The pleasure of reliving foreign travel through food

The idea of the kitchen as a space for transformation and transportation is not a new one. Many writers have explored the room’s ability to offer both domesticity and alchemy at the same time – how it allows cooks to travel vicariously through the food they make. This is the subject of Cold Kitchen, Caroline Eden’s memoir of her time spent in her kitchen in Scotland and of her travels to Eastern European and Central Asian cities – and somehow she makes it fresh and compelling. She is an author and critic who has written extensively about the food and culture of the countries of the former Soviet Union. Black

Russia’s military disaster could lead to famine in the Caucasus

Two years ago, 13-year-old singer Maléna was rehearsing for Eurovision Junior when war broke out. While her rivals battled in Warsaw on stage, she stayed home in Armenia. Young men picked up AK-47s to fight against their Azerbaijani neighbours in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 4,000 never returned. A year later, Maléna re-entered Eurovision Junior and won, giving her country the right to host Eurovision Junior in December 2022. Armenian authorities staged celebrations in the capital, Yerevan. Crowds huddled around outdoor televisions in the central square to watch the show. A group of young musicians from Nagorno-Karabakh joined the party in Yerevan, coming into the capital on the

On the front lines of Europe’s newest war

Sotk, Armenia A group of Armenian soldiers stand guard on the road towards the village. ‘It’s not safe to go ahead,’ one says, slinging his Kalashnikov across his shoulder and motioning for our van to pull over. ‘They were shelling the highway just 15 minutes ago.’ In the distance, there’s the unmistakable thunder of artillery and smoke rising from the side of the mountains. Beyond them is the border with Azerbaijan from where, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a massive barrage was unleashed on towns and cities across Armenia. The offensive is the most dramatic escalation since the two former Soviet republics fought a brutal and bloody war

An existential war: even wealthy émigrés are prepared to fight for Russia

If you’re wondering where all those urbane, clever, westernised Russian travellers have gone since the onset of the Ukrainian war – a war which has largely barred them from the West – I can tell you that at least two of them will be found in the tiny Armenian hamlet of Gnishik, high in the summery peaks of the Caucasus. I know this because I met them there last week. And what they told me – about Russia, the war, their lives since the war – was illuminating. This meeting wasn’t planned. I’d made the long, pot-holed drive from the sunburned Areni winelands, lost in their redrock canyons, up to

Is Putin’s war spreading?

Yerevan, Armenia ‘This is our land,’ Anna says, looking out over her roadside flower shop. ‘Lenin promised it to us.’ Her father was born across the mountains in Russia, one of around 100,000 displaced Armenians only able to return home after world war two. ‘But thanks to Lenin, we have our own country. A free country – at least for now.’ As the fighting in Ukraine stretches into its first month, another conflict between two former Soviet states might not be far away. Last year, a brief but bloody war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been autonomously governed by ethnic Armenians over

Most people who call themselves Caucasian know nothing about the Caucasus

The Caucasus, a popular saying goes, is a ‘mountain of tongues’. Describing this region requires a strong constitution, determination and brilliance because, as Christoph Baumer writes in this magnificent book, ‘in many ways, the Caucasus region is a puzzle’. That is something of an understatement. For one thing, the mountains usually referred to as the Caucasus are in fact part of two geologically distinct ranges: the Greater Caucasus that is around 100 kilometres wide and ten times the length, spans the land between the Black and Caspian Seas and acts as a climatic valve, blocking off like a plug cold Arctic air from passing south; and the Lesser Caucasus, that

A defeated Armenia descends into turmoil

Ever since its disastrous military defeat at the hands of Azerbaijan last year, Armenia has suffered from a wave of political unrest, with rallies and protests continuing sporadically. The principal demand of the protestors has been the resignation of the incumbent Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, whose agreement to a ceasefire favourable to Azerbaijan following his country’s defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh was viewed as a national betrayal. However, the most serious declaration of opposition to the Prime Minister came on Thursday, when the general staff of the armed forces, Onik Gasparyan, joined in the calls for Pashinyan to resign. Gasparyan was prompted by Pashinyan’s dismissal of his deputy, who had publicly ridiculed

The West has left Armenia to fend for itself

Bomb shelters have come a long way since the Blitz. As missiles from Azerbaijan rained down on Nagorno-Karabakh a few weeks ago, Hayk Harutyunyan and his family took refuge in a basement with wifi, an ensuite toilet and a makeshift mini-bar. There were 12 people crammed in there every night, he told me, ‘but we Armenians are very close as family, so we get on well’. Indeed, sipping brandy with them in their shelter, I was reminded of that other Armenian clan, the Kardashians, who spend their time sitting around and chatting. Keeping up with the Harutyunyans, however, makes for more challenging viewing. Armenia, a Christian democracy in a neighbourhood