3344) Armenian-Speaking Muslims Of Hamshen in Turkey: Who Are They?

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By Vahan Ishkhanyan / © 2012 Hetq online

“I feel uncomfortable conversing through a translator. We can speak that language fairly well, but sadly we’ve been subjected to assimilation and various pressures. That’s why we have difficulty understanding each other,” says Yilmaz Topaloglu, the former mayor of Hopa.

The language he refers to is Armenian. Yilmaz wouldn’t say such a thing to anyone else in the world except for an Armenian who speaks it - “I feel uncomfortable conversing through a translator.”

So here we are; two individuals who speak the same language but cannot understand each another. I am an Armenian from Armenia who has come to Turkey to conduct research about those Muslim inhabitants who speak Armenian . .

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Wherever I would go, the villages, the shops and cafes of Hopa, or to Çamlihemsin (the center of the Turkish-speaking Hamshens[1]), the fact that I was Armenian immediately impacted my dealings with people. Sometimes the effect was positive, as in Hopa, where I received a warm reception along the lines of, “You’ve come from Armenia? We too are Armenian.”

There was also the flip side of the coin, as in Çamlihemsin, when an old man’s smile disappeared when he heard I was from Armenia. The man also disappeared back into his house.

We could understand words here and there when Yilmaz spoke; sometimes entire sentences. Complete thoughts were hard to grasp. Our conversations had to be translated from the local Armenian dialect to literary Armenian or from Turkish to Armenian.
Truck driver Erdogan – I have no doubt that we were once Armenian but converted to Islam some 400 years ago. I don’t know why we decided to become Muslims and other Armenians didn’t. And why didn’t the other Armenians want anything to do with us afterwards?

“I have no doubt that we were once Armenians, but that we converted to Islam 400 years ago. Why was it that we decided to become Muslims and other Armenians did not? Before, we weren’t brothers, now we are”, says truck driver Erdogan Yenigül. The man displays no antagonism when talking to us. Rather, there’s a smile on his face when he asks questions to which answers are not expected. In a bar in Hopa, Erdogan switches from Homshetsma to Turkish. I understand a few words in the Hamshen language. Khachik Terteryan translates the Turkish. Anahit Hayrapetyan, our photographer, needs no translator. The language of the photo is universal.

The three of us – I, Khachik and Anahit – crossed the Georgian-Turkish border on a bus that plies the route from Yerevan to Istanbul. We got off in the town of Hopa, just 20 kilometers into Turkey. It’s the largest community of Armenian speaking Muslim Hamshens. For the next twelve days I searched for answers to the following – who are the Hamshens? Are they Armenians, Turks, or do they constitute a separate people who is neither?

I had read much on the subject but never found adequate answers to these questions before my trip to Turkey. I remained just as perplexed after returning to Armenia. Answers remained just as elusive.

Hamshen: Historical Note

Historical Hamshen is located in the northwest region of present-day Turkey, some 90 kilometers from the Georgian border. Today, there are two places bearing the name Hemsin, both in Rize Province. There is Hemsin (both a town and district) and the other is Çamlihemsin, (also both a small town and district) where the Hamshens speak Turkish. The latter is a combination of the terms "Çamli" which in Turkish means "pine-forested" and "Hemsin".)

On the basis of records of two Armenian historians from the 8-10th centuries, scholars now conclude that the Hamshens built their first settlements in the 8th century. Ghevont, a historian of the day, chronicles that 12,000 Armenians fled to Byzantium in order to escape the persecutions of Arab conquerors. The Armenians were led by Shapouh Amatouni and his son Hamam.

Ghevont relates that upon their arrival Emperor Constantine settled them in “a pleasant and fertile land”[2] Using Ghevont as a reference, Dr. Levon Haçikyan [Khachikyan], cites 789-790 as the year when Hamshen was founded[3]. The historian Hovhan Mamikonyan, in his History of Taron, notes that Hamam renamed the city Hamamashen (the city of Hamam). Two letters in the name were contracted, leaving Hamshen.

In this history, Hamam alerts Tiran Mamikonian, Prince of Taron, who is in alliance with the 7th century Byzantine Emperor Heraclius that Vashdean, Prince of Georgia, Hamam’s uncle, is in league with the King of Persia against him. The Prince of Georgia is so enraged to discover what Hamam has done that he has his feet and arms chopped off. Vashdean invades Hamam’s lands and destroys his city of Tambur. Hamam then rebuilds his city and calls it ‘by his own name’ Hamamashen.[4]

Levon Khachikyan argues that Hovhan Mamikonyan’s history is “fable-like”, since it was written one hundred or even two hundred years after the migration of the Amatouni's. (Scholars cite Hovhan Mamikonyan’s “Patmut‘iwn Taronoy [The History of Taron],” as a work of the 7th - 9th centuries)[5]

According to Khachikyan, since the Amatouni’s governed the provinces of Aragatzotn and Kotayk, the Hamshens migrated from those areas. My father, the linguist Rafayel Ishkhanyan, made the following notation in his book Armenian Ethnography and Folklore, where Khachikyan talks about the Hamshens migrating from the Ayrarat plains:

“The Hamshen dialect reveals that the Hamshen Armenians are not from Ayrarat but indigenous.” The Hamshen dialect belongs to the western Armenian group of dialects, whereas eastern dialects are spoken on the Ararat plain.[6]

The village of Chinchiva near Çamlihemsin: This was the area of the first Hamshen communities.

For 700 years Hamshen survived as a semi-independent Armenian princedom, falling to the Turks in 1489. Davit, the last prince of Hamshen, fled to the province of Sper where he barricaded himself.[7]

The Islamicization process of the Hamshens began in the 1700s. Many scattered to settlements along the Black Sea Coast – Trabzon, Ordu, etc – to avoid religious conversion. There are no records preserved from that period as to why and how they accepted Islam. All such information was recorded some 100-150 years afterwards.

The Christian Hamshen community began to migrate from Trebizond and other towns towards the Russian shores of the Black Sea in the 1860s (present-day Krasnodar and Abkhazia). During the 1915 Genocide, the Ottoman Turks launched a policy of exterminating the Christian Hamshens, a portion of which were able to flee to Russia.[8]

Hovann Simonian notes that according to the Ottoman files, the overwhelming majority of the population of Hamshen province was Christian until the late 1620s. During that period the Christians were heavily taxed by Constantinople. In 1609-1610 alone, the Hamshen province paid 7,090 kilos of honey and 2,660 kilos of beeswax in taxes. Taxes shot up 50% in 1626-1627. Simonian says that one of the likely reasons for the conversion to Islam was to avoid the onerous taxes levied on Christians. He also links the conversion to the weakening of the area’s Armenian Apostolic Church diocese. A manuscript written in Hamshen province in 1630 notes the absence of a bishop at the diocesan center of Khach‘ik Hawr (also known as Khach‘ek‘ar or Khach‘ik‘ear).

Further proof of the decline of the diocese is the absence of any record of scribal production in Hamshen province for almost the next 200 years, until 1812.

Despite its weakened state, Khach‘ik Hawr survived until 1915. It was registered as a church in the documents of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1913 and it is due to its presence that Christian Armenians lived in the nearby village of Eghiovit/Elevit until the “Great Calamity”. If you travel to this village, present-day Yaylaköy, located in the mountains some 35 kilometers from the center of Çamlihemsin, you will neither meet any Armenians nor find the ruins of Khach‘ik Hawr.[9]

During the 1900s, material on the Islamicization process started to be published and Levon Khachikyan comments on them. Ethnographer Sargis Haykuni describes the forced religious conversion of Armenians along the Karadere (Black River) near the Hamshen province in a series of articles entitled “Lost and Forgotten Armenians, Black River Dwellers” published in the journal Ararat in 1895.

- After two foiled attempts the Janissaries, under the direction of religious mullahs, were finally able to overpower Torosli, a Karadere village putting up the strongest resistance. The invaders killed resistance leader Der Garabed and all his followers. “The bewildered Armenian people were looking to Der Garabed when one of the mullahs smote his sword upon the priest’s head. The priest raised his arms in defense and they were chopped off. A second and third blow followed. The blood flowed and the priest fell to the ground. The other mullahs immediately began to hack up the body in order to instill fear in the Armenians. Most of the people resisted the Turkish mob and rejected their offers. The bodies of those who did toppled upon the remains of the good priest. A massacre broke out on all sides; women and children fell under the sword blows.” He then writes that the mullahs did the same in one hundred other villages. “Some had already fled, others were massacred. There were those who renounced their faith to escape the peril awaiting them.” Those who fled took the remains of Der Garabed and buried them in the village of Kalafka. There, Der Garabed’s son was ordained a priest himself, taking the name of his father. The son vowed that succeeding generations of the family would always provide a priest with the name Der Garabed who would secretly visit Karadere once a year to console the people. The vow was interrupted in the 1820s. The tradition was picked up by Davlashian Der Garabed, from another family, who in the 1840s preached and distributed myuron (holy water) to the Islamicized Armenians in Karadere and Hemshin communities.

Sargis Haykuni says that the Christian faith was kept by the old women. During a visit to the Hamshen region in 1878 he asked residents how they identified themselves.

- I asked one elderly man, “Why have you become a Turk?”

- He was a good-natured Muslim who, with a brooding face, began to relate the feats of marvel performed by Mahmet. I took an old woman aside and asked her the same question. Making the sign of the cross she whispered, “Let me die for the Armenian faith”[10]

Khachikyan also notes that Poghos Tumayian in his 1899 The Armenians of the Pontos: Geographic and Political Situation of Trebizond refers to a diary that tells about the forced Islamicization of Karadere. Khachikyan personally saw the diary and based on it cites 1780 as the year of Karadere’s Islamicization.[11]

One segment of the Hamshens migrated from Hamshen proper to the Hopa region some 250 years ago in the mid 1700s.

Khachikyan notes that the Islamicization of the Hopa area Hamshens happened at approximately the same time. He bases this conclusion on an article published by Grigor Artsruni in 1887 in which it says that they became Muslim “60-100 years ago”; in other words 1780-1820.[12]

Turkish nationalist historiography states that the Hamshens are derived from Turkish tribes from Central Asia or elsewhere. However, no corroborating sources are cited. One such example is the 2006 doctoral dissertation of Tupa Aslan entitled “Social Structure and Cultural Identity of the Hamshens” delivered at Istanbul University’s Institute of Sociological Sciences.

Aslan writes: “In the past, the Hamshens, living in the same area with Armenians and following the same faith of Armenians in the eastern Black Sea region, are associated with the Armenian identity today. In reality, the Hamshens are descendants of the Christian Turkish Parthev (Parthian) nation. They came from Horasan in the 7th century CE and settled in the eastern Black Sea area where they lived self-sustained until the founding of the Ottoman dynasty. As for the Armenians, one portion left before and one part after the Ottoman dynasty.”[13] This nationalist Turkish view also holds sway over a certain segment of Turkish-speaking and Armenian-speaking Hamshens.”

- 8 March, 2012
Shield, dear, what a miracle I made a stupid I live arevd.

Levik - 8 March, 2012
Very interesting story!

Serob - 9 March, 2012
Very good ashatank is, thank you, will follow to continue.

Boar and Media (Amsterdam) - 10 March, 2012
Not the "pillar-Muslim", but the Sunni (i), Muslim (sunni).

Varuzhan Avetisyan - 10 March, 2012
Dear Vahan Professor Levon Yepiskoposyane studied the genetic code and Armenians came to call matching the blood of our results.

levik - 10 March, 2012
Varaz is correct - the Armenian equivalent should read Sunni ....

CAT - 10 March, 2012
Wonderful piece that recognises diversity. For me, this was the best bit: "They pray like Muslims, are Turkish nationalists, but when they get drunk say that their grandfathers were Armenians". Yes, all our great ancesters were someone else!

raymond - 12 March, 2012
Great article. Maybe studying Western Armenian would have helped the author. I have been to Hamshem and could understand 60% of their language without a background in Turkish. Its sad that many in Armenia so openly dismiss things such as other Armenian dialects. These dialects denote a once vast empire.

Jack Kalpakian- 16 March, 2012
Erdogan has a good question, and he is owed an honest answer. There are several reasons why Armenians would not want to have anything to do with his community. First, under Ottoman law, the relationship is that of inequality with the Armenian being in an inferior position to the Hamshen Muslim, while that may something Armenians would accept if the other party was an armed non-Armenian power, it is harder to be in that situation from one's own kin. Second, Ottoman law made it a crime to discuss religion with Muslims, and not that Armenians would want to necessarily do so with the Hamshen, but that could be used as a charge against Armenians leading to prison; as with the Cherkess, a Hamshen with debts to an Armenian could blackmail him with the charge of preaching Christianity. Third, the Armenian community defined itself in religious and ethnic terms, and Armenians are Armenian by choice as much as they are by birth. Converting to Islam means that you leave the community, and at that stage, the community has to treat you as an outsider. Sorry Mr. Erdogan, but you will find that the community your ancestors joined does the same. May you live long.

The Hamshen people today can be divided into three main groups:

1- The Sunni Muslim Armenian-speaking Hamshens, (Hopa-Hamshens) who live in the Hopa and Borçka regions of the Turkish province of Artvin and call themselves, Hamshetsi or Homshetsi. (Some remained in the Soviet Union after the border with Turkey was delineated in 1921 and now reside in Kyrgyzstan and Russia’s Krasnodar district)

2- Sunni Muslim Turkish-speaking Hamshens (Bash-Hamshens) who mostly live in the Turkish province of Rize and call themselves, Hamshil.

