When you think caviar, you don’t necessarily think of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh, a remote South-Caucasus region over which Azerbaijan has been warring with separatists and Armenia for years. But that is about to change. Karabakh claims it has just entered into the caviar industry and, potentially, in a big way.
The region’s de-facto prime minister, Ara Arutiunian, believes that Karabakh is destined to become a global player in the caviar industry by dint of a new fishery business in the village of Magatis set up in part by Armenian Diaspora investments, Armenian and Russian news sites reported, citing a Karabakhi media outlet. The first batch of black caviar is expected to be produced as early as this December.
Aqua-farming may seem a peculiar economic-development choice for the landlocked region, but Arutiunian insists production levels will hit 30 tons annually in seven years — a level that appears to be a drop in the bucket compared with Azerbaijan or Russia, both caviar-majors.
How exactly Karabakh ("black garden" in Turkish and Persian) would get its caviar to outside markets is a larger question. The only way out of the region for ordinary vehicles is via Armenia, the region’s protector, but Armenia has just joined the Eurasian Economic Union, a Moscow-led trade club that, in theory, would require it to set up a customs post with Karabakh, as the internationally recognized property of Azerbaijan.
That little detail, though, was brushed to one side during Armenia’s October 10 signing of the Union treaty. To hear officials (de-jure or de-facto) in Armenia and Karabakh tell it, no customs post will be built.
That’s not likely to sit well with Azerbaijan, which is now watching with folded arms the separatists’ exercise in aquaculture.
Azerbaijan was famed throughout the Soviet Union for its beluga sturgeon caviar. The term “caviar diplomacy” has been used to describe Baku playing its energy riches as international lobbying chips; not least to prevent any foreign recognition of that breakaway caviar débutante, Karabakh.
Armenia is also a major fish-enthusiast, known regionally for trout from its massive Lake Sevan.
With its fishery business, Karabakh seems to be taking a page from both of these books, although it itself is better known gastronomically for things like mulberry vodka. But then, chasing vodka with a caviar canapé still ranks as haute cuisine in these parts.