats Famed artist Arshile Gorky was born in Khorkom (now Dilkaya), an Armenian village located on the shore of Lake Van and fled during the Armenian Genocide with his mother and sisters. He sculpted Van Cats as a child. In "Black Dog of Fate: The Life of Arshile Gorky" by Nouritza Matossian, his cousin Ado recalled him sculpting "incredibly delicate dogs and Van Cats. We were amazed since none of us could make them." Gorky was not the only prominent Armenian involved in the arts who were fond the Van Cat - The writer Axel Bakunts as well as poet Paruyr Sevak have both referenced the cat in their work. Van cat at Lake Van with 10th century Armenian Holy Cross Cathedral in the background. The Vana the Cat Collection
By Liana Aghajanian Dining in Diaspora Originally posted on ianyan magazine Eaten in England, Germany, the U.S., Romania and more Nordic countries than you can remember – the humble gingerbread has been a winter holiday favorite, accompanying other delicacies on tables for centuries, but always standing out thanks to a delicious combination of ginger, molasses or honey. So deeply rooted in Europe, it is perhaps odd, yet also delightful, that it was actually an Armenian monk who introduced the sweet, dark confection to the continent over one thousand years ago. It was the year 991, when archbishop Gregory Markar traveled from Nicopolis, a city in the ancient kingdom of Pontus now located in modern day Anatolia, Turkey, after being chased out by the Persian Army. Tired and weary, he made his way across Europe, arriving in the Gâtinais, part of the Loire Valley region in France. With permission from local officials, Gregory became a hermit, choosing to live close to the Saint Martin-le-Seul church in Baudrevilliers, which was previously abandoned by Vertou monks. According to the Logis hotel chain, which details the region’s gastronomic delights like gingerbread on their site, Gregory’s “tiny, natural cell, no larger than his body, enabled him to lead a hermit’s existence of penitence and reclusion," as he took refuge in a cave. Gregory lived like this for seven years, “spending his time in long contemplations, living off edible roots and wild honey,” which the region was known for. According to the 1901 book, “A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic and Dogmatic” by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, “Gregor of Armenia” fasted entirely every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. “On Tuesday and Thursday, he ate three ounces of food after sunset. On Sunday he did did not fast but ate very sparingly. He never ate meat or butter but his chief food was lentils, steeped in water and exposed to the heat of the sun. His rule was to eat as many as he could take up in his left hand.” Gregory became a bit of a popular holy man in the French countryside, attracting “bourgeois and peasants alike” whom he would offer his Eastern hospitality to, “finishing the meal with a cake that he made himself, according to a recipe from his country, and comprising of honey and spices, in the fashion of his far away homeland in Armenia.” This is recorded, according to several sources, in a 10th century manuscript from the Micy Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in the region in which it is recounted that Gregory made, by hand, cake with honey and spices, “just like in his homeland.” Thanks to Gregory, Pithiviers retained its rich gingerbread making tradition until this day – a “Saint Gregory of Nicopolis Gingerbread Brotherhood” or Brotherhood “du Pain d’Epices” if you’re French and fancy exists in the region, making gingerbread “according to the recipe passed down by Saint Gregory the Armenian.” After teaching gingerbread making to the French, they in turn taught the Germans who brought it to Swedish monasteries, according to the 2010 book, “FoodFest 365!: The Officially Fun Food Holiday Cookbook” by Yvan Lemoine, who also adds that it was the “court of Queen Elizabeth responsible for creating the iconic man.” How very dainty, and also very British.
By contrast remote Armenia was a republic of little footballing significance and few expected the Soviet Union’s next major club force to emerge from there. Ararat Yerevan was the only Armenian club with any profile and even they had spent as much time out of the Soviet Top League as in it.
