Before the formation of the Ottoman Empire in the region, the Hamshens were a Christian community. This is also confirmed by one of the famous authors of Turkish historiography Fahrettin Kirzoglu and Ottoman documents. Ottoman archival document (DH.İD 116 65), as I mentioned earlier in another article, the Hamshens are represented as “Hamshen Armenians who were Islamized”. Kirzoglu sees no threat to linking the history of the Hamshens and Armenians in general with pre-Christianity and Turkism, saying that the Hamshens “adopted the true religion of that time -Christianity.” However, recently there have been extreme deniers who claim that the Hamshens have never been Christians in history. That’s why we have to pay attention to this simple fact. Of course, documents are not the only source where one can see the Christian past of the Hamshens. Those who study orally transmitted stories have received a lot of information and stories about the past. One example of this is my shooting with my mother. The shooting begins with these words: “I changed my religion, converted to Islam, abandoned superstitions,” which he learned from a teacher in their village (https://youtu.be/w-PFDHZdC1A ). I showed the recording to many rural teachers, all of them said that these words are usually not transmitted to students. In these words there is a clear recognition that the old religion was abandoned, changed and  Islam was accepted.

What happened to the Christian Hamshens?

Have all the Hamshens become Muslims? Of course not. Some of the Hamshen people migrated to the west after Islamization began in Hamshen. They settled in the districts of Trapizon, Samsun (Janik), and Ordu. Of course, the most important reason for this was probably that most of the inhabitants of these regions were Christians, and they felt safer. Some of the Christian Hamshens who emigrated to the western regions in the XIX century began to travel abroad to Russia and Abkhazia to find work. After a while, they also took their families and settled in these regions. Today, Christian Hamshens live in the cities of Sochi, Krasnodar, Maykop, Rostov, and Voronezh in Russia. A significant part of the population of Abkhazia is Christian Hamshens. By the way, Hamshens have a slightly different meaning for them than for us. Due to their loyalty to the Armenian Church, Christian Hamshens often identify themselves as Hamshen Armenians. Some of them are called Janikians, Trapizonians, etc., linking their nationality with the toponyms of previously inhabited places. In fact, it gives an important insight into the personality of our Hamshenians. The formation of the ethnic identity of the Hamshenians coincides with the post-Islamic period. The coexistence of Muslim and Armenian identities is very difficult for both identities. Therefore, the Armenians who became Muslims needed a different affiliation, besides the fact that they are Armenians. This necessity was supplemented by the term “hamshenutyun”. Today, there are very few people in the Rashot Chayel district who speak the Hamshen language, who call their language Armeren (Armenian), and not Hamshen, as we do.

Are there Christian Hamshens in Turkey?

Did all Christian Armenians of Hamshen migrate to Russia and Abkhazia? Of course not. Those who stayed survived everything that happened to the Armenians in 1915: exile, deportation, and death. Are there Christian Hamshens who, having survived all these dark days, still live in Turkey today? To this question, as far as you know, I replied that there is no “community of Hamshen”. However, according to some information I have received, Christian Hamshen Armenians of Janik, Trapizon, Sinop, and Ordu, who escaped the genocide and are now integrated into the Armenian community of Istanbul, still live in our country. 

Our religion has changed, but not our language and tradition. 

Unfortunately, the Hamshens living in Abkhazia and Russia are not very well known in Turkey. Besides the Moscow concert of the Vova ensemble and one or two trips, there was not so much communication with the people of the region. However, the lifestyle, language, and culture of these people are the same as ours. The book by Vahan Menaketsi ” The Spirit of Hamshen”, published in Russian in 2013, is a real treasure. The book describes in detail the house-building and architectural abilities and qualities of the Hamshens, and lists all the materials that the Hamshens use in construction. Hamshen dishes with their recipes are also presented: jamur, tsilikhta, gaplama, kavitz, abur, etc. Then the marriage and wedding traditions are described. Then the book presents the musical instruments used by the Hamshens: tkzar, kamancha, Shvi, dhol and  zurna. These are also the tools we use. There are quite a lot of musicians and singers in Abkhazia. There are also poets who write in the Armenian dialect of the Hamshen language. The works of the Hamshen artists also occupy a special place. “The Hamshen Spirit” is an excellent book that can serve as a guide for those who really want to get to know the Hamshen community of Abkhazia. The book was compiled by an Armenian pensioner from Hamshen. I hope that the book “The Spirit of Hamshen”, which is a real treasure, will be translated into Turkish. This makes us understand the same way of life of people living on both sides of the Black Sea, despite the fact that they have different religions.

Mahira Ozkan