Armenian Identity: Hamshen (Chapter Three)

  • by Western Armenia, March 24, 2023 in Society

The question of identity is one of the most studied topics in the world. To be born with an identity or to acquire an identity… What are the criteria that determine a person’s identity? Language, religion or culture? Identity is not a stereotype. When we talk about the Armenian identity, the first group that comes to mind is the Hamshen people. The question of the identity of the Hamshen people is analyzed mainly from a historical and emotional point of view.

It is difficult to consider all those who identify themselves as Hamshen as having the same ethnic origin. The question of the ethnic origin of the Hamshen people should be considered from two different perspectives. First, it is necessary to look at how the Hamshen people living in Western Armenia define themselves today, and second, to look at their historical ethnic origin.

From the first perspective, these people see themselves as part of a Muslim community that encountered Islam centuries ago, embraced Islam, and today see being a Turkish Muslim as part of their identity. At least, most of the Hamshenese living in Turkey today think this way.

If you look at it from a historical point of view, who is an Hamshenian today?

In terms of history, Hamshenians are characterized as an Armenian community that lived in Hamshen and was Islamized in the 1700s in the Ottoman Empire.Of course, nationalist sectors refute this description.They claim to have Turkish roots and the similarity of Armenian culture and language is due to the fact of living with Armenians in the same region. Democrats, leftists and socialists are closer to the idea that they are a community created from Muslim Armenians. However, even in their minds it is nothing but a fact of history, in terms of feelings, it is impossible to talk about Armenianness.

In any case, it is difficult to say that all people who present themselves as Hamshenians have the same roots, because there were established peoples in the region as a result of Ottoman policy and before it.Therefore, from a historical point of view, no matter how much is said about the Armenian roots of Hamshenians, it is not so real to generalize this fact.

An example is Hikmet Akcicek, a Hamshen writer, when he was asked in one of his interviews .

Over the past 20 years there has been a serious debate and, in a sense, a struggle in the Turkish state over notions and characteristics of identity.For example, instead of saying “Turk”, it is considered more correct to say “Turkish”.

What is the situation with Amshenians? When asked about your identity, do you say “Turkish” or “Hamshenian”?

The writer replied :

“Of course, I call myself a Hamshenian because I am distinguished from the citizens living in the Turkish state by my Hamshen identity.But at the same time I am a citizen of the Turkish state, I was born and raised in a Turkish and Muslim society, so I am a part of this identity.For me it makes much more sense the thesis that Hamshenians come from Islamized Armenians.But at the same time, as a socialist, I do not feel any belonging in terms of ethnic origin.But in the cultural sense, yes I am a Hamshenian and a part of this culture. This, in my opinion, is not ethnicity.As for the concept of “Turkish”, this is a more general approach, it is relevant, when presented abroad.After such an answer, one is tempted to indicate what his or her origin is. Then the Amshenian is back on the agenda.

Hamshen people living in Western Armenia linking Hamshen people living in Russia, Abkhazia․

The Hamshen people living in Russia and Abkhazia can be divided into two different groups. The first group consists of the Hamshen relatives from Turkey, who were exiled to Batumi together with other Muslim nations of the Caucasus in 1944 to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for political reasons of cooperation with the Germans during the Second World War.

Speaking to Western Armenia TV, blogger Iveta Kochkanyan, an Amshenka resident of Abkhazia, noted that they have differences in lifestyle, having lived in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for the past 40-50 years, they have acquired features peculiar to these societies.

Ивета Кочконян, Москва | Поиск информации
In the photo Iveta Kochkanian with her daughter.

When asked if she is closer to the Armenian identity? She answered:

On the contrary, they are distant and have a lot of resistance. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Armenians, worried about the nationalist policies of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, emigrated to Rostov, Voronezh and Krasnodar, where they live side by side with Armenian Christians. The Amshenians, who lived in Russia and Abkhazia before the period of Islamization, migrated from Amshen in the 1600-1800s (there are different interpretations of the reasons for this migration) and settled in Trabzon Ordu and Samsun, Later, from the 1850s (this refers to the migration of Muslims from the Caucasus to Anatolia and Christians from Anatolia to the Caucasus), and in the period united by the genocide against Armenians that began in 1914, the Hamshenians who moved to other shores of the Black Sea to Sochi and Krasnodar, as well as the Hamshenians who migrated to Abkhazia. We are talking about 300-400 thousand, but perhaps a little exaggerated, we compare ourselves with the Armenians of Kars or Diyarbekir and speak Hamshen Armenian, but of course we realize that we are slightly different.

For the most part we still speak the Hamshen dialect. For example, the Hamshenians living in the Turkish state today understand only twenty percent of Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian maybe a little more, but they understand sixty to seventy percent of each other with the Hamshen Armenians of Sochi. We use more Armenian words because we were educated in Armenian schools and churches.”

Ashkhen Virabyan, journalist-analyst for “Western Armenia” TV