Armenian Identity: Hamshen

  • by Western Armenia, March 21, 2023 in Society

The history of the Armenians is one of the oldest in the world. We are all Armenians, but we have our own unique characteristics. Today we will talk about the origins of the Hemshen Armenians and the places where they live.

Who are the Hamshenites?

 This is one of the very early branches of the Armenian nation. 

According to ancient sources, the Hamshen Armenians are the descendants of Armenians who by fate found themselves in a remote place, specifically in the mountains of the Kamshen region of Lesser Hayk, in what are now Rize, Trabzon, Ordu, Hopa and other districts. 

In 789-790, the Amatuni princes Hamam and Shapuh, fleeing from Arab persecution, left the Artaz district of Vaspurakan with 12,000 refugees and settled in the Byzantine region of Khagtik.

Prince Hamam founded the town of Hamamshen (Hamshen) in a place called Tambar, which was given to him by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VI, and the district took this name while the Armenian population: Hamshentsi, Hemshin Armenians, Hamshens. The northern slopes of Mount Kashkar and the surrounding valleys formed the core of the semi-independent power of Hemshen.

In the 15th century, the princes (lords) of Hamshen are mentioned as Arakel, Davit A, Vard, Veken, Davit II. Davit II was defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1489, after which the Armenian authority in Hemshin came to an end. A Turkish governor was appointed to Hemshin, but the Armenian governors of the inaccessible valleys of the district retained their internal autonomy for a long time.

Over the centuries they formed their own unique culture, different from the culture of Eastern Armenia.

They have their own national costumes and dialects. The Armenians of Eastern Armenia cannot understand their dialect. In Hamshen Armenian, a number of ancient Armenian words have been preserved that are not used in modern Armenian language. 

What is their religion?

At first, the Hamshen Armenians accepted Apostolic Christianity. However, when Asia Minor fell under the Turkish yoke in the 15th century, some Hamshen Armenians converted to Islam under Ottoman pressure and became so-called “Hamshils”.

Ghukas Injicyan describes the situation in the villages of Tap, Koshtens, Yeghnovit, Amogva, Mitsmun, Janintots, Molevints, Uskurta, Shnichva, Gushiva, Vordnents, Makrevints, Khapag, Yukari Vije, Lower Vije and Khala in the Hemshin district. The Armenians of Hamshen, Hala and Vije were fully converted, the Yeghnovites retained their Christian faith, and other settlements had a mixed (religious) population. In total, there are about half a million Hamshen Armenians in the world. Most of the Christian population was forced to leave the borders of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries and now lives in Krasnodar (Sochi), Abkhazia, Georgia. The Hamshil Muslims remained in occupied Western Armenia and gradually underwent cultural and linguistic changes.

To be continued…

Ashkhen Virabyan

journalist-analyst Western Armenia TV