Unfortunately, the people of Hamshen are not well known to the world.

There are many reasons for this. However, we can say that one of the most important reasons is the “introversion” of the Hamshen people.  The people who are able to struggle side by side unfortunately usually do so in their “neighborhoods”. This situation causes each of them to perceive the other as a part of the “big community” and as a result, each of them sees themselves as “inferior” than they really are.  However, the problems of these peoples are very similar, but they also have their own unique aspects. Accordingly, their struggles go through similar stages and difficulties. They are “rediscovering America”, often unaware of each other.

In recent years there has been some effort to change this situation. Whenever the people of Hamshen gather in one place, they realize that they are struggling with the same problems. Perhaps they are wasting time and energy on problems that could easily be solved if the community exchanged experiences.

  • Who are the Hamshenites?

Although I have written “Who are they?”, in reality, when I say Hamshenites, I am saying that there is more than one group because there are those who define and perceive that “group” as different identities, such as those who see themselves as Hemshintsi Armenians, those who perceive themselves as Hemshen Turks, those who present themselves only as Hamshentsi or Hamshenti Muslims.  Today, these “groups” include people who have a common historical, linguistic and cultural background and who still preserve a significant part of their common values in their daily lives or in their memories, even though they differ from each other in some aspects. According to linguistic and religious criteria, the Hamshen community can be divided into three parts: Northern Hamshenian (Hamshenian of Abkhazia), Eastern Hamshenian (Hamshenian of Hopa), Western Hamshenian (Bash-Hamshenian, Hamshenian of Rize).

From the 18th century onwards, the Northern Hamshenites first migrated from Hamshen to the Karadere region of Trabzon, and from there spread throughout the Central Black Sea region. At the end of the 19th century they migrated in groups to the opposite shores of the Black Sea. Now they live mainly in the Russian cities of Sochi and Krasnodar, and in the Abkhazian cities of Sukhum and Gagra. The people of Northern Hamshen are Christians of the Armenian Apostolic Church. They consider themselves Hamshen Armenians and speak Hamshen Armenian. Their language is very similar to the language spoken by the Hamshen people in the east. Some examples of their poetry have already been published in “Gor” magazine. In short, any Eastern Khamshenian can understand a northern Hamshenian better than any Armenian.

The East hamshenese mainly live in some villages of Hopa, Kemalpaşa and Borçka districts. However, after the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-78, villages of immigrant Hamshenites emerged in the Kocaeli region of Sakarya, Karasu districts and Akçakoca district of Düzce region.

 Some of the Eastern Hamshen living in Batumi. On November 14, 1944, they were deported to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.  Later, especially in the 2000s, some exiles began to settle in Krasnodar, Rostov, Voronezh and other cities in Russia. In recent years, some eastern hamshen residents have started to bring brides from their relatives who settled in Krasnodar. Most of these brides do not speak Turkish, but they can speak Hamshen. In recent years, due to economic migration, a significant number of hamshen communities have formed in the large cities of the West. At the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries, the people of Eastern Hamshen converted to Islam. That group speaks the Hamshen dialect of Armenian. Some Hamshen people who know the connection between their language and Armenian explain it by the fact that they “exchanged daughters”, “lived in the same place with Armenians for some time” and so on. However, it is clear to them that these interpretations are hard to believe. The motivation behind the need to make such comments is actually well known. They are mostly “official” statements made to get rid of the “burden” of dealing with the Armenian identity.

The people of West Hamshen live mainly in the districts of Hamshen and Chamlıhemshin. However, it is also possible to find Hamshen villages in other districts such as Jayeli, Pazar, Ardeshen (Artashen), Fındıklı and İkizdere. In addition to Rize, there are Hamshen villages in Araklı and Sürmene districts of Trabzon, and in Tortum, İspir (Sper) and Uzundere districts of Karin province. After the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-78, some of the western Hamshen people migrated and settled in the settlements of the eastern Hamshen people. The western Hamshen people were Islamized and now only a few speakers of the Khamshen language can be found in the Rashot region of Çayeli. In colloquial Turkish, there are nearly a thousand words from Hamshen. Hasan Uzunhasanoğlu has published a dictionary of these words under the title “Butterfly”.

The people of Western Hamshen have a strong sense of identity, a core Hamshen identity expressed in phenomena ranging from traditional dress to folk songs, from highlands to celebrations and more. One of the most interesting of these is the Vardavar holiday, celebrated today by Christian Armenians. Although Vardavar is identified with Christianity today, it is actually a folk holiday that was celebrated before Christianity.

Christian, Muslim, Armenian or Turkish-speaking Hamshenese share the same history, culture and identity. When they connect with each other, they have a greater opportunity to defend their identity, language and culture.

Ashkhen Virabyan

journalist-analyst Westernarmeniatv