3- The Christian Armenian Hamshens, who live in Abkhazia and Russia’s Krasnodar District. They speak the Hamshen Armenian dialect as well.

There are also Muslim Armenian-speaking Hamshens around the city of Adapazari in the western Turkish province of Sakarya (near Istanbul), who fled Hopa during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.

“The Hamshens of Adapazari lead a dual life,” says Hamshen researcher Harun Aksu. “They pray like Muslims, are Turkish nationalists, but when they get drunk say that their grandfathers were Armenians.”

The Hamshens: Population Statistics

The Hopa-Hamshens, some 25,000 in all, live in 30 villages in the Borçka, and Hopa districts of Turkey’s Artvin province. Hamshens constitute more than half the 37,000 population of the Hopa district, including the sub-district of Kemalpasa.

Hopa-Hamshens and Bash-Hamshens live side by side in the western Black Sea province of Sakarya (in the provincial center of Adapazari and the districts of Kocaali and Karasu), where the number of Hopa and Bash Hamshens combined is around 10,000.

The total number of Armenian speaking Muslim Hamshens in the Turkish provinces of Artvin and Sakarya, and other cities, is about 30,000 – 35,000.

Hagop Hachikian’s statistics put the number of Bash-Hamshens living in Turkey’s Rize province at about 30,000.[14] Turkologist Lousineh Sahakyan cites 60,000 as the total number of Turkish-speaking Hamshens.[15]

Today, many Hopa-Hamshens and Bash-Hamshens live in the Black Sea towns of Trabzon, Samsun, Giresun and Ordu. They not only have dispersed to Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir but as far as Germany and the United States.

“There’s a sheepskin in every Hamshen house,” says Harun, who lifts the pelt hanging from the door and spreads it on the floor. “They kneel on it and recite the namaz ,” he says and kneels to pray.

Harun is a left-wing atheist and often ridicules religion. He tells me that some Christian missionaries had come from Armenia to “bring them back” to the correct path. They irritated him. “We were able to get free of one religion and now they want to burden us with another.”

“Harun, I’m an atheist as well,” I say. It turns out we have more in common than just speaking Armenian. But he’s a Muslim atheist and they are circumcised. Of course, that has nothing to do with faith; it’s more tradition. Like it or not, I’m probably a Christian atheist. Who knows? No matter; religion disappears and what remains is the language.

In the village of Kayaköy (former Sana), near the town of Kemalpasa, there are 130 households with a population of 500. Film director Özcan Alper was born here.

63 year-old Cemal Vayiç, (the father-in-law of Hopa researcher Cemil Aksu) says that the village goes back some 500 years. It was first populated with aghas and then the Hamshens settled there. The aghas oppressed the Hamshen and later, when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, the state forced all to live in harmony. There are just bits and pieces of oral accounts of the village’s history.

There is no history regarding any of the villages of the Hopa-Hamshen. You will never be able to verify when the Hamshens migrated to Hopa, why they moved, and what were the names of the first settlers. Maybe there are some documents in the Ottoman archives.

The sheepskin is Cemal’s prayer rug.

- Do you pray – I ask
- Once a week
- How do you deal with the fact that your daughter is an atheist?

- Just fine. There’s no coercion in this house.

On our first day in Hopa, we were sitting in an open-air tea house with our Turkish colleagues, Cemil Aksu, President of the Bir Yasam (One Life) Cultural and Environmental Organization, and Harun Aksu. We were discussing the project and decided to leave for Sana that same day. We were headed to see Teciye, the mother of Cemil’s wife Nurcan, who is a master of Hamshen cuisine.

The women prepared for the meal by first spreading a tablecloth on the floor. The table itself, a round one with very short legs, is then placed atop the cloth. We sat on the floor, in the round, and partook from a communal plate containing yaghaloush – the basic Hamshen meal. It’s a dish of curds and onion fried in oil and resembles fried cheese with its sharp tang. Other dishes included dolma, etc. But the new strange flavor was so enticing that you didn’t want to ruin it by eating the other dishes. My hand had a mind of its own, constantly dipping bread into the yaghaloush for me to devour. When was the last time I actually ate a meal with my hands?

And the khavitz... This too was unlike the sweet flour khavitz I was used too. It was made of flour, corn meal, cream and oil, but it wasn’t sweet like the stuff back home. So, Armenians and Hamshens have something in common when it comes to food as well.

Teciye sings a Hamshen song when adding spices to the food.

Chakhe gouka tadis gou / Rain is falling, you are working
Megan tsak lmanis gou / You look like a little mouse
Chanchaghane kednive / Above the River Chanchaghane
Otket pobik trchis gou / You are running barefoot

“We didn’t convert to Islam overnight,” says Cemal Vayiç. “Religion was used as a means to get ahead. Those families with an imam got on the good side with the authorities.”

Nonetheless, religiosity never became deeply rooted and according to Cemil Aksu there are only two Hopa mullahs in the entire area.

So, who are the Hamshens in terms of nationality?
Cemal Vayiç: The Hamshens are descended from Armenians. If Armenians interact with us more often, we will be able to improve our language skills.”

“I consider myself Hamshen,” says Cemal Vayiç. “We knew that language as young kids and want to preserve it. We aren’t renouncing our identity. I will live as a Hamshen till the end. We know that the Hamshens are descended from Armenians. If Armenians visit and relate with us more often, we will be able to improve our language skills.”

- When did you find out that the Hamshens have Armenian roots?

- I always knew. Even fifty years ago. Sure, we learnt about it in secret, but we knew. We just couldn’t openly declare that our language was Armenian.

- Why?

- At the very least, anyone who said they had Armenian roots was thrown in jail.

Was there ever an incident when a Hamshen was arrested just for saying that he/she was of Armenian extraction? No one wanted to risk an answer. Harun spoke of an incident in 1982 when an ASALA activist had been arrested. They showed him on TV and the guy spoke a few words in Armenian. In an open-air cafe a Hamshen named Tahsin Alper said, “Geez, the guy is one of us.” Alper was thrown in jail just for uttering the word “us”. Alper was a heavy drinker and died years ago.

Khachatur Terteryan assisted in the research work.
Photos by Anahit Hayrapetyan
Translated by Hrant Gadarigian

[1] Translator’s Note: To simplify, the term “Hamshen” will be used both as an adjective {Hamshen Armenians, Hamshen Armenian dialect, as well as a noun {the Hamshens, Hopa-Hamshens etc. unless otherwise noted. The Hamshen Armenian dialect is commonly referred to as “Hamshesnak” or “Homshestma” in most academic texts.

[2] Ghevont, History (Yerevan: Sovetakan grogh,1982)

[3] Levon Khachikyan, Ejer hamshenahye patmutyunic (“Works” Vol. 2)

[4] Hovhan Mamikonyan, Taroni patmutyun ( Yerevan: Sovetakan grogh, 1989)

[5] Ibid. Vardan Vardanyan’s preface

[6] Levon Khachikyan’s work was published several times, including, Hay azgagrutyun yev banahuysutyun, Vol 13 (Yerevan: Academy of Sciences, 1981) I have used Ashkhatutyunner, Vol, 2, 1999, as the final version.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “The Hemshin: History, society, and identity in the Highlands of Northeast Turkey”, Edited by Hovann H. Simonian (Routledge, London and New York, 2007)

[10] Sargis Haykuni, ‘Nshkharner: Korats u Mo?ats‘uats Hayer’ [Fragments: Lost and Forgotten Armenians], Ararat (Vagharshapat, 1895),

[11] Levon Khachikyan, Ejer hamshenahye patmutyunic (“Works” Vol. 2, Gandzasar Theological Center, Yerevan, 1999)

[12] Ibid

[13]Cemil Aksu, Hopa researcher, gave me the entire dissertation thesis

[14] “The Hemshin: History, society, and identity in the Highlands of Northeast Turkey”, Edited by Hovann H. Simonian (Routledge, London and New York, 2007)

[15] Lusine Sahakyan, “Frequently fraudulent and exaggerated statistics regarding the numbers of Hamshentsi are circulated” (Asbarez; June 8, 2011)

Basoba: Armenian Songs and Strong Tea

Photo caption: Mukhi: It’s a very good thing being Hamshen, but being a Turk is also good. There’s no difference.

On the way up through the village, Harun stopped the car and picked up Mehmed who was returning from namaz prayer. “Yeah, he’s a good man but goes to the mosque to pray,” says Harun. Mehmed didn’t respond. But when Mehmed found out that we were from Armenia, he immediately remembered his army buddy. “I was serving in the army. One time, out of nowhere, a word in our language escaped my lips. The sergeant told me to say something else. I did. He then told me, ‘you’re my brother’. I was flabbergasted. Until then, I didn’t know what an Armenian was or that the language we spoke was Armenian. The sergeant, Kemal Çakiz was from Istanbul. We remained friends for the rest of my army stint and keep in touch today.” (Armenians serving in the Turkish army change their names to avoid any unwanted repercussions.-author)
Basoba: Lowering goods down the cliff by rope.
This time winter firewood.

Basoba (former Khigoba) is the village where Cemil and Harun Aksu were born. It’s the ancestral village of the Aksu family. Many believe that the Hopa-Hamshens originally lived in Basoba and later spread out to other villages. It’s a community of 250 homes – 2,000 residents in all of which 600 can vote. They’re all Hamshens. Harun’s wooden house is one of the oldest in the village – dating back some 160 years.

Mehmed, or Mukhi, the name he’s commonly called, has a work record covering all the main jobs of the Hamshens but one. He started out as a hoyiv (hoviv – shepherd) and moved on to become a bread-baker and then a worker in a tea factory. He’s yet to work as a freight driver.

We were greeted by Sevim, Mukhi’s wife. Upon entering the house, we took off our shoes and walked on the rugs inside. This is the custom in all Hamshen homes and throughout Turkey in general. (Even in Armenia, until the 1970s, there were homes in which slippers were placed at the door; a polite reminder to visitors to remove their shoes. My mother would tell visitors to our home who wanted to remove their shoes don’t to bother. Gradually, this custom faded away.- author)

Sevim sings in the Hamshen dialect:

Maa, aakak, maa / Sun, the time has come to set
Goungi mi dzovoun vaan / Don’t rest atop the sea
Yesa hedet egoghoum / I too will come with you
Goungadzim gharbis vaan / I stand on my word

There are other well-known Hamshen ditties where the word ander (forsaken/abandoned, itinerant/drifter) is the leitmotif. While there are Armenian and Turkish versions, the Armenian ander shows up in both.

Dere derunligule ander / The stream, in its depth, ander
Irmak serunlugile ander / The river, in it coolness, ander
Yürüdün mü sevdugum ander / Did you walk, my dear, ander?
Yürüdün mü sevdugum / In the coolness of the morn, ander?
Ka ashoune kaana ander / Hey girl, when autumn comes, ander
Dondetsan khavogh kagha ander / Pick some grapes from the pear tree, ander
Da yes kezi arnogh chim ander / Boy, I won’t go with you, ander
Istersin ver-ver khagha ander / I don’t care what you do, ander

Anahit, with her professional photographic equipment, and I with my cell phone, record these Hamshen songs. The daughter-in-law serves tea, tea and more tea. It has to be the favorite drink along the Turkish sea coast. Walk into any store, even for a few minutes, and a glass of tea is set down before you – dark-bodied tea with a pleasing tang.

Sevim, 56, and Mukhi, 67, have five children; three boys and two girls. They’ve all married Hopa-Hamshens. One son lives in Çanakkale, near the Dardanelles; the other two in the town Hopa. One daughter has stayed in the village and the other resides in Kemalpasa. It’s rare for a Hamshen to marry a Turkish speaker.

“In the past, it would be impossible for a Hamshen to marry an outsider. There were four daughters and three brothers in our family. My father kept us in the village and all of us married Hamshens,” says Sevim. “Today, times have changed. Outside marriages are possible.”

“If one of your relatives married an outsider, how would you react?” I ask Sevim.

“If they love one another let them marry, no problem,” she answers.

Sevim started to realize that she understood some words in the language I and Khachik were conversing in. One of the Hamshens asked if tea grows in Armenia. In my best Hamshen-like language I responded – che, chai menk chounink (no we have no tea). Sevim began to laugh. Menk chounink gosa, toun al Hamshen es (that’s how we say it, you too are Hamshen).

“Mukhi; who are the Hamshens?” I ask.

“It’s a very good thing being Hamshen, but being a Turk is also good. There’s no difference.”

Cemil chimes in, “We shouldn’t do like the Turks who force us to say in school that I am a Turk, I am righteous, a hard worker, that my main mission is to respect my elders, love children, etc. Hamshens prefer not to describe themselves.”

In Basoba Hadji Süleyman: “We are Turks”

Harun tells us that Mukhi’s father doesn’t speak Homshetsma because he considers it the infidel’s language. I ask if we can meet the father. They tell me that he’s sick in bed and doesn’t want strangers to see him in that state.

Thus, we decide to meet another village religious elder – Hadji Süleyman Cinkaya.

Hadji is the only male in the house. He’s lying on the bed. All the women are busy working as one.

“Eh...I walked up the ladder of life to the very top. Now I’m on the way down. Who knows how this story will end,” says Hadji Süleyman, slowly rising from the bed.

The man is between 90 and 100 years old. He can’t say for sure when he was born. All he remembers is that when the modern Turkish state was founded in 1923, he was about ten. Some officials came around asking for his birthday. They wrote something approximate down in the records.

