Armenian bread back in Turkey

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Diyarbakir reconnects with Armenian identity one bread after another

(Report carried out with the journalist Jeremie Berlioux) 


Erhan Yaman a 45 year old baker opened last January the rst traditional Armenian Lavas bakery in Diyarbakir, the major Kurdish metropolis in South-East Turkey. The typical at bread had disappeared from the city, once predominantly inhabited by Armenians, in the wake of the 1915 genocide. “Lavas belongs to Diyarbakir. This is a rst step in my aim of spreading my Armenian culture here”, he says.


Yaman is a descendant of the thousands Armenian children who were saved from the genocide by Kurdish families that converted and raised them as Muslim. In a country that denies the exis- tence of the genocide and where the word “Armenian” is an insult, these Islamized Armenians have consistently hidden their origins in public. Yamam decided to reconnect with his heritage despite his family pushing him to keep it secret.


Over the last 15 years, Diyarbakir’s local authorities and population have undertaken a memory work about the participation of Ottoman Kurds to the genocide. In 1915, Kurdish tribes were enrolled by the ottoman regime and constantly attacked Armenian deportee’s convoys, killing hundreds of thousands. In the 2000’s, Kurdish politicians asked for pardon and attempted to restore Armenian culture and historical buildings. This was part of a political agenda aiming at constructing a multicultural counter model to the dogma of the Turkish Republic: one Nation, one Religion, one language. But the war in 2015-2016 beteween the Turkish army and the PKK soldiers put a halt to this work. The old city – especially the former Armenian neighborhood – was ruined and a dramatic political repression kick the Kurdish parties out of the city’s management.


But Yamam and his sta are hopeful. They aim at pursuing this memory work one Lavas after another.

« I am Kurdish and I am Armenian ». That’s how Erhan, 45 years-old, introduces himself. After travelling several time to Armenia, where he fell in love with Armenian Lavas bread, he decided to quit his job in the construction sector to become a baker in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Last January he opened his bakery: « Ararat Tandir Lavas ». He feels better now that he found a way to get closer to his mixed and rich culture.

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« Armenian culture is also our culture », say the Kurdish women working in the bakery. They feel proud to contribute to the return of the Armenian flat bread in Diyarbakir. Lavas had disappeared from the city in the wake of the 1915 genocide that almost eradicated the entire Armenian population of Anatolia.

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Aysegül, 25 year-old, lives just above the bakery. Working there provides her family with another source of income. Although making Armenian Lavas is a difficult art, she improves her technique day by day. Each employee is specialized in one task. Aysegül is in charge of making small balls of dough.

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Birgül, 39 year-old, is in charge of the second step of the bread’s preparation. At the beginning, she had to spread the dough manually. Lavas requires it to be very thin. This machine thus considerably smoothed her task. The Armenian bread, with no crumb, is known for being very healthy.

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Vasfiye (right) can now support financially her family. She stresses out that she only receives good reaction from her relatives about her new occupation. “This is my first job out of home, this is a great experience  for me”, she says after giving the dough a little flap.

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Once the dough is well stretched, Erhan drops it on the oven board. It took him 6 months to learn how to make Lavas properly. He had initially invited Armenian bakers to Diyarbakir in order to train him and his employees. Erhan says he had never stopped learning, making is tough job more enjoyable.

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Erhan built is own oven, similar to those in Armenia. Once again, he had to invite an expert from Armenia as no one in Turkey had the expertise. He says he struggled for a year before eventually receiving the gas certification. Despite the obstacles, the bakery opened thanks to Erhan’s strong will and determination.

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Asya, 35 year-old, is Erhan’s sister and thus also Armenian. She is in charge of putting water on the freshly-cooked Lavas as well as packing and selling them. She sometimes has to introduce Lavas to new customers unaccustomed to the flat bread. « People have to get used to the word Armenian...it is not something bad », says Erhan.

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“Once I tasted it I couldn’t stop eating it”, says this customer, holding his daughter. He comes every week since the opening of the bakery last January. “This is so good feeling seeing Armenian bread back in the city”, tells another one. Erhan says he generally gets friendly reactions from customers, especially from the younger generations. « They are more educated, and aware of the reality of the region ».

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Three months after opening the bakery, Erhan and his team produce 600 bread a day. They supply kebab restaurants. Lately, a supermarket chain showed interest in distributing the bread all across the region. He plans to open more bakeries in a near future.

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Erhan only employs female staff as part of an effort to encourage employment and empowerment of women in a predominantly conservative region. Two of his employees are part of his family.

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Every day, Asya’s daughter, 10 year-old, comes straight from school to the bakery. Asya says her daughter can’t be considered as Armenian as her father is Kurdish. She explains that in Turkey the origin is transmitted by the father. She however intends to tell her daughter about her origin once she is old enough to understand it.

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For Erhan, this business is more than a bakery. He conceives it as part of the necessary memory work that will bring Armenian culture back in Diyarbakir. “This is the first step in my aim of bringing our culture back to life in the city”, he says.

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Erhan, who was born in Diyarbakir, wanted to open his bakery there as “it is a city where the Armenian culture is strong and where there is diversity, there are Armenian lovers here », he stresses.

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