“The pretzel was widely known before Christ, and became popular in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Thessaloniki (now part of Greece) in Byzantine times” — that is, long before any Turks got to the area. Cultural Appropriations Update: Claiming Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and Leonardo DaVinci as Muslims is one thing, but the koulouri? Now that’s a bridge too far! Next thing you know, we’ll be hearing that the Palestinians invented matzo ball soup.
“Turkey- Greece: Simit (or koulouri) pretzel in dispute: Istanbul wants patent to snatch it from the Greeks,” from ANSAmed, April 6 (thanks to Insubria):
(ANSAmed) – ANKARA, APRIL 6 – Even a pretzel can bear witness to the deep roots linking Turkey and Greece, united under the Byzantine and Ottoman empires to then become rivals over the Aegean Sea, and now forced to engage in dialogue due to the current economic crisis. The pretzel in question is the sesame-seed-covered in ‘simit’, which – known under a variety of names such as the Greek ‘koulouri’ – is also widely consumed in Serbia, Bulgaria and other parts of the Balkans and Middle East, such as Lebanon.
Its spread went hand in hand with the conquests of Levantine empires and renders its culinary and national connotation uncertain. Now, in order to snatch it away from an attempt at appropriation by the Greeks, Istanbul’s vendors association has requested an international patent on the pretzel. This was reported by the Turkish daily Hurriyet, which underscored that the move has given rise to resentment in Greece, where another newspaper (Eleftheros Typos) spoke of a new stage in the debate over the origins of foods, as seen in the tooth-achingly sweet dessert baklava. However, this time it has also brought back up an age-old, territorial-nationalistic issue: that of the two small islands of Kardak (Imia) from the mid-1990s. In warning that they are taking action alongside the Turkish Culture Ministry, the chairman of Istanbul simit vendors association, Zeli Sami Ozdemir, said that ”Greeks want to appropriate the simit, and we have decided to take possession of it” before they get to it.
However, the simit/koulouri has shared roots which are tricky to follow back to their source, as it has been eaten for centuries and enjoys an almost mythical character. The Greek newspaper quoted by Hurriyet noted that in the Roman province Epirus mothers hoped their sons would become simit vendors in the metropolis looking out over the Bosporus. The pretzel was widely known before Christ, and became popular in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Thessaloniki (now part of Greece) in Byzantine times. As well-known, however, the Ottoman Empire which cemented this tradition also meant Turkish domination over Greece and painful deportations from both sides: first during the Balkan wars and then with the foundation of modern Turkey by Kemal Ataturk. The division of Cyprus and territorial disputes over other Aegean islands have often brought the two countries to the verge of war, averted solely by mutual membership in NATO. Due to conditioning and fostered by incendiary speculation, concerns have been sparked over the recent military exercises in the Mediterranean and hydrocarbons exploration in disputed waters over the past few months. But greater in number are the official statements and the initiatives indicating that the two countries are growing closer, especially due to the economy, with Greece’s in the depths of a serious crisis and Turkey’s prospering at a confirmed growth rate of 8.5% last year, the second strongest in the world after China’s and despite a 5.3% slowdown over the last quarter. In line with the conciliatory statements made by the two countries’ prime ministers in autumn, last month Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said that trade with Turkey would save Greece’s future. (ANSAmed).