Hadji Süleyman clearly recollects the most joyous days of his life, when he went to Mecca on pilgrimage. That was thirty years ago. He went by bus and it was packed. “I was the only one from our village. But there were five from Kemalpasa, a few from Çavuslu and one from Koyuncu (all Hamshen villages). I felt overjoyed to have gone.”

In bygone years, pilgrims would trek to Mecca on foot, battling the elements and the desert. Today, the preferred means is by bus.

Süleyman’s grandfather was also born in Basoba. As to what happened before, the old man talked about three brothers of the semi-legendary Galatal clan who migrated to the area and founded the village. One was short in stature and nicknamed Kota and his descendants are called kotayetsi. (I could find no information on the brothers or Galatal) In the end, the clan divided into ten sub-families, each having a mill.

Hadji Süleyman: “We are Turks”

On the way to Hadji’s house, Harun was saying, “Just watch. He’ll tell you that the Hamshens are a Turkish race from Central Asia who came here, interacted with Armenians, and learnt their language. That’s how it all happened. Only Süleyman doesn’t remember where they came from.”

When Hadji Süleyman found out that our Khachik was an Armenian from Istanbul, the old man took his hand in a warm embrace and began talking. “Ha, you’re from Stambul?” He didn’t even notice me giving questions to Khachik in a semi-familiar language to translate. Then he detected my presence, turned to me, and asked where I was from. When I answered, from Armenia, Hadji frowned. He turned away and continued his friendly conversation with Khachik.

“Fine, who are the Hamshens and where are they from?” Harun asks.

Hadji related that a drought came over their country, forcing the inhabitants to leave. He said he can’t remember the name of the country, only that they when they reached Ardahan, a green and fertile land, they knew they had found a new home. Later, they moved to Çamlihemsin, but much snow fell there as well. So they descended to the sea and much later came to these parts.

“Are you and the people of Çamlihemsin the same?” I ask.

“Of course; we’re the same people.”

“Where does the Hamshen language come from?”

“We lived in the highlands, grazing sheep and goats. Those others (Hadji points to me and Khachik, i.e. Armenians) preferred to live on the coast. The Hamshens would cut wood and the Armenians would come and buy it. They were merchants. The others were skilled craftsmen and many Hamshens went to work for them. Thus, over time, we learnt Armenian. We took their language but that’s all. We aren’t Armenian but another race.”

- So what language did you speak before that - I ask.
- I can’t say what we spoke. We are a different race.
- Turkish?
- Hadji momentarily ponders my question and somewhat hesitatingly answers – Yes.

As we were leaving, Hadji held out the palms of his two hands firmly. “Let us forget whatever has happened, or not happened, between our two peoples in the past, so that we can now live as friends.”

Truck driver Aytekin: Give Karabakh back so that we can live together

“Let me tell you something. Give Karabakh back so that we can live together,” says Aytekin, nibbling on chestnuts like they munch on sunflower seeds in Armenia. Walking through Hopa, we came across a group of people near a cart selling chestnuts. Learning that we were Armenian, they stopped us. They were Hamshen drivers and a few had been to Armenia. Aytekin has also driven freight trucks to Armenia and has picked up a smattering of the local lingo as a result. I buy a bag of chestnuts to munch on and the crowd gets bigger.

“How can we give Karabakh back? What about the people there?” I say.

“NO, no. Give it back so that this problem will end and we can live normally together.”

“And what nationality are you?”

“I’m a Turk,” says Aytekin without hesitation.

“So how come you speak in this language?”

“There were Armenians here in the past. We lived together, intermarried, and learnt the language.”

His friend, Ahmed, begins laughing.

“Why is it that we haven’t learnt normal Turkish till now, nor Laz? We only learnt Armenian.”

At this, another friend gets into the conversation,

“You got it all wrong. We knew this language all along. The Armenians learnt it from us.”


Hamdi Yildiz, a former mullah, is sitting on the floor next to the stove. He’s complaining that moral standards are disintegrating. He talks about girls who have no shame wearing clothes that reveal their arms and legs, about men and women dancing together in locked embrace. Harun asks what the problem is and the man answers – temptation. Harun then asks if dancing pinky-to-pinky, Hamshen style, also isn’t enticing.

We go to attend a wedding in Çamurlu (formerly Çançagan), a village near Kemalpasa. Everyone is speaking in Turkish at the house of Abdullah Yilmaz, as we wait for the ceremony when the bride to be taken away. Not one word in Hamshen. I’m constantly nudging Khachik to interpret.
Hamdi: No, we are not Armenian.

“So what if we do a circle dance and my pinky touches that of my sister or someone else. It only expresses our closeness. Nothing more enters our mind,” says Harun.

The topic of conversation is about the origins of the Hamshens. While Harun and Yildiz are giving their version of Hamshen identity, homeowner Abdullah turns to me and says, “They talk a lot. Whether we’re Armenian or not it’s all the same. No one knows. In any case, we won’t leave this place.”

“No, we are not Armenian. We came from Persia and first lived in the mountains. They we came down to this area,” says Hamdi.

“In reality, we are from a pure Turkish tribe,” says another, backing up what Hamdi just said. “There were three brothers in the beginning and one settled in Çamlihemsin, one in Hopa and the other in Ardashen. Before that we lived in the Van region.”

“So what happened that we started to speak Hamshen?” Harun asks.

“We took girls from the Armenians as brides and learnt their language,” Hamdi says.

“We are neither Turks nor Armenians. We’re Hamshentsi” Harun Aksu: Hamshens are descended from Armenians but are now Hamshen. If someone says that Hamshens are Armenians and another that they are Turks, these two assertions merely melt the Hamshens.

“For the past 40 years we’ve learnt Turkish. Before that, we didn’t know the language. How was it that, as Turks, we didn’t know Turkish but learnt Armenian?” Harun asks. Hamdi and the others listened in amazement. “It’s ridiculous to think that an entire people would change their language just by taking a few brides. True, we aren’t Armenian but Hamshens. We are, however, descended from Armenians. 400 years ago we were one and the same nation.”

On the last day before returning to Armenia, I ask Harun again – who are the Hamshens?

Here’s his response:

- Well, I tell both Armenian and Turkish nationalists that we, Armenians and Hamshens, were one tree and we turned into paper. That paper can burn and disappear. Hamshens are descended from Armenians but are now Hamshen. If someone says that Hamshens are Armenians and another that they are Turks, these two assertions merely melt the Hamshens. Given that historical records about the community and society are so scare, almost non-existent, a separate identity has evolved; that of the Hamshen.

- There are two types of Hamshen – Christian and Muslim. The Christians say they are Armenian. The Muslims regard themselves as Hamshentsi and that’s the view I support. It’s the paper I defend today, so it will not disappear. I do not want it to burn up. The tree wasn’t so threatened, but the paper is. A strong wind can blow it away. I am not against scientific research. The Armenians says this, the Turk say that. My overriding goal is to preserve the culture.

42 year-old Harun Aksu goes around archiving Hamshen songs, traditions, folklore, etc. He has a few published articles on the subject in the journal Bir Yasam.

“Do you identify yourself with the Turkish-speaking Hamshens?” I ask.

“Yes, I identify with the Hamshens of Çamlihemsin, Kyrgyzstan and Krasnodar. They are closely related. But I don’t identify with those from Abkhazia since we split apart a few hundred years ago. We don’t share the same values.”

“Why isn’t there any organized collaboration amongst Muslim Hamshens?”

“The more we become like those from Çamlihemsin, we’re still far removed. Let’s face it, we split from them some 250 years ago.”

A Fading Legacy: The Hoyiv’s (Shepherds)

In Hopa’s Hayteh Bar the bartender pulls out a kaval (end blown flute; Armenian – bloul) from somewhere and hands it to Harun.

“I’ll tell you who’s a Hamshen. He’s a shepherd,” said Harun and begins to play the kaval. The shepherding past of the Hamshens lives on in the music only. Sitting in the bar drinking beer and raki, (an anise-flavored hard alcoholic drink) Harun tells us about life in the mountains and the disappearing traditions of sheepherding.

And there’s also the circle dance. Every evening, in the Hayteh Bar’s smoky and dimly lit upstairs hall, young people noisily and energetically dance the horon, the mountain circle dance of their forefathers, to the accompaniment of kaval, bagpipe (tulum) and guitar.

The Hamshens were shepherds. What remains from that culture are the kaval music and the yayla – the summer traditional grazing areas up in the highlands where the Hamshens now go to beat the heat, rather than to graze livestock.

Large livestock farms have done away with the smaller flocks of the shepherds. The Hamshens have traded in their shepherd’s crock for the car wheel. Most of the men I met worked as drivers of one sort. Many are employed in tea production.

“There are large farms with 20,000 – 25,000 head of sheep. It no longer makes sense to raise animals,” says Kayaköy resident Cemal Vayiç who works at the Kemalpasa tea factory.

Most of the villagers make a living from tea. Cemal tells me that the average annual revenue is about 15,000-20,000 Turkish lira (about $10,000).

Due to urbanization and modernization, from the 1960s onwards, many Hamshens started to move down into the towns (Kemalpasa, Hopa) and then to the larger cities - Istanbul, Ankara, etc.

Population in the villages is decreasing from census to census. Today, many Hamshens have three residences – the yayla (former grazing lands), kegh-gyugh (place of birth) and charshi/tzap-dzovap (the city). (Çarsi means market/bazaar in Turkish)

Memories of the sheepherding past remain fresh amongst the elderly. Before that, the memories are sketchy. What were they doing before grazing sheep in the Artvin Mountains and why did the Hamshen people leave Hamshen proper for Hopa? Did they convert to Islam after arriving in Hopa or before? When did they arrive?
Picking tea leaves The granary of Harun Aksu

On this topic Hovann Simonian writes:

- The date of the migration of the Hemshinli (Hamshens) to the districts of Hopa (Khopa, central district) and Makrial or Makriali (the present-day Kemalpasa district of the Hopa county), to the east of Hemshin, remains unknown. According to T‘o?lak‘yan, who estimates that 10 to 15 per cent of the total population of Hemshin moved to Hopa, the migration took place during the second half of the 17th century. The same approximate date is given by Minas Gasapian. ( Barunak Torlakyan, ‘Drvagner Hamshenahayeri Patmut‘yunits‘ ’ [Episodes from the History of Hamshen Armenians], 1981)

- Russian sources indicate a later date of settlement, around 1780 for N. N. Levashov, and the early nineteenth century for E. K. Liuzen. The latter was told in 1905 by an elderly Hemshinli woman that her ancestors had come to the Makrial district a century before. (N. N. Levashov, ‘Zamietka o pogranichnoi linii i zonie, na razstoianii ot berega Chernagomoria do goroda Artvina (s kartoiu)’ [A Note on the Border Line and Zone, from the Coast of the Black Sea to the City of Artvin; Tiflis, 1880)

- A second and more perplexing issue is whether these people were already converted to Islam or still Christians at the time of their settlement in Hopa. Written and oral sources fail to provide any answer to this question.

- A study published recently in Turkey advances a radically new hypothesis on the question of the date of the migration to Hopa and the period of conversion of the Hopa Hemshinli. According to the author, Ali Gündüz, the migration took place in the early sixteenth century, during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Selim I. The Hemshinli, who were then still Christians, were settled as timariots (fief holders) in this borderland district to defend it against ‘Georgian and Abaza pirates’. Conversion would have taken place some 200 years later, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. (Ali Gündüz, Hemsinliler: Dil – Tarih – Kültür (Ankara: Ardanuç Kültür Yardimlasma Derneai, 2002)

- However, aside from the author’s failure to provide any proof to substantiate his claims, this theory, although interesting, presents a few problems. The first is that, with the exception of a small hamlet – now disappeared – called Little Hemshin, there are no Armenian toponyms in Hopa and Makrial, but only Lazi and Turkish ones, which would tend to indicate a relatively recent date of migration.

- The second is that unlike their Laz, and particularly Ajar neighbors – whose warlike character was widely reported – little is known about any military tradition among the Hopa Hemshinli. Had Hemshinli timariots existed in Hopa they would have probably evolved, like timar holders elsewhere in the Pontos, into derebeys towards the end of the seventeenth century, following the breakdown of central administration. Yet Hemshin derebeys or aghas are unheard of in Hopa, where Hemshin appeared to have been relatively poor and not to have owned much land. In an early twentieth century article on the region, they are described as tilling fields belonging to the Laz.

- It was not for being wealthy landowners, but for their activity as pastoralists and their practice of transhumance, that Hopa Hemshinli were mostly known in nineteenth-century reports by Russian and other European travelers. In the summer, they took their flocks to yaylas located in the Vavvet area, relatively far from their villages. The men dressed like Ajars, with turbans wrapped around their heads, while women dressed similarly to Kurds. According to Liuzen, they were taken for Kurds throughout the entire Artvin region because of their way of life, and people were surprised to learn that they spoke Armenian. (Liuzen “Bereg Russkago Lazistana”):

- According to an article published in 1888, the Hopa Hemshin numbered 600 households, divided between 423 families in Turkey and 177 in Russia – compared to a figure of around 2,200 households for the traditional, or Bash Hemshin area.
Hopa chestnut seller

- It is likely that this marginal existence as pastoralists allowed for the survival of the Armenian language in the Hopa/Makrial region. The Hopa Hemshinli were too unimportant to be a cause of worry, and they were certainly not worth the same type of government pressure – involving the opening of Turkish schools and missionary activity by mullahs – that contributed to the abandonment of Armenian in Karadere. In addition, provincial secular and religious authorities, as Russian officials in later times, may simply not have been aware of or even have suspected that this small Muslim community, which some believed to be Kurdish, was actually Armenian speaking. A second possible reason for the preservation of the Armenian language lies in the absence of economically induced migrations among the Hopa Hemshinli, who did not share the economic mobility of their compatriots in Bash Hemshin (i.e. Hemshin proper, to distinguish the original Hemshin district from Hopa Hemshin).

