How did Kurdish Coffee become Turkish Coffee?

Between 1850 and 1930 Kizwan from the Turpentine Trees of the mountainous regions of Semsûr, Amed, Batman, and Mardin in Northern Kurdistan knows as Bakuri Kurdistan, located in modern-day “Turkey” was collected and made into coffee, which was then exported to France where it was packaged and sold in Europe as Kurdish Coffee.

A Traditional Coffee Pot

For over 80 years, Kurdish coffee was one of the most popular types of coffee in France. What made Kurdish coffee different from other types of coffee? It didn’t have caffeine in it. Kizwan coffee is made from fruits collected by the Kurds from the wild pistachio menengic. Ground roasted terebinth fruits, milk and sugar are its main ingredients in the traditonal recipe. But modern branded recipes include coffee.

However, following the proclamation of the Turkish state, a series of systemic discrimination was issued and Kurds were denied their language, music, traditional clothing, and their customs. When the Turks started to rename the cities, towns, and villages of Kurdistan, they also renamed Kurdish Coffee as Turkish Coffee.

Kurds themselves called it Kizwan Coffee, and to this day they do. At the time, however, France and Europe knew it as Kurdish Coffee, and in a short period, it became the most sold coffee in France where it was packaged and sent to the rest of the world. Geographers to this day claim that if you search all of Turkey, you will only find the turpentine tree in Bakuri Kurdistan. This is the tree that Kizwan Coffee is made from.

Kurdish Coffee Served with Chocolate and Water

In 1930, 100 grams of Kurdish coffee was packaged and sold in France, known as “Kurdish Coffee” with a picture of a Kurdish gunman as it’s leading logo. It was marketed as Chicorée au Kurde.

Packaged Kurdish Coffee in 1930

Something, seemingly as simple as coffee, was such a threat to the Turks, that they had to ask the French and European governments to change the name and picture of their packaging.

This is merely one example of the systemic discrimination imposed on Kurds in Turkey, and it’s a “mild” one. However, Turkish coffee has become a household name, an item on every menu and since 2013, it was inscribed in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It has since been used in fortune telling, written about in poems and novels, and it is one of the most fundamentally well known beverages of our decade. But at what cost?

R O J A V A

I close my eyes and remember warm summer nights 

Spent on rooftops, mattresses spread out, spray bottles filled with water

Waving at neighbours, enjoying the rare breeze of a summer’s night.

My three sisters and I would laugh endlessly as our parents slept

Underneath the blanket of stars and an overzealous moon 

Watching over us, and we danced, we danced around with our hopes and our dreams while Singing to Jupiter and the trees.

On cold winter nights, it was the clanking of the pots and pans that 

Awoke us in the morning, underneath our covers, we etched a lifetime of 

Memories, now all a faded distant dream.

It was the chestnuts by the fire, and the sherbet for our guests, 

It was the long conversations over the hedge with a friendly neighbour, 

It was the young boy who brought us our warm bread in the mornings 

And the little geckos hiding by the air conditioner that frightened us, 

It was this and all of this, 

That I built my magical kingdom on. 

And now, a crumbling dynasty of hope.

First came the whispers and murmurs of a revolution, a spring, 

Then came the protests, followed by a siege, and all of a sudden, 

Our hometown was destroyed by madness and our streets were overflowing with 

Black flags with white writings and perverted tendencies, 

A betrayal of the innocent, an angry cry, tears of blood from the sky, it wasn’t a bomb,

it was three and more, followed by the creation of streams of light blood,

dark blood, all blood Blends, of friends and foes, the city was exposed.  

From cradle to grave we were born into a war, 

Our fairytale life was nothing but a dissolved rumour. 

Scenes of family and friends fleeing, images of fallen faces, feeling afraid and famished, 

We were now uninvited from our homes, unwanted by our people, unwelcome by all. 

Our misfortune was a means to an end. 

They didn’t care about the chestnuts or the rooftops,

they had no intention of listening to our hopes and dreams,

they were monsters from my unimaginable childhood nightmares, 

And they were here to stay. 

We fought and fought, we buried the dead, 

We buried Sheereen, Berivan, Ruhan and too many to count. 