In the 13th century, a Flemish explorer named William of Rubruck wrote about Mount Ararat, the rumored resting place of Noah’s Ark, in his travel journal to the “Eastern Parts of the World.” “Many have tried to climb it, but none has been able,” he wrote. “This mountain did not seem to me so high that men could not ascend it,” he continued. But an old man he met advised him not to even try: “No one ought to climb up Massis. It is the mother of the world.” This line of thinking was common - the Armenian Apostolic Church was reportedly opposed to ascending the mountain because of religious reasons (in a bid to preserve Noah’s Ark). William of Rubruck wasn’t the only one who was fascinated with Mount Ararat. The famed Marco Polo was too. Encountering Mount Ararat on his way to Asia in the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote: "In the heart of Greater Armenia is a very high mountain, shaped cube-like … It is so broad and long that it takes more than two days to go round it. On the summit the snow lies so deep all the year round that no one can ever climb it." Many might have tried, but it wasn’t until October 9, 1829 that anyone succeeded, when the German naturalist Friedrich Parrot and Armenian writer Khachatur Abovian made the trek to the top of the peak, at close to 17,000 feet. It’s a date considered to be the beginning of scientific mountaineering. Nicknamed the “holy mountain,” Ararat became accessible to Western scientists after the Russo-Persian War ended. It was soon after that Parrot, a professor at the University of Dorpat (now Tartu, Estonia) made his way to Armenia with a singular mission in mind: climbing the snow-capped mountain. It was in his travels to Etchmiadzin where he met Abovian, who accompanied him as a guide. Abovian’s services, Parrot wrote in his book “Journey to Ararat,” were “kindly placed at our disposal by the community for the period of our visit to Ararat.” Abovian also served as an interpreter, having indispensable knowledge of not just Armenian, but Russian, Persian and Tatar. The two headed to the Armenian village of Akhury, located on the northern slope of Ararat and set up a base camp at the Armenian monastery of St. Hakob. The monastery, founded in 341 A.D. was destroyed in an earthquake at the mountain in 1840, making Parrot and Abovian some of the last visitors who visited there. Parrot was as obsessed with the mountain as Armenians continue to be. “For me, my eyes and all my thoughts were ever directed to the mountain reposing in brightness and majesty before us,” he wrote. “My mind was filled with its presence, its splendor, and its magnitude.” Page 15 of Friedrich Parrot's book: Journey to Ararat Parrot made necessary arrangements for food, “beasts of burden” and attendants. They brought with them a cross to be erected on the mountain. Made of the fir tree, the cross was constructed at Etchmiadzin, was 10 feet long and painted black. They began from the east, and reached 13,000 feet above sea level, but the strong downward incline of the mountain made the trek impossible. After speaking to residents in the village of Akhury, they tried starting from the west. Reaching a flat rock, Parrot took notes and studied the mountain, but their trip wasn’t meant to be once again. By the time they would have reached the top, coming back down would be impossible because of the dark. They dug a hole in the ice and left the cross there. Almost a week later, they attempted the ascent once again and this time, succeeded. They reached the top at 3:15 p.m. on October 9, stopping at a height of 16,254 feet. “I pressed forward round a projecting mound of snow and behold! Before my eyes, now intoxicated with joy, lay the extreme cone, the highest pinnacle of Ararat,” Parrot wrote. By the time Parrot gathered himself, Abovian had gone, “influenced by his pious zeal,” to find an appropriate place to put another cross they had brought with them on their third and final attempt. He also picked up a chunk of ice and carried it down the mountain with him. He kept the water in a bottle, considering it holy. They stayed on the summit for about 45 minutes, ate a morsel of bread each and having brought wine with them, made a toast to Noah. Two years after their climb, Parrot organized a scholarship for Abovian to study at the University of Dorpat in 1830, but the writer, who is considered to be the father of modern Armenian literature, mysteriously vanished in 1848 after leaving his home for a morning walk. He was never seen again. Parrot also didn’t fare well - he died in 1841 after falling ill, which could have been from side effects of expeditions he constantly endured. Despite their tragic ends, Parrot and Abovian made history, not only becoming part of the first recorded ascent of the mountain, but also managing to climb a peak over 5,000 m - the first to be reached at that point. Ararat, in all of its majestic glory, was finally conquered. View of Ararat from Yerevan
A collection of graphics used by Armenian businesses in Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s.
