Armenian Cognac and Corporate Nationalism

December 30, 2009 at 10:52 pm (art, nationalism, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Armenia is famous for its cognac.  Winston Churchill famously preferred Armenian cognac to the other, less-Armenian varieties on the market.

The Yerevan Brandy Company is Armenia’s oldest cognac producer and, though now owned French alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard, the company maintains a line of cognac under the Ararat label with names that reflect Armenia’s cultural heritage.  For example, the six-year aged Ani cognac is named after the capital city of the Bagratuni Kingdom (885-1045 CE) and the twenty-year Nairi is named after the pre-Urartian bronze age settlement that is one of the contenders for the Armenian homeland.  That both are now located the Republic of Turkey, just over the closed border, adds modern political tension to the pain of centuries old territorial loss and dynastic decline.  Nevertheless, artists, writers, and companies alike have kept this nostalgia for Armenia’s glory days at a steady boil for generations.

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the island that inspired the poem, the countless paintings, and the cognac: Akhtamar.  Akhtamar is an island on Lake Van in eastern Anatolia, an area where Armenians once flourished and still cherish as their ancestral homeland.    Hovhannes Tumanyan turned into poetry the tale about clandestine lovers that – legend has it – gave the island its name.  Even the lone island (now a peninsula – thanks Soviet ecologists!) in the Republic of Armenia’s lake Sevan is commonly referred to as Akhtamar.  This mixture of romance and bittersweet nostalgia makes for some powerful branding, and the Yerevan Brandy Co’s ten-year aged Akhtamar cognac is now an important cultural signifier all on its own.  If fact, a cousin told me about a kind of pilgrimage in vogue today: Armenians travel to Akhtamar in Turkey, with a bottle of Akhtamar, get a picture taken with the bottle, the Armenian flag, and a Lake Van cat, and then return to Armenia with the cognac (and drink it). 

To keep this momentum going, the Yerevan Brandy Company is releasing a short film tomorrow entitled Akhtamar that will likely be available here.  I am expecting some well placed shots of cognac.  The trailer alludes to the Tumanyan poem and promises to be the first in a series of “legends retold.”  Retold through brandy and hot CIS actors?  I’m in.      


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