Green apples: A delicious way to peace in the Caucasus

This observer wondered how Azerbaijanis could eat so many apples he saw ripening in Orchards north of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. 

Now we know. 

They don’t. 

Armenians eat many of those apples. The popularity of Azerbaijani apples in Armenia is causing the Armenian government to set up barricades to confiscate the illicit fruit. 

In recent weeks many Armenians have bought Azerbaijani green apples despite a technical “state of war” between the two countries.

The loud whooshing sounds around Armenia are of busy cash registers ringing up apple sales and of government sleuths in Soviet-era trench coats and fedoras raiding grocery stores, confiscating contraband apples and investigating Armenia’s “Applegate.”

The problem is that market forces are overcoming political forces; Armenians are fond of Azerbaijani apples, maybe even some of those I saw in orchards north of Baku. 

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When they buy Azerbaijani apples they intentionally submerge decades of anti-Azerbaijani feelings and hostility following a bloody war between the two South Central Caucasus nations in the early 1990’s that resulted in the occupation of around 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory and expulsion of over 800,000 Azerbaijanis from those lands by Armenia.

 

The apples are clearly labeled by stickers of Azerbaijan’s largest produce exporter “DAD” which means “taste.” The Azerbaijani apples are sold everywhere in Armenia including in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.

The Armenian government has indeed become extremely concerned over “Applegate.” It is flooding cities and towns with government agents charged with confiscating Azerbaijan apples and detecting how they arrived on Armenia’s grocery shelves.

This Armenian crisis has been covered by Armenian news outlets. Joining them are press releases from the official Food Safety Service of the Republic of Armenia, the government agency tasked with hunting down illicit Azerbaijani apples.

How the apples entered the country and Armenian retail fruit markets are the biggest questions they have. That, of course, and why weren’t import duties paid on the fruit.

Eurasianet.org – where, Georgian writer Giorgi Lomsadze writes the“Tamada Tales, a daily feast of news from the South Caucasus,” brought the news of the “apple invasion” of Armenia to the English-speaking world as a non-Armenian outlet. The Armenian sources hid behind Armenian-language-only reports.

Driving north from super-lively Baku, agricultural Azerbaijan contrasts with the pulsating capital like day and night. Orchards, apple orchards, on both sides of the highway bear lots of yellow and light green-colored apples.

Roadside fruit vendors lay out fruit displays of apples, cherries and melons put together to attract customers from the car traffic north from Baku to Guba, an agricultural area 170 kilometers north of Baku. A bit further north is the Russian border and to the northwest the Georgia border.

Perhaps we should look no further than the Republic of Georgia for answers of how the “Black Market” contraband apples reach Yerevan’s markets. Azerbaijani apples and lots of other fruits and vegetables are popular in Georgia. 

Trucks and railroads move tons of fruits and vegetables from Azerbaijan to oil/natural gas partner/customer Georgia. From there just how easy is it for Azerbaijani apples to be loaded on trucks traveling from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi south to its open border with Armenia.

Mystery solved as to how the Azerbaijani apples made their way to Armenia. As to who did it, no one knows, that mystery remains unsolved.

This incident must irritate Armenian die-hards who refuse to settle the 25-year-long conflict it has with Azerbaijan. 

That conflict is highlighted by control of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory while Azerbaijan apples are sold openly in Armenian markets. An incident with Azerbaijan garlic six years ago took many Armenian resources to resolve. Apples are far more numerous and popular than garlic.

How much of Armenia’s Russian-financed budget will be used to track down contraband apples and their “purveyors?”

When asked for comment by journalist Giorgi Lomsadze, pro-Azerbaijani outlets advised Armenian officials to “busy” themselves with “more serious matters.”      

The American published Asbarez News reports that “Corruption within the Armenian customs service has long been widespread, with many businesspeople using bribes and government connections to avoid or underpay import duties.”

It also reports that arrests have been made of customs officers at the main Armenian border crossing with the Republic of Georgia and that apples are being confiscated wherever they are found.

When and how will Armenia retaliate? Will they?

Lomsadze suggests that “if Armenia ever decides to strike back, it’s got the apricots to do it.” 

Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and A Trillion Dollars in Trade and Murder in the Mountains: War Crime at Khojaly, both published by Floricanto Press and his work was formerly distributed by the New York Times Syndicate.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.