Directed by Robert Nazar Arjoyan, “I Promised Her Life” is about how a grieving Armenian-American mother defies a centuries-old ritual and tests the limits of tradition as she walks thin line between death and the afterlife. It has been an official selection at 30 film festivals and has won seven awards, including Best Performance and Best Director. The film stars Canadian-Armenian actress Anne Bedian, best known for her role in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. The 15 minute short film premiered today on Vimeo. Click below to watch and then read our Q&A with the writer and director Robert Nazar Arjoyan. What happens when you test the limits of an Armenian tradition that tows the line between life and death? This is the premise of Robert Nazar Arjoyan's latest film, "I Promised Her Life." Starring Anne Bedian, Kathreen Khavari and Arthur Darbinyan, "I Promised Her Life" follows the story of a grieving Armenian-American mother on the day of her daughter's funeral and the defiance of a ritual practiced in some Armenian families: washing your hands after a burial in order to prevent the dead from following you home. It was Arjoyan's own experience with the practice that inspired the film, a superstition instilled in him by his great-grandmother. "What if the dead could follow us home?" he says. "What if they could come back? What if you wanted the dead to return? Who would want such a thing? The wheels started rolling and the script took flight pretty soon thereafter." Born in Glendale, Calif., Arjoyan graduated from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and previously worked on the award-winning "When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin," a documentary about the self-taught Iranian-Armenian-American theremin master. Q. What was the process in bringing this film to life? A. Here’s another superstition I learned from my grandma: on New Year’s morning, do a little bit of whatever you’d like to consistently happen throughout the year. You could leave a little water running, have some lights on, deposit some money, and do some work. Whatever you want. I woke up on January 1st, 2017 and began writing the first draft of " I Promised Her Life." Before my wife and I left for our holiday visits to family, I had completed the first page, and before the end of the month, I had finished the first draft. Our shoot was to be in late June. 3 months to raise money, find cast, hire crew, and basically prep, prep, prep. The whole thing is a challenge, one that tests your grit and mettle in all things physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Q. Where did you shoot the film? A. We chose the shooting location (we needed just the one) to be my parents' house in Glendale, location of many Robert Nazar Arjoyan films. My parents agreed willfully enough, but their hesitation was palpable and warranted. Allowing a film crew into your house is a surefire way to get shit messed up, to lose a thing or two, and to basically have your life flipped upside down for the duration of the project. 3 days I needed and 3 they gave. And from a producing standpoint, that’s a cost free solution. Actually making the film during a weekend in June was rather laid back. Once we wrapped the actual shoot, I began editing the movie and after a review, locked it within a week. I shoot the edited picture, so for me it’s a matter of just literally putting the pieces together. Following that, Bei Ru and I worked out the original music, color correction made the picture pop, and sound design sharped the sonic experience of "I Promised Her Life." We completed the film in August. Q. Canadian-Armenian actress Anne Bedian has a starring role in "I Promised Her Life" as a grieving mother named Elena. How did she get involved with the project? A. Anne was perfect for Elena. I’d of course seen her on various programs over the years and made a mental note of her last name. When it came time to cast the film, I reached out to my friend and colleague Alex Kalognomos and asked if he could connect us. It turned out that Anne was a fan of "When My Sorrow Died," my previous film, and that she was eager to speak with me. After a pleasant phone call, I sent her the script. Minutes later, Anne replied, telling me that she was crying in her Uber. Anne came in to meet my producers and read the role of Elena. We tried a few things over the course of 10 minutes but we all knew early on that there was no contest. Anne was our only choice. Q. Who else is in the film? Arthur Darbinyan read for us. Needless to say we found Elena’s distant husband. That guy came in with a teeming electricity writhing just under the surface and fighting to leap out. Kathreen Khavari received my script through a friend and liked it enough to come in for a meet and read. She was there for maybe 5 minutes. We ran the scene twice and we all hugged goodbye with tears in our eyes, she was that good. Takui Akopyan plays Virgina, the demented grandmother, the enforcer of tradition and the believer of superstition. On the page, she’s described as having fiery red hair. That’s because Takui has fiery red hair. No one else even crossed my mind for the part. Q. Why do you think it was important for you to make this film? A. I wanted to make this film because the idea snatched my mind and wouldn’t give it back. It had been a while since I’d directed something more than a PSA, something with a narrative spine, characters, etc., and I really wanted to dive back in that world. I’d been pushing a feature script that I’d written for a while and not much was happening so when the idea for "I Promised Her Life" stuck its claws into my brain, I just went out and did it. I got better as a storyteller and director, I met wonderful people with whom I’d work again at the drop of a hat, and some stuff that’s somewhat frowned upon in my culture was explored in a way that isn’t heavy-handed, that isn’t judgmental, and that’s hopefully healing and entertaining. Q. What do you hope people take away from it? A. When you scrape your knee, it scabs and sometimes scars. Same with a movie. The scrape is that laugh or cry or white-knuckled breathlessness, and the scar is the memory of the film, the moment, the experience of