- An estimated 200 Hopa Hemshin households in the vicinity of Makrial (now Kemalpasa) passed under the dominion of Tsarist Russia as a result of the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War. Thus, for the first time since the Ottoman conquest in the 1480s, a number of the descendants of Hamshen Armenians found themselves under the rule of a Christian power. In the following years, however, the Hamshen made no attempt to return to their former religion. This is probably explained by the fact that they had converted to Islam much earlier.

- It is also interesting to examine the attitude of the Armenian Church and Armenian society in general regarding Islamicized Armenians. In 1887, Grigor Artsruni, the renowned publisher of the Tiflis Armenian language newspaper Mshak, chastised Armenian Church authorities in an editorial for their carelessness and indifference towards Islamicized Armenians. He invited the Armenian Church to establish a missionary organization to work with the Islamicized Armenians of the regions annexed to Russia in 1878.Yet his demands went unheeded, and the Armenian Church made no effort to proselytize among Muslims of Armenian extraction.[1]

Haykazoun Alvrtsyan, Director of the Western Armenian Research Center, told me that the Hopa-Hamshens retained their dialect due to their incorporation into the Russian Empire.

[1] “The Hemshin: History, society, and identity in the Highlands of Northeast Turkey”, Edited by Hovann H. Simonian (Routledge, London and New York, 2007)


thank you very much for thoses wonderfull information.it is great news to read. thank you again.
9 March, 2012

Levik - 9 March, 2012
So how does the wider Armenian world assist the Hamshens retain their unique cultural identity, especially the language, without raising alarm bells in Ankara. Perhaps Armenians, especially those with ulterior motives, should not get involved at all ...

10 March, 2012
Mr. Manvelyan 00:36 - 10 March, 2012
Vahan Thank you, very interesting article: Internet-in after a little searching I found that there is hamshentcies Forum: http://www.hamshen.org/forum/

Boar and Media (Amsterdam) - 10 March, 2012
Armenians are a lot of interesting and sometimes controversial articles about this interesting and information in the articles of this author, but I would like to know the following: Armenians living in Turkey on a regular basis and sometimes repeating this all the articles written by the authors, what aim? net information? POLITICS? ...? In other words, these articles SPECIFIC WHAT they want to achieve? Maybe this is the ethnographer's not going to answer that, but anyway.

Jean Jaques Bagrationi
- 10 March, 2012
... Our church has Never done anything good ... yet. All the time the priests, bishops and the rest think about Money and nothing else. If the church, in the past, had sent ONE priest to our kin in current day Turkey, today we would have had Christian Hamshens. But hey, our church has become a den of corrupted money changers.

Vigen Nazarian - 10 March, 2012
I have been reading these articles with great interest, not that it is new to me, far from it I have read many research papers, and articles from so called Armenologists from USA. and their conclusions. I do hope that at the end of this series of articles, which, for me in anycase, are getting a little worn down. we will get to read Vahan Ishkhanyan's conclusions. as I am exited to hear what an atheist Armenian's view of the subject is.

Boar and Media (Amsterdam) - 11 March, 2012
- Armenia is not a political, economic, or at least there is not, then who is so often and in detail about the meaning of Hamshency writing? A few tens of thousands of people TRKATSATS that VERBAL preserve some elements of the library then? Chalmanere tied women, men, trkakentsakh Then, Hamshenians could speak the language, but their VERBAL language / dialect of the language are similar to some of the words: ...................... .................................................. , so Hamshen - Hamshen that you do, we will begin to send their spies among the Nagorno Karabakh / Armenia, as a "Go" if Hamshenians of them really are, let's be the RETURN or beer is not easy and if your head and hot pipe pches papd or plan - pstanyand Hay was then? That's what? We are living now, but in no way, that was the papd.

"Then, Hamshenians could speak the language, but their VERBAL language / dialect of the language are similar to some of the words:" So, Varaz Suny, except kaghakakanaget lezuaget had come to be now is a miracle. Varaz me, when I yerbek Hopa, these people never JUSTICE kas with the same unfounded and should not zarmantsni antegheak tramabanuteamb me if pndes Kesap lezunn Al Armenian is not that what is said to be the return of more than one of these hayakhos Hamshentsi be noted that foreign banks than in the Diaspora kese kortsntsutsats to live everything - language, culture .. a word, their identity in a half ... I already can be considered as an estranged misk, have no idea ... about the history of their nation, their armtneri about Hamshenians to one, even if you do not know that their two tasneak khosatse Armenian. Now, many, especially young people, want veragtnel their roots will be better that you do not like to deal with.

clear of people - 12 March, 2012
Attaboy, Varaz Syuni, I agree completely with you on this issue is really anlrjutyan and mankamtutyan peak in short-term and long-term solution to a vital national issues have fallen to the Turks or non-formatted mankamitnern trkatsats Hamshen are khaghatsnum. Information for all non-formatted childish rebelliousness inknagortsnerin such activity, if indeed it is necessary and useful, should be engaged in a silent and secret, but because this case involved a childish, naive and lacks the wisdom of the amateur level, this would be the result. Armenians, dear, when it nation mature, become more wise and reasonable, then the interests of our neighbors and their opponents with the knsten is it so difficult to understand how this world is the only khente I need to bring order to the state institutions, rights and responsibilities improve, or at least tolerable sotsyalakan questions to the state, working to resolve the issue, and hayavayel human living conditions for everyone, it's our priority issues, rather than to study the tender ..... And if some people are suffering, then let them go, and our heroic News from the world and the village at a time study. Vosumnasiren what lionhearted the quality of heroic mothers in the highlands, which over the centuries and countless and countless clever and courageous hersner to generate increased. that we had lost the bag and chgnahatelu the legend continues to be painful. Living learn, live, stand up and become stronger day after day in history, but mistakes can never forgive. Be Good.

Rustam- 12 March, 2012
To Viken Nazaryan ... What exactly is your question (s) for Vahan Ishkhanyan. Conclusions regarding what exactly? Define yourself a bit more clearly!!! The Hamshens exist, they call themselves Hamshens, many acknowledge they have Armenian roots and many want to explore those roots ... So what's the problem??

Mr. Manvelyan 11:32 - 13 March, 2012
it is clear in man-Miabanutiun: Do not politicize everything. Vahan Ishkhanyan a journalist and in my opinion an interesting article on his readers to prepare for each item will be interesting to all the good you can get a bread baker said tkhi more engaged in public structures in order to:

Jack Kalpakian - 13 March, 2012
The Hamshen discourse is an attempt to regenerate an "Armenian" community where none actually exists - it fits the AKP strategy and policy towards Armenians quite well. Under this paradigm, there was no Genocide because these Muslims are descendants of Armenians, you see. Whatever their origins or language, Muslim Hamshen are not Armenians, and consequently, they are outside the realm of interest to institutions serving Armenians such as the church. In fact, attempting to re-integrate into the Church them would be seen as hostile action by Muslims and would have been a violation of their human rights. They made their choices, and they chose to be outside Armenianity; let us respect that before it is used against us as it appears it will be.

harz of people - 14 March, 2012
Dear Mr. Manvelyan, I do not politicize the issue, and I have no objection against our dear Hamshen Vahan Ishkhanyan unenm tendency to underestimate the work done, I'm just trying to distinguish and prioritize yerkrordakanits all focus on priority issues. I repeat, if some wish to study, then let them go, and our heroic Artsakh world and make the village at a time study. Vosumnasiren what lionhearted the quality of these heroic mothers live in Highland, which unnumbered and innumerable centuries gave birth intelligent and courageous heroes and raised, but we had lost the bag morbid chgnahatelu and the legend will continue. dear Brethren, we are finally human and hayavayel think, act and live to learn from history and become stronger day after day leg to stand on, but mistakes can never forgive. I hope , could clarify the question motetsums, and your example of a baker who is not is not relevant. Be Good.

Suren - 14 March, 2012
If this material has been prepared by National Geographic-way, and now I'd better, as one journalist was unable to do this work, others are engaged in seeking the roots of the Armenian identity. Hetazotaakan, journalistic and political goals should not necessarily work for a political purpose that have not been well examine, and here we read the National Geographic-quality work.

Communist Hopa: “I am Armenian. My history is my grandfather”

The Hayteh Bar in Hopa is one of those rare places where you won’t see a portrait of Ataturk.

“He’s my Ataturk,” says a communist Hamshentsi pointing to a photo of an old man, the communist Nuri Yasataghis; nicknamed “Doctor”.

Here, the word “communist” speaks more about conviction than party affiliation. In Turkey today, a Communist Party does indeed exist, but it is ridiculed by the left as a creation of the ruling regime in order to present a democratic face to the West.

Out of Hopa’s population of 17,000, some 7,000 are Hamshens, 7,000 are Laz, and the remainder is comprised of other ethnic groups.

As a Black Sea cultural city, the two narrow central thoroughfares of Hopa bustle with public life. Up and down the streets, men can be seen drinking tea, playing backgammon and getting a haircut. At the end of the street is the mosque from which a loudspeaker blares out the adhan (call to prayer). In the basement bars, you’ll come across prostitutes from former Soviet countries ready to gratify the needs of road-weary drivers.

If you have seen the film Autumn by Özcan Alper, a portion of which was shot in Hopa, you’ll experience déjà vu if you travel to Hopa in the fall. It’s all here – the rain, the cold sea winds, and the Georgian prostitutes. In contrast to the film, however, in which a Georgian flesh peddler calls relatives back home from a street telephone-box, she can now be seen angrily talking into a cell phone on the steps leading to a nightclub.

“Where can go to have a couple of quiet beers?” Khachik asks one of our Hamshen friends. He shakes his head, as if to say that we should avoid the nightclubs, and looks towards the upper floor of a building across from us. It’s the revolutionary Hayteh Bar owned by Harun Aksu.

Where does Mumi Yilmaz know us from? As soon as we step foot into the bar he holds out his hand in welcome and says – I’m also Armenian. We join them at a table - raki, tea, beer? Efes, the Turkish beer, is quite good. The three friends are drinking raki, which turns a milky white after they pour some water into their glasses.

“We know about your cause, we are of the same blood,” says Mumi exposing the veins on his arm. “We are brothers, we are all Armenian.”

His friend Naci was in Armenia fifteen years ago. He says that upon crossing the border into Armenia from Geogia, he knelt down and kissed the ground. Chuckling, he then adds, “American, Armenian, Georgia, Azerbaijani, they’re all human beings. There’s no problem other than the one in people’s heads.”

“How do you know that you’re Armenian? You don’t any of the history,” asks Harun after listening to Mumi.

These words sting Mumi. Later on, we go to a small store, sit on stools, and order some bottles of beer. Mumi can’t shake the rebuke leveled by Harun and responds in kind.

- Where does Harun get off saying such a thing? I don’t need to know the history to say that I’m Armenian. My grandfather is my history. He told me that it’s the truth. Whatever I know comes from him. My grandfather came down from the mountains to sell whatever he had, a bit of milk, oil, whatever. They caught him, called him Armenian, and bashed his head in. They stole his belongings, his horse, everything.

- Before, in the mountains, they made our life miserable. We were hungry. When we came down they beat us constantly. They singled us out as Armenians. But now we’ve come down and they can’t persecute us anymore.

When the shop owner found out that we were from Armenia, a change came over him. He didn’t grow sullen like Hadji Süleyman, on the contrary, his face started to glow. “Do they know about us over there?” he asked. Khachik told him that they didn’t know all that much. “Eh…we sold our religion. We sold our Christianity and became Muslims.”

Even those Hamshens who avoid calling themselves Armenian and who regard themselves as Turks can’t escape the scorn heaped upon them by the other peoples of the region who call them ermeni in contempt. “I don’t know why but they call us ermeni kök,” said a village woman from Çamurlu. (Ermeni kök – Armenian offspring)

While the Hamshentsi-Laz conflict has subsided, this insult against their grandparents remains a sore spot within the souls of the Hamshens.

There’s a paradox at work here. On the one hand, the Turkish state apparatus has for years creating historical myths to pry the Hamshens from their Armenian roots, while on the other hand, local authorities and residents, by calling them Armenian in derision and persecuting them, have not allowed them to totally forget their Armenian origins.

Just like Hadji Süleyman in Basoba clearly remembers going to Mecca on pilgrimage as the most joyous time of his life, neither can he remove from his mind the years of persecution. “The Laz wouldn’t let us enter Hopa. They threw stones at us,” the old man related. Mumi Yilmaz: “My history is my grandfather. My grandfather came down from the mountains to sell whatever he had. They caught him, called him Armenian, and bashed his head in. They stole his belongings, his horse, everything.”

He was saying that the Laz aghas, (clan chiefs), held sway over these lands where the Hamshens enjoyed no legal defense. “And what about the Hamshen aghas,” I ask. “There were no aghas, all of us worked. None of the families had aghas,” Süleyman says.

The Hamshens had two ways out – to resist and remain the “cursed ones”, adopting the ideology of the oppressed masses, i.e. communism; or to become more Catholic than the Roman Pope, i.e. Turkish nationalists.