I look to the sky to see a glimmer of hope, 

But all I see is an untrusted enemy, a betrayal. 

You were supposed to protect me. I wished upon all the stars, I wished for protection. 

And now the cycle repeats, it’s different faces and a different flag, 

But the decree is the same by all intents. 

Our mother, a lover of the mountains, of the sun, of the earth, 

Now a body of regret, “Why?” She would ask herself every day as she visits my grave, and waters my flowers, “Why did I stay?” She would ask as she prayed, 

And “why” she would utter at the world? 

“Why?”

an open letter to the PM

Dear Mr. Prime Minister Trudeau,

I invite you to come have dinner with me. Come to my home away from home. Welcome, as you walk into the foyer and see a Persian rug hanging, look closely, it tells a story. I’ll share her secrets with you, her journey through Persia to Iraq to Jordan and then finally to Canada. You’ll see the house filled with blue eyes that protect from the hidden evil of hearts unknown. Hey, you don’t have to take your shoes off, but I will take your coat, the weather is changing isn’t it, fall is soon arriving. Here, have a seat. Yes, these are rocks, two of which I packed back with me from Iceland, that was an interesting trip I took out of the blue, I’ll tell you more about it, but first, would you like coffee or tea? My mom makes a mean steeped tea. Oh, these, these are rocks from Kurdistan, you see there is this artist named Ismael Khayat, he draws on rocks and my aunt asked him to make those for us. Here have some chocolate covered almonds while I pour the tea. 

You see, Mr. Prime Minister, I didn’t ask you here to talk about rocks and Persian rugs, I invited you here to talk about what it’s like to be me, a young female Canadian Kurd. Although my story may be unique, sugar? No? Okay. Although my story may be unique, it is uniquely similar to thousands of other Kurds in Canada, in the USA, in Europe, in the diaspora and within Kurdish cities itself. And although Canada is not Kurdish, it has a history of fighting for what is right. Here try this, we call this “kleecha,” my favorite is this one right here, filled with walnuts. You see, standing up against dictators, is something Canada has not shied away from, which is why I am confused at your silence. Mr. Prime Minister, you ask me to vote for you, but how can I vote for you if you won’t hear my voice, I’m screaming, and shouting, at the top of my lungs and from the bottom of my heart, but do you hear me? Can you hear me? Can you hear us?

Justin, can I call you that? It’s just us here, no please and thank you, Sir or Madam, my people are dying. Oh, what wonderful people we are, but we are dying. The air is thick and opaque, the people are being led by fear across the red sea of bodies, the governments and the humanitarians have failed us. It’s a mass exodus. And yet, the wonders of our world, our reality, Justin, is that we are privileged, safe, protected. Let’s speak honestly, it’s just you and me, I don’t know what it feels like to be afraid of airstrikes, of losing my limbs or worse be forced into a cult of terrorists. I don’t know what it means to wake up and find out over twitter, that my family and I have to flee to neighboring cities, because a NATO ally is coming to cleanse us of our Kurdishness, of our identity, our language our existence. Do you know what it means? What does it mean to be a target of genocide for years? Does your wife? Do your children? 

The food is ready, this is yapraxi galawmew, its stuffed grapevine leaves, my favorite dish in the world. Here, let me show you how to eat it, take one and take a small piece of meat and make a sandwich. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for 23 years. You know, I cannot sleep, can you? I cannot sleep knowing that Canada is a land people take refuge in, immigrate to for a better life, and yet at the core of your neighbors’ decision is a human rights crisis that you chose to ignore. I’ll tell you what I think, I think this is happening too close to election time, and that is a price the Kurds will have to pay. 

Oh, you don’t have to do that, I’ll take your plate. Mr. Prime Minister Trudeau, there is no dessert today, I think there is no sweetness to life today or any other day for that matter, not until the world cries with us, not until we speak up against the atrocities of fascist states, not until we stand up to hate, to genocide, ethnocide, to the oppressor, for the oppressed. No sweets today.

I beg you to reconsider your stance, on your drive home, really think about the fact that you’re not being forced out, afraid of airstrikes overhead. I beg you to reconsider. I beg you to stand, I beg you to be an ally, I beg you to be a voice.

Sincerely, 
Mardin Hener