seeing. So basically I want to scar my audience, ha-ha. Leave a mark, rather. And that mark can be looked upon and recalled and whatever thoughts swirl in their head is their own, what they take away from my work is theirs. At a baseline level, the only thing I hope for when someone watches my film is that they are entertained and walk away without feeling slighted or duped - that their time was not wasted. Q. Who are your influences and did any of them come into play when you were making "I Promised Her Life?" A. That’s a big question with an answer that has, as of late, lost a bit of focus on my end. I grew up with Spielberg, Scorsese, books, and rock & roll. Really all I cared about as far as entertainment went. Those 4 elements are very much still in play, as are other filmmakers and art forms - I’m currently on a heavy David Lynch bender - but nothing remains constant for me. For "I Promised Her Life," in particular, I focused my inspirational sources to Stephen King (whose Armenianized name can be seen on our poster on a gravestone) and the aforementioned Lynch. And those maybe are tonal directions, narrative adjustments, visual thieveries, nothing more than subtle undertones. Otherwise, I just sort of let the film tell me how to make it. Q. Your previous films, “When My Sorrow Died” and “Midnight FistFight” deal with Armenian-related issues with unexpected twists. Do you think you’ll keep exploring Armenian issues in your films? A. Look, I’m Armenian. First generation. Grew up learning the language, surrounded by friends and family, feeling culture shock really for the first time in high school. Being Armenian in America is ingrained in my being, there’s nothing I can do about it. So it goes without saying that some of the films I make will most certainly feature Armenian characters or themes. In spite of the fact that Armenians have been around for a very long time, we’re just now becoming exposed to the public eye. I feel it’s my duty and my pleasure to help focus that spotlight on things that I feel are more interesting than just the typical Armenian associations. I hadn’t seen an Armenian magical-realist/horror/supernatural story, so I made "I Promised Her Life." I hadn’t seen an LGBT story about an Armenian artist who challenges our concepts of sex so I made "When My Sorrow Died." I hadn’t seen a movie about Armenian kids who think they’re gangsters so I made "Midnight Fistfight." I want to make the films that I want to see, that I would pay to see. And you know what? Not every film I make will be an “Armenian” film, but I have more stories within that world that want to sing out. That’s where the Scorsese thing hits home for me - he’s an Italian-American who explores his culture and showcases the good and the bad. I’d like to do that for my culture. Follow Robert Nazar Arjoyan / Garuna Film Group on social media: www.instagram.com/garunafilmgroup/ www.twitter.com/GarunaFilmGroup www.facebook.com/garunafilmgroup
ARA THE RAT EXCLUSIVE On the evening of Saturday January 6th, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho joined Henrikh Mkhitaryan for an Armenian Christmas dinner at his Manchester residence. Having not been a regular in the team for most of the season, speculation of a feud between the two has been ongoing, with newspapers predicting that Mkhitaryan will be leaving the club in January. However in observance of Armenian Christmas, Manchester United’s FA Cup game with Derby County FC had been brought forward to Friday the 5th with Mkhitaryan included in the starting lineup. Despite performing well, Mkhitaryan was substituted at half time with the score at 0-0, replaced by Romelu Lukaku, a forward with 10 goals already this season. Manchester United went on to win the game 2-0 with Lukaku scoring one of the goals. Sky Sports later reported that Mourinho had sacrificed Mkhitaryan in favor of a more attacking player. Mourinho said: "Mkhi was the one that I sacrificed but it's something that I don't normally do but I did at half-time and apologised to him in front of other people because he didn't deserve it.” As a gesture of goodwill, Mourinho joined Mkhitaryan at his home for an Armenian Christmas meal the following night, bringing with him a bottle of Portuguese wine (Pêra-Manca 2008) Outside, Mourinho admitted to reporters that his knowledge of Armenian culture was quite limited, although he stated he had parked his bus near the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal on numerous occasions. Inside, Mourinho was immediately overwhelmed by the abundance of food. The meal kicked off at 8pm. Despite some hard-fought defending, Mourinho conceded his first serving of food in the 13th minute and then soon again in the 22nd. Not recovering from the early onslaught and with no clear game plan, Mourinho conceded food on his plate yet again in the 31st, 34th and 44th minute. In the second half, Mourinho tightened up the defence of his plate, avoiding dried fruit, Ferrero Rocher and more cheese boreg, but left his drinking glass wide open and conceded three alcoholic drinks, on the 67th, 77th, and 85th minute. Just as the evening looked to be wrapping up, with his guard down, Mourinho’s defence was once again penetrated in injury time with a ladle full of Anoush Abour and a cup of Armenian coffee, catching the United manager by surprise. At the final whistle, Mourinho looked depleted. This result marked the heaviest defeat at a dinner table in his entire managerial career. Shortly after, Mourinho was seen leaving the Mkhitaryan residence with three medium sized Tupperware containers and a copy of The Promise movie on Blu-ray. Mourinho declined a post-dinner interview, but sources close to the Manchester United management staff state that Mourinho is to organize an Armenian Madagh ceremony (a lamb sacrifice ritual) to express his gratitude. This story will be updated as more information is made available.
Audiences were intrigued by his “dark and mysterious look,” newspapers wrote about his brooding Armenian eyes that helped him play critically acclaimed roles no one else could. He was the first Armenian-American movie star, a pioneer in playing unusual, eccentric characters sometimes using elaborate makeup that took hours to apply.