“I don’t know why but they call us ermeni kök,” said a village woman from Çamurlu.
(Ermeni kök – Armenian offspring)

Just as Mumi had done, when Aslan saw us enter the Hayteh Bar he welcomed us as friends with open arms.

“I’m Armenian, I’m Armenian,” Aslan exclaimed as he vigorously shook my hand and invited us to join him. He attempted to converse with us only in Homshetsma. His other three table companions didn’t pay us any special attention. I figured they weren’t Hamshens. “They are Kurds and our friends. They are well aware that they massacred Armenians and are now sorry for their acts.” The Kurd sitting opposite me nods his head as if to say - of course.

“Turkey has two problems. It abhors two things; Armenians and communists. And I embody those two abhorrent things within me for I am Armenian and a communist,” Aslan says over and over. He makes a point to stress that he isn’t a Soviet communist and that he doesn’t accept the Soviet communist ideology, especially Stalin. “For me, Russia gave birth to three communists – Trotsky, Romas Kalanta and Lenin.” He utters the name of Lenin with some reservation.

Gradually, so many Hamshen entered the ranks of various leftwing movements that in 2004, Yilmaz Topaloglu, a Hamshen and a communist, was elected as Hopa mayor for the first time. (He was elected from the Özgürlük ve Dayanisma Partisi (Freedom and Solidarity Party) and now is a member of the Esitlik ve Demokrasi Partisi (Equality and Democracy Party).

Yilmaz Topaloglu – A Communist and Hamshentsi Gets Elected Hopa Mayor

“I was the vehicle through which we were able to get a Hamshentsi communist elected as mayor for the very first time,” says 50 year-old Yilmaz. “Of course, our opponents said we knew nothing of politics, were wild and uncouth, and knew nothing but raising sheep. This is the kind of campaign they ran against us. But I am convinced that my tenure as mayor has been quite positive and I am proud to be the first Hamshentsi to have achieved such a position.”

The victory was short-lived. In the 2009 election, the Hamshen community nominated two left-wing candidates, splitting the left vote between them. This allowed the Laz candidate from the nationalist CHP (Republican People’s Party) to win. (Vote results: Yilmaz-2,200; other Hamshentsi-800; Laz-3,400)

“Even we add up my votes and the other left candidate’s, we still wouldn’t have won. But had we run a united campaign from the start we would have presented a much stronger team and could have gathered the votes to win,” says Yilmaz. “Nevertheless, even if there was a united Hamshentsi candidate it doesn’t mean that all Hamshentsi would have voted for him. The nationalists had stirred up anti-Armenian sentiments and created an atmosphere in which having an Armenian past is tantamount to a crime. And many Hamshentsis are still fearful of suddenly being identified as Armenians. Thus, when an election campaign claims that a candidate is Armenian, they come out in opposition.”

“Then again, our community has always been more in the opposition camp and hasn’t accepted the dictates of the center. They have always taken a more critical approach of everything. Thus the left is strong here with the potential to win. Tragically, the Laz are more pro-centrist, government backers, and struggle to defend their interests along with those of the government. It’s due to this that our political line suffers so.

Yilmaz says that as mayor he tried to give voice to the cultural problems of minorities, but that the central authorities created roadblocks.

“The first sparks of cooperation between the minorities can start with the arts and literature. We tried to organize festivals with the Hamshen and Laz communities. Then we launched a project with a Diyarbakir district leader regarding the confluence of cultures involving that town’s Kurds and the Laz and Hamshens from here. It really turned things upside down but it never ran to the end due to the intervention of the central authorities. Rumors spread that the Kurds and Hamshens were planning to unite against the government and demand independence. It was one of the reasons that we lost the mayor’s office; that they charged us with being opposed to the state and anti-Turk.”

Yilmaz is in construction and we met at his office in one of the buildings he’s developed. He also considers himself a communist. In his youth, he belonged to an illegal communist organization. After the 1980 coup, he was convicted and spent three years of torture in a Turkish jail. His first wife was a Hamshentsi. She and his daughter died in a car accident. Yilmaz then married a Turkish communist. They have a daughter and a son was born just days ago.

Yilmaz and Ismet Topaloglu, Khachik Terteryan.
“When I drive my freight truck to Armenia I say my
name is Topalyan. The reception I get is much
warmer,” says Ismet.

“Language plays a role in shaping a person’s essence. We speak our language, sing songs and even use it to mourn at funerals. You’ll never see people grieve in Turkish. The language makes us into something else,” says Yilmaz describing the Hamshens. “Our uniqueness lies in our fellowship. If something happens to one, all of us rush to help, but we also do not discriminate against those who are different from us. When I was mayor, I wanted our relations with the Laz to improve. Even though we have lived together for a few centuries, I can say that there hadn’t been more than ten mixed marriages.”

“After Hrant, we became more aware of our identity. Recently, I read a book written by one of Hrant’s friends and realized how close the Armenians are to us in terms of culture and language. After his death, our people’s Armenian consciousness grew and so did the cultural affinity we feel.”

All the while, the state and Turkish nationalists still derisively call them Armenians. To call someone Armenian or communist in Turkey is regarded as a curse; even today.

“They would point to us and charge us with being Armenian and communists. Right up till the late 1990s, Turkey was a terribly anti-communist country. It was due to European pressure and the collapse of the Soviet Union that conditions gradually changed. But the negative attitude towards Kurds and Armenians continues. They say that these peoples were former enemies of the Turkish state (he stresses that the Kurds also participated in the massacres of Armenians). This propaganda, sadly, is not only disseminated by the state but oftentimes by opposition elements. Despite claims to the contrary that Turkey is a multi-cultural nation, that all religions and nationalities constitute our richness, imbuing the country with colors and hues, they can’t come to grips with their anti-Armenian complex. They also seek to cover up the past regarding Armenians.”

“During the police questioning, when they found out that I was from Hopa, they asked me if I was Laz or Hamshentsi. I said I was Hamshentsi. ‘So you are ermeni?’ they said. ‘Yes, I am Armenian,’ I answered. Afterwards I became the object of a special sort of treatment. They cursed me as an Armenian. My eyes were bound and they beat me just because I was Armenian.”

34 year-old Cemil Aksu was a leftwing student activist in Samsun and was a member in the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. In 1996, at the age of nineteen, he was arrested and charged with belonging to a terrorist organization. He spent eight years in prison – Ankara, Burdur, Bursa and Edirne. After being released, Cemil spent the next nine months in hiding in order to avoid military service. “I had just been released and they wanted to send me to the army. I wanted some free time.” He married and then served in the army for one and a half years. Today, he belongs to no political party but actively participates in and organizes various left-wing movements. He founded the civic cultural and environmental union, BirYasam (One Life) and edits a monthly journal of the same name.

“Why did they bind your eyes?”

“In prison, my eyes were bound for days. They constantly tortured us and bound our eyes so what we couldn’t see who our torturers were. When they first arrested me I was detained for eight days before going to court. Before our court date, they gathered 18 of us in the hallway. Some government official showed us and read us a speech – why have you become followers of this one Armenian in whose hands you are mere toys?”
Yusuf: A scene from the film “Autumn”

“What were the nationalities of the others?”

“One was my friend Erkan, a Hamshentsi. He’s now in Hopa. The others were left-wing Laz and Turks.”

I first heard of Cemil two years ago when I saw the Osjan Alper’s film Autumn. It tells the story of Yusuf, a Turkish prison inmate who is released but whose health has deteriorated as a result. I realize that Yusuf’s character was based on a real-life person; Cemil The only difference is that while Yusuf dies in the film, Cemil lives to tell the tale.

In the film, Yusuf has a romantic streak of heroism about him. True, Yusuf doesn’t commit any acts of heroism per-say in the film, but you can grasp an inner heroism in his eyes and comportment. Cemil exudes no such heroism. He relates his life of hell in prison with composure, as if it was just another common story. One gets the sense that he was destined to go down that road of life. Cemil also differs from the Soviet dissidents I knew who relate their acts of courage with pride and willpower forged in prison. Cemil neither portrays pride nor despondency; only calm. It was only when Cemil got a fever and started to cough for a few days that the image of Yusuf, from the film, suddenly appeared before my eyes. Yusuf too had taken nightmares and a cough from the prison with him; a weak but constant cough.

“What was your contribution to the film?”
Tea and more tea: Ustabas Restaurant in Sheno

“It dealt with the psychological state of a man released from prison – his feelings, how he fits back into the world outside, how he relates to people after such a long prison stretch. This was my contribution to the script. First, they used the letters I had sent from prison in the film. I also helped edit the dialogue in the Hamshen dialect.”

“We have heard much about the brutality in Turkish prisons. Can you talk about it?”

“Conditions were really awful until a few years ago, both in the jails and police stations. There’s torture and brutality in the police stations as well. I and my friends were subjected to constant torture for eight years. Ten inmates died in our prison alone. In 2008, or was it 2009, twelve people died in the Diyarbakir prison, all Kurds. In 2000, inmates in several prisons rebelled. 28 Kurds were killed and hundreds injured. Incidents of torture in Turkish police stations have dropped considerably of late and it’s because Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union. But brutality in the prisons persists.”

“How did they die?”
Cemil Aksu: “It’s entrenched in the minds of all in
Turkey that the country has three enemies –
Armenians, Alevis and communists.”

“In one prison, for example, they had squeezed 100 inmates into a cell designed for 30. The guys organized a movement to change the conditions. In the middle of the night, the government moved in to crush the inmates. They used tear gas, bullets and set fires. That’s how so many died. The soldiers also beat the inmates mercilessly for the whole day. The victims were all socialists.”

What were the exact means of torture used?”

“Here are just two examples. First, they use electric shock on your body. Then, they hang you up by your arms and feet and pull you in opposite directions. That’s just the tip of what was done. They never treated the sick – no medications, no hospital. Oftentimes, the guards would come around just to beat the inmates.”

“Why did they constantly beat you? Did they beat you even if you kept your mouth shut and remained obedient?

“Yes and no. They’d often provoked the inmates, looking for any excuse to start the beatings. The guards would also make up new regulations on the spot to irritate you. Say someone sent you a book to read. The guards wouldn’t hand it over. Or if you were leaving your cell for a walk, they’d order you to strip and walk around naked. It’s all contrary to the law. But if you protested, it was an excuse to beat you. They would always find a convenient reason.”

“How did you withstand it?”

“You had no choice but to rely on your will to survive. You want to go on living and your inner dignity gives you the strength to resist.”

“Armenians and communists, does Turkey detest these two that much?”

“It’s entrenched in the minds of all in Turkey that the country has three enemies – Armenians, Alevis and communists. Such hostility is also reflected in school textbooks that propound – we are proud to be Turks, Turks are the best, all our neighbors want our lands, etc…The dominant ideology argues that whoever speaks Turkish is civilized. Other languages are viewed as barbaric. This approach is injected into all the people.”

“Is it because the Hamshens are a minority here and have been historically persecuted by the Turkish state that leftist political perspectives have taken root in Hopa and the surrounding area?”

“We are communities subjected to state persecution and I totally agree that what you describe plays a role. Our Hamshen identity is a very important factor and contributes greatly to our opposition to the central authorities. This is the undeniable sociological reality. The other causes are socio-economic.”

“How was it that you first were attracted to leftist ideas?”

“Our village was already entirely left-wing, same as now. Hopa is predominately left-wing and residents usually vote for leftists. But we always were aloof when it came to the central authorities and when the 1980 military coup happened tensions were further exacerbated. We used to receive many leftist papers here and that’s how my left-leaning foundation began.”

“Cemil, can you paint a picture of the political situation in Hopa today? What are the demands of residents?

Basoba: Women do all the housework

“We have been politically active since long ago and one of the reasons is that we have continued the traditions of the elders. The other reason is the hard life of the villagers and the disintegration of the villages. It’s an ecological struggle as well against the construction of hydro-electric power stations. There’s also the issue of decentralized government. The Kurds are particularly active in advancing this demand so that local officials get the chance to solve local issues. Then there’s the cultural dimension. There are many nationalities living in here, in Giresun, Trabzon, Samsun, Rize and Artvin – Laz, Hamshens, Georgians, Greeks and Bosha (Roma) – which are on the verge on losing their language. The most active are the Laz, who are demanding that the language be taught in schools and that TV programs are broadcast in their language. The Georgians are also active. We, on the other hand, haven’t reached the point of making similar demands.”

“Do you want to make such demands?”

“It’s my belief all languages are worthy of surviving. The Hamshen language, like the others, must survive. Via government aid and through the activities of civic groups, we must spare no effort to preserve our culture. The main method to preserve the Hamshen language, just like Laz, Greek, Georgian, is through instruction. We must preserve our language by means of education.”

“What kind of success do you think it will have?”

Despite all the pressures to the contrary, Turkey is on the path of democratization and I’m hopeful that it will continue. If not, we are in store for a much more brutal regime. But since the whole world is on the road to democracy, we too are hopeful of moving in the same direction.”

“Given that the Hamshens are bearers of two cultures, the Armenian and Turkish, do you think they can serve as a bridge for cooperation between the two peoples and fomenting better relations?”

