Georgian-Armenian dispute over Matsoni and Matsun
The controversy surrounding matsun and matsoni resurfaced in Yerevan and Tbilisi after Georgian customs hindered the transit of Armenian matsun to Russia through Georgian borders, basing the restriction on the similarity of the product’s name to a local yoghurt. The yoghurt-like dairy products both share similarities in production, taste, and name informs OC Media.
On February 9, Tengiz Kalanadze, Head of the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency, confirmed the restriction of Armenian matsun’s transit via Georgia, saying that foreign products holding “similar names” to local ones were “not allowed under Georgian legislation”.
Kalanadze may have been referring to the Georgian law on appellations of origin and geographical indications of goods, which regulates the commercial use of products that have registered geographical indications.
According to the Armenian Ministry of Economy, the problem emerged as a result of Georgia registering a geographical indication on matsoni in 2012, which offers it protection in international markets as a national product.
On February 10, Georgian TV channel Imedi reported on the controversy sparked by the dairy product, with the headline “Georgian matsoni against ‘matsun’”, and a background image of two bottles labelled matsoni in Georgian, with text reading “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” and “Dolma is also Azerbaijani” in Armenian.
Imedi later took down the original video published online and issued an apology for using the image, claiming it was due to a “technical error”.
On February 10, Georgian news watchdog Mediachecker quoted an unnamed Imedi graphic designer claiming responsibility for the mistake that went on air. The designer claimed that they had googled “matsoni” in Armenian and incorporated one of the results into the image without knowing what the text said.
It was reported that the company “Dustr Marianna” had problems with export.
In an interview with one of the local publications, Kristina Karapetyan, deputy director for quality control, explained the problem.
According to her, in 2012, Georgia already registered the name “matsoni” as its “geographical indication” [identification of goods with Georgia]. “During this time, there were no problems with exports, but for some reason, in September 2021, a car with the products of our company, which was heading to Russia, was stopped in Georgia. Then we were told that henceforth Georgia would ban the export of goods called “matsun” through its territory.
We needed to adapt to the current situation quickly. We decided to label the product exported to Russia as “Armenian Mountain Yogurt”, said Kristina Karapetyan. She also said that the name change did not affect their product sales in Russia, thanks to a “prompt and effective information campaign”.
As JAM News reminds the word “matsoni” itself and the origin of this product, opinions are divided in the Georgian segment of the Internet. Some believe that this is a Georgian name and a national product. However, some Georgian historians and linguists claim that it came to the Georgian language precisely from Armenia.
For example, Director of the Museum of Literature Lasha Bakradze cites data from the dictionary of Bakar Gigineishvili, who, among others, refers to the linguist Hrachya Acharyan and notes that in Armenian, “matsun” means “sour milk”.