“I fully agree that the Hamshens share both Armenian and Turkish cultural elements. But in terms of Turkish-Armenian relations, in order to forge ties with Armenia, Turkey will be forced to come face-to-face with the genocide it committed and also acknowledge the spiritual and material damages that ensued. For example, ever since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, they have constantly taught the people that Armenians are the enemies and that they betrayed us. Today, if we wanted to drastically change that approach, it would set off a powerful reaction amongst the masses. Hrant Dink was the greatest champion of friendly relations between Turkey and Armenia and he was murdered in front of our eyes. We can say that the state killed him. No one can deny it. Why does the Turkish government need to normalize relations with Armenia? I’d say mostly for trade reasons. Within Turkish society, however, the issues at play are more psychological and will not allow Turkish society to develop normal relations with Armenians. Overcoming this will be a long process. The first thing that needs to be done in Turkey is to cure the illness – nationalism, chauvinism and anti-Armenianism. Afterwards, it may be possible for the nationalities to live peacefully.”

“Do the Muslim Hamshens remember anything about the 1915 Genocide?”

“Many do. My grandfather would say that he saw what happened, but he probably heard stories from his father, a shepherd. It was when he was grazing sheep in the Ardanuç area and saw with his own eyes how a large group of Armenians were thrown into the abyss. One pregnant woman cried out, begging that she not be killed. They threw her over the edge as well. Gendarmes and soldiers took part in the killing. This incident took place at Hell’s Valley. Many over the age of fifty know about the massacres of Armenians.”

“Is it possible to collect what they know or have heard?”

“There is no serious collection, but I published this story in a left-wing newspaper. I’m now working on a paper that will tell the history of the Armenians of Arvin to be published in a scholarly journal. If you ask around, all are aware of the killing of the Armenians. There’s a village called Tandzout (land of pears). Everyone knows that it’s the name of an Armenian village.”

A Partial Return to Roots

The name of Cemil’s one and a half year-old son is Arev (Sun). The name of his uncle’s grandson is Lousenka (Moon).Cemil calls out another few names in the Hamshen language that have been given to children in the past few years – Jemna (Savior), Erand (Vigor), Tounes (It’s you). After an interruption of some three hundred years, the Hamshentsi are again giving their kids Armenian names. As a result, what we end up with is a Turkish-Armenian hybrid of first and last names – Arev Aksu; the name of Cemil’s son.

Levon Khachikyan, citing Hayk Bzhishkyan, writes that those half-Muslim, half-Christian Hamshentsis during the religious conversion phase had names that were half-Turkish and half-Armenian - Ali-Sargis Garabedoglu, Mahmoud Hovhannesoglu, etc.[1] Over time, the Armenian names faded, leaving only the Turkish. After the 1934 Surname Law, when Turkish names became obligatory, the Hamshens again lost their Turkish family surnames. For example the Aksu’s hailed from the Mouslioglu clan, but the oghlu suffix was considered outdated according to the reform and had to be changed. In the same vein, the names Topaloglu, Garabedoglu and other clan surnames disappeared. They survived as names within the Soviet Hamshen community.

Just like the pressures brought to bear led to their full Armenian identity being transformed into an Armenian-Turkish mix, the freedoms of the last few years in Turkey have allowed them to bring back and reregister their names in the native language.

[1] Levon Khachikyan, Ejer hamshenahye patmutyunic (“Works” Vol. 2, Gandzasar Theological Center, Yerevan, 1999)

Suren - 14 March, 2012
I read with great interest, a good job you have made.

P. no. m .18:14 - 14 March, 2012
The whole article was carefully read and sharp through my soul. Once again, deeply convinced that this kind of articles is not a time for me to understand. Longer hognetsink hearing that we were killed, the calls storatsrin, wounded, and what we did today What we're doing. Although this is something new under the sun, but repetition is the mother of science, so I am reminded of a forgotten truth, which we repeat our conscious and unconscious, crying with a cry, voghbe, lamentation, and a win-win This is Astvatsadir law vkayvats Bible yet. I repeat, if some people want to study, then let them go, and our heroic Artsakh world and make the village at a time study. Vosumnasiren what mothers in the quality of the lionhearted heroic Plateau, which over the centuries countless and countless clever and courageous heroes, and generate increased. chgnahatelu that we had lost the bag and the legend would be painful to continue. dear Brethren, we are finally human and hayavayel think, act and live to learn, history of foot and gives them opportunities to become stronger, but mistakes can never forgive. Think my asatsneri on this occasion I will have nothing to say. Be Good.

Aram - 14 March, 2012
Truly a wonderful and very impressive series. An important topic. This is in-depth reporting on par with the best that we see in the West. Excellent work Hetq!

Boar and Media (Amsterdam) - 14 March, 2012
p.h.m. (2) - Superb koment by: .......................................... It may seem heartless ............................... and tough, but it is time that the kenank and example. "To heck with you, that you are subjected to Genocide - go to solve your problem." 5-6 years already dprutsum jar 'genocide, genocide, genocide, genocide': there are chapters injection POKRARZHEKUTYAN COMPLEX little boys who are on the increase and vejinners Negative energy is accumulated in the dumps? - Yes. Their families, hamanki members and on earth: 100 years of cool happened really.

Boar and Media (Amsterdam) - 14 March, 2012
In particular, the people must understand very clearly that Armenia and Turkey will never - NEVER normal and non-hostile neighbors may not be, because between these two are too many bad things happened, which is already ANKAMRJELI to say, or we, or they Turkey is the sole purpose of Hayin / vochnchatsneln is in FINALLY. waiting for the next appropriate moment: Even if Genocide recognition and compensation for the house (which is unlikely), an Armenian destroy them (Pan-turanistakan) strategy will not change our MASTERE does not catch. He is not forced to? Therefore, in these conditions would be VERY TSGUYSH that the state's Armenian community in Istanbul and a political tool against Armenia hamshentcies chsarki have absolutely nothing against the latter do not. The contrary, but especially in Istanbul, Turkey, Armenia should be politically INDIFFERENT's because it IS NOT political tool in the hands of the state's border with Armenia, closed ski is not bad, and we hope that one day Armenia and Turkey will not have a border-establishment of Kurdish state. ............ .................................................. ....... Thr. I offer on April 24 officially verachanachel "DAY OF THE ARMENIAN VOGETSNNDYAN", and 100-meter high statue of Tsitsernakaberd build VAHAGN GOD.

Levik11: March, 2012
I really don't understand the doom and gloom speculation presented by some commentators here. The Hamshen community has no need of outside advice coming from Armenians, especially the RA government, regarding how it must relate with Turkish politics. Furthermore, the Hamshens have little tolerance of outsiders interferring in their lives and take a dim view of Armenians who wish to "save" them from the clutches of ethnic assimilation by returning them to Christianity. The Hamshens are political savy and have been quite active in Turkish political life. They are quite aware of the inherent dangers in becoming associated with outside elements bent on changing their perceptions of who exactly they are. Armenia, its government and officials, are woefully inequipped and informed about such matters as the Armenians of Hamshen and Istanbul, to even contemplate any type of intervention. What Armenia can and should do is to advocate for the defense of the rights of Armenians in Turkey whenever Ankara sees fit to use our compatriots there as pawns in their political strategems. The RA government has a poor record when it comes to assisting and advocating for the Armenians in Javakhk. The Hamshen Armenians are truly off the radar screens in official Yerevan.

Aram - 16 March, 2012
Levik jan, unfortunately "official Yerevan" is only aware of its oligarchs. From another Aram .... this is an excellent and informative article B.H. M Essadsneret sekhal chen

Levik - 16 March, 2012
IF bhmwants to go to Artsakh and report .. who's stopping him?? That too would make a great story if properly done.

(9) VAHAN - 20 March, 2012
The study, as well as the previous parts, I read a great inspiration: Thank you, live above a datarkabanneri I want to say only that the Genocide is not an issue, you need to think of these people, Hamshen to return to their roots: the case for protecting our nation, live.

10; Boar and Media (Amsterdam)- 21 March, 2012
The "realist" / "non-bladder" Interestingly, those who are above this "datarkabannere" and that was part of their komentneri specific "empty"? Bladder, I call those who do not understand that with any issue related to the Genocide and / or consequences of the Genocide in Turkey today TRKAKHOS Hamshens, trkakentsagh, trkahavat Turkish citizens are ............ ..................... I wish good luck to all those who's "Armenian speaking" hamshentcies khajoghatsnen return "to their roots." When we start to see the liberated territories of Artsakh musulmanutyunits refused Hamshen immigrant's citizenship in Hopa, then we believe that they really are Armenian. In the meantime, I got up the fact that people on both sides of the water beat - MORE IMPORTANT things left behind.

Hamshesnak: The Hamshen Armenian Dialect

- How do you say ‘bat’ in Armenian? Harun asks in Turkish
- Chghtchik, Khachik answers, and you?
- We say mashkatev
- Interesting, mashk (skin) and tev (arm), I say.

Harun is surprised. The word mashk is no longer used in the Hamshen dialect, only appearing in the word for “bat”.

Due to Anahit’s condition of being yerkutak (Armenian for “two-folded”) we caught on that the Hamshen version of pregnant is ergutak. Cemil and Harun call their language Hamshesnak or Homshesnak. Homshetsma is the accepted form in most academic research.

As I listen to the Hamshen dialect, I can’t understand a thing. It’s a foreign language to me. I had the same experience in Abkhazia. There, however, the Hamshen Armenians also knew literary Armenian. When I went in 2004, there were 38 Armenian schools. You could converse with people without the need of a translator’ as if you were talking to someone from Armenia. The Hamshens of Krasnodar don’t know literary Armenian, but you can converse with them in Russian. In Hopa, you’ll need a translator. After my ten day visit I was sure I could grasp the basics of the dialect if I stayed for a full month and interacted with the Hopa-Hamshens.
The day when girls didn’t go to school is over. These Basoba 13 year-olds have already decided what they want to be. Betul Karagyoz wants to teach Englsih and Aybin Jaaogli wants to be a paediatrics doctor. Basoba School: Children are not allowed to speak Hamshesnak

When I really pay attention, I can make out Armenian words and gradually get a feel for the flow of the dialect. With some difficulty, I can even understand a sentence or two

For example: birthday - dzin or, moon - lousinka, stove - pechku, star - astakh, there is – go, it’s blowing – pcha gou, they took it – darin, in front of - arshin, tomorrow – kam or, village - kyagh, he’s not a man – mart cha, seashore - dziap, forest - tsakh, where are you coming from? – ousti goukas or ousten goukas? where are you going? – nor gertas?, center - ag, God gives us rain most of all – menashade asdvadz chakh gouda mez, I am looking – pout genim, good – soy, headscarf – yazma, how are you? – soyes ta?

In Yerevan, they also conversationally use the term outoush-khmoush for eating-drinking. I had heard the word outoush used in the Hamshen dialect once or twice and it turns out that the “el” suffix of a predicate is “oush” in the Hamshen dialect – porel/poroush (to dig), yergel/gonchoush or ganchoush (to sing), sovorel/gartoush (to learn) and the imperative form of to sing is gonchi.

Ajaryan in his “Study of the Hamshen Dialect” writes that before an “m” or “n”, the letter “a” becomes an “o”. “This is so widespread that it also impacts Turkish words. Tavan>tavo (scythe)[1]

As a child, my parents would often travel to the village of Loo near Sochi for the summers. The village was 80% Hamshen. I didn’t understand a thing. My father would tell me that if I listened hard I would learn. For example, I would ask him what does “eshtom Lo gom” mean? It means, “I’ll go to Lo and come back”. The “a” turns to “o” in both cases.
Basoba School

But the “a” doesn’t always become an “o”. They call a boy manch in Hopa villages but monch in Kemalpasa.

Ajaryan’s research only dealt with the dialect of the Christian Hamshen. In the preface he writes that the first study was conducted in Trebizond in 1910 and in Gagra, during the Soviet period.

Sergey Vardanyan has complemented Ajaryan by studying the dialect of the Hopa-Hamshen. In his work Kronapokh hamshenahayeri barbaru, banahuysutyunu yev yergarvestu, (“The dialect, folklore and music culture of the Hamshen religious converts”), Vardanyan writes there are two branches of the Muslim Hamshen’s dialect based on the valley of residence: Hopa Valley residents or Ardeletsi, i.e. residents of villages around Ardala (Esmekaya), and Kemalpasa Valley residents or Turtsevantsi, i.e. ‘outsiders’ (probablyturs + avants‘i‘out-of-towner’).

Here are a few examples noted by Vardanyan in his research:

ankoghin/bargeldagh (bed) – Tatradz eni, medan bardeldaghe ou koun aghan (They were tired, went to bed and slept)

vorsord/avji (hunter); napastak/daoushon (rabbit) – Avjin daoushon tsvonets (The hunter killed the rabbit)

kourtzk/dzidz (breast) – Govoun dzidze gatov liktsadz er (The cow’s breast was full of milk)

voghnashar/bochkelokh (spine) – Bochkelokhe charevadz a (The spine was broken)K

koghm/semt (side) – Vor semtnious kenats? An semte (In what direction did he go? In that direction)

tzayr/dzay, jot (edge, end) – Chvonin dzaye (jote) dou indzi (Give me the end of the rope)

tcharp/yagh (fat, lard) – Adzoun yaghove gajerin mesadzin lerte (They rub the sick man’s back with fat)[2]:

At Cemal Vayiç’s home in Kayaköy, all present said that they didn’t know Turkish before entering school. In fact, no one over thirty understood Turkish before the age of seven; they only spoke Hamshesnak. They learnt it in school. There are women 70 years and older who still only speak Hamshesnak. They do not know Turkish and have no need of it. These seniors never went beyond the bounds of their village communities, never interacted with the world beyond. Men, on the other hand, had to learn Turkish for employment purposes.

Harun says that a policy to assimilate the Hopa-Hamshens started in the 1980s. School teachers are Turks, but there are always one or two locals as well. These Hamshen teachers are instructed to go out into the Hamshen villages and tell people that they must renounce “that language of theirs” in favor of Turkish. The argument used is that Hamshesnak holds the people back and prevents them from receiving an adequate education.

“I clearly remember one of the teachers kneeling down and explaining to me that I must learn Turkish because it’s the language used in school,” says Harun, “They also put pressure on the families, telling parents to teach Turkish to the children at home and not to speak Hamshesnak. My father was quite a severe guy and he would use scare tactics in order that I not speak Hamshesnak. Nevertheless, my dad continued to speak it at home because he knew it was the language I knew best. He still demanded that I only speak Turkish.”

“And your mother?” I ask.

“She never pressured me to speak Turkish.”

In Özcan Alper’s first film, Momi (Grandma), the old woman teaches her son to count in the Hamshen language. At the Golden Apricot film festival in Yerevan, Alper told me during an interview that he too didn’t know Turkish before entering school and learnt Hamshesnak mostly from his grandmother, who hardly knew Turkish. In his second film, Autumn, Yusuf, the main protagonist, speaks Hamshesnak with his mother.
Harun Aksu: “There was never any pressure from my mother Director Özcan Alper at the 2011 Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan (Photo: Inna Mkhitaryan)

Hovann Simonian writes that the mothers are the ones who basically pass down the Hamshen language.[3]

Slowly, the use of Hamshesnak gave way to Turkish. Now, it’s rare to find preschoolers who don’t already know Turkish. They say there is one person left who still doesn’t know Turkish. A boy in Adapazari went deaf at the age of ten and never learnt the language.

A young man working at Hotel Heyamo says he mostly speaks Hamshesnak with his mom and grandma; so as to appease their feelings.

“TV also played a play role in spreading Turkish,” says Harun, “In the 1980s everyone had a TV and the language entered our homes.”

In Turkey, it is forbidden to speak a language other than Turkish.

On the one hand, education and modernization is pulling the Hamshens down from the mountains onto the road of assimilation. On the flip side, a new world is opening up to them in the process and they are starting to search for their roots.

The school in Basoba opened in 1952 and education became mandatory. So what were people doing before that?

“They weren’t learning,” says 60 year-old Kadir Aksu who has served as the school’s principal for forty years. “There are still old folk who can’t read the modern Turkish alphabet and just know a smattering of Ottoman Turkish (Arabic script). When Ataturk changed the lettering, they started to build schools in the cities, but the villages remained without.”

Village children weren’t taken to the schools in the towns. Nobody had the financial means to give their kids an education. Everyone was poor.

When Kadir was a youngster, school was for five years. One had to go to the charshi (market/city) at a middle school. In Kadir’s case, he left in the middle of the five years and relocated to Arhavi where he completed high school.

Today, there’s a kindergarten and a nine grade school in the village of Basoba. The school has one hundred pupils and is famous for its academic achievements. To get a high school diploma, students have to go to Hopa.

“Are all the pupils Hamshentsi?” Even before my question could be translated, the female pupil waitress nodded her head in agreement. So she understood my Armenian. Only two of the twenty-six teachers are Hamshentsi.

It is forbidden to speak Hamshesnak in the school.

“We don’t let them speak it. Besides, the other teachers don’t understand the language,” says Kadir Aksu.

“And if you see anyone speaking it? Will you tell them to stop?

“That’s the law. But, hey, we aren’t dictators going around shutting people up.”

“In class, are the pupils told they are Hamshentsi?”

“We don’t teach them about such things. However, if a pupil asks ‘where do we come from?’ as an educator I am obliged to enlighten them.”

“So what do you tell them?”

“We tell them something in a convincing manner.”

“Who are the Hamshens in your opinion?”

“You sing the song of whoever’s horse you are riding. We are a people who have been subject to assimilation. We are here and our grandfathers were born and lived here. Talk to the villagers. We all know that we came here from somewhere else. My father used to tell me stories and later on I heard things from others. That’s how I formed an opinion.”

And what opinion have you reached?”

“Let me make a long story short. We aren’t the ones who would deny our roots.”

Hopa-Hamshens during the Soviet Era

Chagh goukar ou kenatser ander / It was raining and you left, ander

Tsoun gouka bor menatser ander / It was snowing, where were you, ander

Ersoun ochkharin ama ander / For thirty sheep, ander

Gurjistan menatser ander / You remained in Georgia, ander
Hava and Nargiza

This song is about those married couples separated due to the closing of the Soviet-Turkish border. The woman is lamenting the loss of her shepherd husband, who took his flock into Georgia and now cannot come back home. The Soviet-Turkish border is closed, resulting in the separation of relatives from the same nationality living in different countries.

- The province of Artvin again reverted back to Turkey as a result of the 1921 Treaty of Batum. Most of the Hopa-Hamshen communities passed under Turkish dominion as well. Six villages remained on the Soviet side of the border. In the 1930s, when border crossing restrictions were tightened, sisters were separated from brothers and parents from their children.

- According to a 1944 decision by Stalin, 1,385 “Khemshin”, along with other Muslims (Turks and Kurds), were exiled to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as “unreliable population”. It was only after the death of Stalin that they were granted passports noting their nationality as “Khemsil” or sometimes Turk. [4]

- In the 1980s, Sergey Vardanyan met with Habib Koshanidze, a hemshil living in Kirgizia, who told him: “I am Armenian in origin and blood but Muslim in religion. My language is Armenian, the Hamshen dialect. Even though while at school I demanded that they register me as an Armenian, in my passport it reads khemshil. My first name is Arabic and my surname is Georgian. The authorities tricked us saying that if we change our last names we wouldn’t be deported. I was born in Kirgizia and went to a Russian school. I speak fluent Kazakh, Kirgiz, but do not know literary Armenian. What a world this is. What a people we are. What a fate. [5]

- According to Vardanyan’s research, in 1987 there were about 3,000 Muslim Hamshentsi in the Soviet Union. Starting in the 1970s, they began to move to the Belorechensky and Apsheronsky districts of Krasnodar in Russia. Due to the clashes with nationalists in 1989 in Central Asia, the exodus of Muslim Hamshentsi to Krasnodar became widespread. [6]

In the late 1980s, with the weakening of the Soviet border, the two segments of the once divided Hamshen people once again found each other. The passage of seventy years wasn’t enough to break all the ties. They once again exchanged brides. But it was enough for the two segments to have adopted new traditions that appeared foreign to one another.

Nargiza Mamoushevan only knew her future husband, Mumi Yilmaz, from a photo. Later she asked if he was a Turk. “If he’s a Turk, I don’t want to marry him.” They assured her he wasn’t a Turk but a Hamshentsi and that his people were just like them. “I asked her what was she, a Russian? She answered, ‘No, I too am not Russian but a Hamshentsi.’”Mumi relates.
Mumi’s mother Gyonul sings a lullaby for Elisultan

In a way, Nargiza was lucky to have been born at a time when a bride at least was expected to find favor with her prospective husband, even if through the means of a photograph. It wasn’t that long ago when engagements were arranged sight unseen, and the girl only saw the man she was destined to marry on the wedding day.

Rather than send a photo, Mumi would go the region of Apsheronsk in Krasnodar to see Nargiza. The only thing preventing him wasn’t any custom but Turkish law, Mumi had spent several years in a Turkish prison and now he couldn’t leave Turkey for the next four years. Today his brother is in prison as well for hitting a policeman.

The two brothers wouldn’t have met their wives if Cihan hadn’t gotten into an accident in Krasnodar.

The Yilmaz family is from the village of Esmekaya (former Ardala). Mumi proudly refers to himself as “Ardalatsi Mumi”; they are drivers. Two years ago, while driving near Sochi, Cihan lost control of his car and crashed. Some Homshetsma speaking people, whom he did not know, came to his assistance. They turned out to be from the same clan. “He’s the grandson of my grandma’s sister,” Mumi relates.
The house of Mumi Yilmaz

During the two weeks he stays in Apsheronsk, they introduce Cihan to his future wife, Hava Karacogli. “We met and liked what we saw,” Hava says.

Jivan returned and requested permission from his brother to marry. The Hamshen have a tradition whereby if the eldest brother hasn’t yet married, a younger brother wishing to marry must ask for his consent.

In 2010, the wedding of the two couples, the brothers from Hopa and the girls from Apsheronsk, takes place. 40 year-old Mumi Yilmaz is to marry 20 year-old Nargiza Mamoushevan, and Cihan Yilmaz is to wed 16 year-old Hava Karacogli. There are two wedding celebration, one in Apsheronsk without Mumi and according to the traditions of the Soviet Hamshens, and the other in Hopa. “No, we aren’t Armenian. It’s just that our language is similar, like Kazakh and Uzbek, or Kurdish and Persian. The same with Hamshen and Armenian is from the same group,” says 53 year-old Fayk Karaibrahimov. He relocated from Krghizia to Rostov, and then moved the family to Kemalpasa, Turkey, in 1995.

Hava already has a child and Nargiza is an expectant mother.

“I told them that I was still young, that I wanted to finish school and go on to college. They said ‘get married’, so I had no choice. You have to follow the words of the elders,” says Hava, who has just turned 17. We are in the Yilmaz family home in Esmekaya. “Even if girls continue their education, after getting married, husbands don’t allow you to learn. That’s the custom with us,” Hava adds.

She tells us that in Krasnodar you won’t find women who have gone to school and who work. Hamshen women in Hopa have enjoyed much more freedom when it comes to education.

Basoba School Principal Kadir Aksu says that back in his time, girls didn’t even receive a high school education and would marry quite young. Today, girls are now being accepted into colleges in the big cities.

Hava was born in Apsheronsk and knows that her parents are from Central Asia. Nargiza was born in Kyrgyzstan and was six months old when the family relocated to Krasnodar. It was only when they came to Hopa that the two women found out that their grandfathers had been exiled from Batumi. At, home, no one talked about these things. “My parents only told me that a war broke out in Kirgizia and that we fled to Krasnodar,” says Nargiza.

Hava’s family in Apsheronsk has an Armenian neighbor and when they converse in their native tongue they understand much. “It’s my belief that Armenians and the Hamshen are the same people,” Hava says. Nargiza has a different opinion. “No, we are different. Armenians are Christian and we are Muslim.”

In Hopa, they only speak Homshetsma. No one understands their Russian. Their dialect and the one spoken in Hopa have remained basically the same, just some vocabulary is different. “Just a few words here and there are completely different. For example, they say mashina for a car and we say tilezhka. We say makina for a sewing machine but here it’s used to describe a laundry machine,” Nargiza explains.

But the customs are different. Nargiza continues: “Here, the women are all covered up and always with a head scarf. Unmarried girls must always cover their head. It’s not so rigid with us. If husbands allow it, wives can walk around without covering their heads. It’s only the older women that must cover up.”

In turn, the Hamshen from Turkey view their Soviet cousins as conservative. As Cemal Vayiç would point out, the Soviet Hamshen custom is for men and women to eat separately, unlike in Hopa. It’s true, walk into any Hamshen home in Hopa and the women will come up and shake the hand of a male stranger. Some women will even embrace close male friends and sit together at the table with them.

Nargiza says that they are much more conservative when it comes to family relationships. “The daughter-in-law doesn’t speak to the grandfather. If he wants her to talk, the grandfather will buy the girl a present. There’s no such custom in Hopa. I get the impression that people here go to the mosque more often. The Hamshentsi here are similar to the Russians when it comes to religious faith.”

The two young women brides are lucky to have wound up in the same house as brides. One consoles the other when they get homesick. They also visit other brides who have come from Krasnodar. Nargiza tells me that there are 43 women from Apsheronsk who have married into Hopa families.

“I told my husband that I’m getting bored sitting around the house. There’s nowhere to go and I have no relatives here. I dropped a hint about finding some work,” Nargiza says. “But he forbade me to work and says he can provide everything. Back home, my mother doesn’t work either. My father won’t allow it for the same reason.”

From the Hopa Black Sea coast, these women long for the Russian shores where life was more active and free. The towns there have many cafes and parks and women, just like men, can freely stroll around.

The way weddings are celebrated is the most striking difference between the two Hamshen communities. For those who were raised under Soviet rule, the passion for drinking and having fun at a wedding far surpassed any religious convictions. Feasting to the accompaniment of hard liquor was a mainstay at any wedding. As for the Hamshens of Turkey, despite the fact that they live in a nominally secular country, they remain more faithful to religious tenets. While they prepare a wedding table, hard alcohol is absent. It’s only after the wedding, when friends and family retire to the house of the groom, that the drinks are poured.

“We’d party all night at our weddings. The food and drink flowed freely. Not here. All they do is dance. There’s no outoush-khmoush (eating-drinking). Only after the wedding do they drink at home,” says Nargiza. “Our wedding was celebrated both ways. There, we partied with food and drink, here, there was no banquet table.”

[1] Hrachya Ajaryan, Knnutyun hamsheni barbari (ASSR Academy of Sciences, 1947)

[2] Sergey Vardanyan, Kronapokh hamshenahayeri barbaru, banahuysutyunu yev yergarvestu (YSU, 2009)

[3] Ibid

[4] All information regarding the Soviet Hamshen is taken from: Sergey Vardanyan, Kronapokh hamshenahayeri barbaru, banahuysutyunu yev yergarvestu (YSU, 2009)

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

Pierre Y - 21 March, 2012
The Hopa Hamshens are probably better off where they are ... Just imagine them trying to make a go of it in Armenia, preserving their way of life, etc ... They'd be crushed by an oppressive bureaucracy and greedy capitalists.

Gohar Arshakyan - 21 March, 2012
I read with great interest and anticipation He adds each square to thank all the authors. I think the answer to many questions that were open to the Soviet period to the publication of this series ... I understood that hamshenahayerenum, by the letter sounds,'','' form, the latter being, Health,, by their khaghiknere very clear to me, songs were sometimes therein are: 1 Eastern 2 miadzulvats word of the word, sometimes without a hinge. this reminded me khosaktsakann mekhmati dasenkerojs Aram Antonyan late mother, who talked about children,'' the name of Mars they were living in Akhalkalaki district Orja, a Christian, had a very modern family and ancestors had emigrated in Erzurum is understood that Hamshen Islamized Armenians in the same century, more natural condition, converted to the What's in store for them to massacre the people of different beliefs could not be fragments divide between spirit and body are Armenians and they probably do not need to speak today, as the Turks civilization has a long way to go yet ...

Boar and Media (Amsterdam) - 21 March, 2012
Gohar Arshakyan - You now have a connection with the Akhalkalaki region Orja Orjatsineri village or in general? I would like to know information about my student friend of budget offices - I Orjatsi, in the early 1990s to study in Yerevan. Village. Of Mech. Faculty.

kemal - 22 March, 2012
merhaba vahan dostum tebrikler

Gohar Arshakyan - 22 March, 2012
Boar Syuni - I am still in close touch with my fellow, Aram now lives in the U.S. city of Miami, his wife, my best friend, Margarit Goharyan again hamakursetsi latter often speak with skaypov, needs khartsnem, but I do not know how you pokhantsem, it is here that the people of Akhalkalaki in the world, mostly on-Don, Rostov, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Moscow went ... A. are brothers.

Boar and Media (Amsterdam) - 22 March, 2012
Gohar Arshakyan - Very good. Thank you Kspasem still here. Article clad komentneri this section.


The time had come to take the bride, Julya Karabajakov, from the village of Çamurlu, but her native home is in the Kyzyl-Kiya town in Kyrgyzstan, To uphold the wedding tradition, the house of Hizir Yilmaz, a relative of the Karabajakov’s, was used instead. Hizir is one of the last shepherds of Hamshen with a flock of 2,000. Julya’s father didn’t come to the wedding. Her mother, Hediye and a sister did.

64 year-old Hediye has eight children. One is a son. “We wanted a bride, but they refused so my son stole her away. One month later the wedding took place. We prepared a long table with drink and all. One thousand loaves of bread were ordered,” she notes, referring to the Turkish wedding difference. In Kyrgyzstan, they only marry Hamshentsis. There have been only two cases where a man took a Russian bride. They separated soon afterwards. Here, she’s noticed that the Hamshen will also marry other nationalities.

Khachik and I were listening to the Hamshen songs sung by the women who had painted the bride’s hands with henna that morning and interviewing Hediye. In the meantime, Anahit was video-recording the bride’s visit to the local beauty parlor.

Chanchanatsin ard ounim / I have a field in Chanchanats
Chachen ourman ergena / A dried leaf is longer than it
Janchetsi nshanlouit / I met your betrothed
Kinte ourman ergen a / His nose is longer than him

“The person making the major decisions regarding the bride’s make-up is the elder sister-in-law (wife of husband’s brother). But there was an argument about her nails. The bride’s sister demanded that she get artificial nails but the sister-in-law was opposed to it. ‘What do these Indians know?’ said the sister in Russian and won the argument. When the bride was done, the groom came and paid the entire bill. Julya was saying that the Hopa-Hamshens take the bride straight from the beautician’s shop, while according to their customs, the bride is first taken home and now they are demanding that they pick her up from the house,” recounted Hediye

It was already dark when they brought the bride home and the groom’s family immediately showed up. Zurna and dhol music rang out and everyone joined in a circle-dance. Aydin Yenigül, the groom, entered the house, but his path was blocked by the bride’s sister and another woman. They let his pass when he gave them some money. Aydin tied a red belt around the bride’s waist and popped open a bottle of champagne, the only alcoholic drink at the wedding.

The wedding took place in Kemalpasa. Young folk were dancing in the center of the hall. Sitting on chairs around them were the women wearing headscarves. There was neither food nor drink.

“Why isn’t there any drink? Does Islam prohibit it?” I ask Aydin’s father Izzet Yenigül, who is watching the dancers.

“Yes, religion forbids alcoholic drink,” he says.


In Hopa, engagements take place in a smaller hall. The women are seated and the men standing, as they observe the ceremony taking place. Rings tied to a red ribbon are placed on the fingers of Mukerem Aksu and Sevim Vayiç. Then, Sevim’s brother cut the ribbon after the groom’s side paid him with paper money.

Then, the open engagement - Açik neshan - took place; when the groom is present. (The closed ceremony - kapal neshan - is when the groom is absent.) The guests place paper money on the engagement table, eat a piece of chocolate, and then get their picture taken with the bride and groom.

The wedding will most likely take place in a year. In the past, engaged couples would probably wait 3-4 years. The bride’s father told the groom – ‘do not look at the girl’s face till the wedding’.

The guests hand out little packets of juice and pastries. Everyone gets into a circle dance to the accompaniment of bagpipe music. Given that the hall was narrow, the dancers are forced to spill out onto the hall’s courtyard under a night sky.

The tulum (bagpipe) is widely played by the Turkish-speaking Hamshen. The kaval (flute) is the instrument favored by Hopa Hamshens, but the tulum is gradually being played more and more in Hopa as well. In the Hayteh Bar, you’ll now hear both. Back in the day, you’d have to travel to Çamlihemsin to purchase a tulum. Shops in Hopa now sell the instrument.

Muslim Aksu, the 22 year-old tulum player at the engagement party, learnt to play from a Turkish-speaking Hamshen in the nearby town of Findikli. “I had an instrument similar to a duduk but I dreamt of owning a tulum. One year I got a job picking tea and saved 400 lira and bought this tulum you see me playing,” Muslim says. The young man plays in restaurants and at weddings. He can make 250 lira at a wedding gig. Throw in the tips, and Muslim can pocket up to 500. He’s also started to play the kaval. Muslim plans to go to Istanbul to master the tulum.

“I would like you to meet Turgay Köse, a Turkish-speaking Hamshen,” Cemil tells me at the engagement party.

“We are assimilated Hamshens. They are the real ones,” Turgay says.

Ali Riza isn’t assimilated. He speaks Armenian and was overjoyed to learn that we were Armenian. Ali calls himself Armenian but said it would be best to put the genocide issue behind us and become friends with Turkey. An argument in Turkish breaks out - on the one side, Turgay and a young Laz; on the other, Ali. I turn to Khachik to fill me in. Turgay and the Laz are arguing that we should never forget the genocide or stop working to get it recognized. They go even further, saying that we must struggle to get Turkey to recognize it and pay compensation.

Now, that’s something unexpected. One the one hand you have an assimilated Hamshentsi, who no longer speaks the native tongue, and a Laz calling for the recognition of the genocide. Opposed, is a Hamshentsi who identifies himself as Armenian and who speaks Homshetsma.

“It’s a political disagreement,” Cemil explains, “Ali Riza is a Kemalist who defends the official Turkish view. The others are communists, left-wingers. The left in Turkey says that that the government should recognize the genocide and pay compensation.”

A Loving Family of Adversary Peoples

Every time Oguz talks about his feelings for Necla he gets emotional. “I love Necla more now than the first time I confessed my love to her.”

The couple first met twenty years ago in the Nalya snack shop owned by Oguz. The man was serving her a meal he had prepared and never stopped confessing his love to Necla.

Necla laughs – “So many years have passed and we’ve gotten older, but you still talk of love.”

43 year-old Oguz Koyouncu is a Laz. Necla Vayiç, his 37 year-old wife, is a Hamshen.

The two were born in Hopa but for many years resided in Kemalpasa, the town where they met. It was their political principles that brought them together – they’re both communists and met at a 1992 May Day demonstration. It was the first demonstration since the 1980 coup.

They have two children – 18 month-old Deniz (named after the famous Turkish Marxist-Leninist revolutionary Deniz Gezmis who was hung in 1972), and Janan-Selen, a 15 year-old daughter.

Oguz can’t remember a mixed marriage between a Laz and a Hamshen before theirs. Oguz is proud that he and his wife have laid the groundwork for the two peoples to meet in the middle.

“There hadn’t been any instance when a Laz married a Hamshentsi. Our marriage happened because we are socialists. I accept all ethnic groups without discrimination. Then again, love reigns supreme.”

Necla says that even though the Laz and Hamshen have lived side-by-side for centuries, there is no love lost between them. Sure, they might not kill one another, but the enmity and discrimination still exist.

There have only been one or two mixed marriages between the Laz and Hamshen during the past ten years. Even these were fiercely resisted by the Laz parents who didn’t want a Hamshen bride.

Laz and Hamshen youth don’t even mix. If they fall in love, they know that marriage is out of the question.

A Hamshen family might give a daughter to a Laz as a bride, but never the other way round. Necla only recollects one case of a Hamshen boy marrying a Laz girl. Even then, the boy had to elope with the girl since her parents disapproved.

Both peoples are Sunni Muslim, but the enmity between them is greater than that shown to a non-believer.

“Religion was never a factor,” says Hamshen communist Kemal Tatar, a friend of Oguz. “You’ll never hear anyone tell a Hamshen and a Laz who are arguing to reconcile because they’re co-religionists. A Laz would gladly give a girl to a German as a bride than to a Hamshen. Sure, you might note similarities in both peoples, both those similarities and religion don’t lead to a friendly coexistence.”

Even Oguz’s family didn’t accept Necla with ease. His father is also a socialist, his mother a Turk, and both had no objections to the union. But the father’s mother was dead-set against it. “So now you want to stick an Armenian into this household?” The woman finally came to terms with the match and a joyous wedding took place.

“So you regard the Hamshen as Armenians?” I ask, referring back to what Oguz’s grandma said. “But many Hamshens don’t even consider themselves Armenians.”

“True, many Hamshens don’t like it when others call them Armenian. Around here, it’s like cursing someone. It’s taken as an insult. Turkish nationalism has created such an atmosphere,” Kemal answers. He continues in Hamshesnak, they call me a converted Armenian. I respond that I’m not a Muslim but an atheist. Their retort is that I’m something different.”

Necla’s father had already passed away prior to the wedding so it was her brother who opposed it.

“His concern was that we’d divorce and that my husband would leave me and I’d end up on the street. My brother said he’d kill him if he did something similar,” Necla tells me. “We Hamshens are more open and would give a girl to a foreigner more easily. It’s those Laz who don’t accept others.”

“So Oguz, what are differences between the Laz and Hamshens?” I ask.

“I’d prefer not to say since my wife is Hamshen. The Hamshen are more combative, but not in a negative sense. The longer someone stays up in the mountains, the cruder and ruder one gets. Civility increases the further one descends to the sea.”

“And how do the children identify themselves?”

“Sometimes my girl says she’s a mixture, melez,” says Necla. “Then again, my mother always speaks Hamshen in the house and my daughter has learnt the language well. My husband’s side of the family doesn’t speak Lazuri.”

Oguz is one of the few Laz who actually knows the language. But he rarely uses it.

“It was forbidden to speak Lazuri in the schools. Even though my father was a socialist, he never let us speak it.”

Meryem Özçep, a former political prisoner and a Laz activist in Hopa, says that she and a few others like her are the last of the Lazuri speakers. The Laz language has been pushed aside in daily life. Today, younger Laz people call themselves Turks. “If they don’t know the language then what makes them Laz?” she asks. “In about twenty years from now no one will identify themselves as Laz. They’ll say my father was a Laz. If the language fades so does ones identity.” Meryem became fluent in Lazuri at a younger age and it saddens her to realize that the language is disappearing.

“Now, the Laz language is an object of ridicule. It’s only spoken by a few. It will be the first language to die out,” laments Oguz and mentions his brother, Kâzim Koyuncu, with great pride. Kâzim was a folk-rock singer and song writer, as well as an environmental and cultural activist. Before dying in 2005, he popularized a number of Laz songs and his albums also contain several cuts in Hamshesnak.

Necla says that Hamshesnak is their native language and, unlike Lazuri, it has never been an object of ridicule.

“If I am speaking to someone in Turkish and a Hamshen person shows up, I’ll immediately start talking Hamshesnak to him or her, regardless if the other person understands,” Necla says.

Oguz gets to hear Hamshesnak spoken more than Lazuri and he’s starting to understand it.

“Does it bother you when they speak Hamshesnak and you might not understand?” I ask.

“On the contrary, I’m amazed that they can keep the language alive.”

(to be continued)

March 25, 2012



Alpha Omega said...

You guys need to leave Hamshenis alone. They never been Armenians nor they will ever be, because they are not ethnic Armenians. They are Jews. Movses khorenatsi wrote about the Vartan Amatuni who is widely accepted as the ancestor of Hamam Amatuni and who's the founder of Hamshen people. Movses khorenatsi gave Vahan Amatuni Jewish ancestors. So that make him Jewish who at the time was a prince in Persia. Here's you can study about Amatuni family here:

I know Armenians are intrigued by the Hamshenis ancient Armenian dialect, but those people were assimilated Armenians of Jewish ancestors. So you have to accept that they are not Armenians. Stop looking foolish

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