Hemshin/Hamshen- Armenians/Turks

The Hamshin or Hemshin are a people of almost mythical importance to Armenians, as transmitters of ancient Armenian language and culture. However most Hamshen converted to Islam when the Ottomans conquered their homeland, so the Hamshen that matter to Armenians are a small minority, many of whom have moved to Georgia and parts of Russia. Very few Hamshen residing in Turkey consider themselves Armenian in any way other than genetic ancestry.

Wikipedia provides more detail: “The Hemshin people (Armenian: Համշենցիներ, Hamshentsiner; Turkish: Hemşinliler), also known as Hemshinli or Hamshenis or Homshetsi,[5] are a diverse group of peoples who in the past or present have been affiliated with the Hemşin district in the province of Rize, Turkey.[6][7][8][9] It is generally accepted that they were Armenian in origin, and were originally Christian and members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, but over the centuries evolved into a distinct ethnic group and some converted to Sunni Islam after the conquest of the Ottomans of the region during the second half of the 15th century.[10]

As a result of those developments, distinctive communities with the same generic name have also appeared in the vicinity of Hopa, Turkey as well as in the Caucasus. Those three communities are almost oblivious to one another’s existence.[42]

  • The Hemshinli of Hemshin proper (also designated occasionally as western Hemshinli in publications) are Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslims who mostly live in the counties (ilçe) of Çamlıhemşin, Çayeli, İkizdere, Pazar and Hemşin in Turkey’s Rize Province.[43]
  • The Hopa Hemshinli (also designated occasionally as eastern Hemshinli in publications) are Sunni Muslims and mostly live in the Hopa and Borçka counties of Turkey’s Artvin Province. In addition to Turkish, they also speak a dialect of western Armenian they call “Homshetsma” or “Hemşince” in Turkish.[44]
  • Homshentsik (also designated occasionally as Northern Homshentsik in publications) are Christians who live in Georgia and in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai. They speak Homshetsma as well.[45] There are also some Muslim Hamshentsi living in Georgia and Krasnodar [46] and some Hamshentsi elements amongst the Meskhetian Turks.[47]
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This Hamsheni Mani is a traditional Armenian folk song recreated and produced by Andranik Manukyan and David Avdalyan. Its light-hearted lyrics tells the story of a village man’s plot to seduce his love. The lead singers are Andranik Manukyan and Heghine Avdalyan, and the Sasun Ethnic Dance Ensemble is featured in the background. Director and Editor: David Avdalyan

Below are excerpts from a review by Aram Arkun of the book The Hemshin: History, Society and Identity in the Highlands of Northeast Turkey Edited by Hovann H. Simonian. Full text of the review can be found here: http://asbarez.com/90870/the-hemshin-a-community-of-armenians-who-became-muslims/ “Armenians love nothing more than to debate what constitutes an Armenian, but nearly all Armenians would insist that one of the major components of Armenian identity is Christianity. Yet today more and more is heard about Muslim Armenians and crypto or secret Armenians. The very existence of Muslim Armenians in particular raises interesting questions about what is fundamentally Armenian, especially when there are Muslims who speak Armenian and preserve and practice various elements derived from Armenian culture and tradition. The Hemshin, also called Hemshinli, include both Muslims and Christians, and speakers of dialects of Armenian as well as those who only speak versions of Turkish or other non-Armenian languages influenced by the Armenian language. They have a long and complicated history, during much of which they lived in isolation from mainstream Armenian society and faced great oppression, and they themselves have conflicting notions concerning their identity. Today numbering as many as 150,000 according to some estimates, they live in Turkey, Russia, and Georgia, as well as in some diaspora communities in the west…. Historical Hamshen lies between the Pontic mountain chain in the south and the Black Sea to the north, today part of the Turkish province of Rize. Hemshinli also live further to the east in Artvin province of Turkey in the region around Hopa. Unlike their Laz neighbors, the Hemshin tend to live among the higher mountains, not immediately around the coast. Thanks to the Pontic mountains overlooking the Black Sea, Hamshen is not only fairly inaccessible, but also one of the most humid areas of Turkey, with an average of 250 days of rain per year creating a semi-tropical climate. A quasi-permanent fog covers the area. The Armenians there were always in close proximity to the sea, even when their political borders did not quite reach it….

Hemshin Music

Musical instruments associated with the Hemshia are the Tulum (a special bagpipe), and the Pontic Kemenche. See https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/musical-instruments/kemenche-turkish-viols/  The kemenche can be heard opening the Hamsheni Mani YouTube above, both instruments feature in the YouTube below.

Hemshin Turks

Most Turks have an ambivalent attitude to Muslim Hemshenli. Some consider them full-fledged Turks, like they insist that all Muslims within their borders are Turks. Others are suspicious of their Armenian origins and consider them opportunists not to be trusted.

The western Hemshinli follow a very pragmatic version of Islam, and still drink alcohol, sing folksongs, and dance in mixed company…. Attempts to prove the Hemshinli to have Turkish origins fit in with broader historiographical and linguistic approaches in Turkey, which in the 1930s went to the extreme of proclaiming that all languages derived from Turkish, and all civilizations were either Turkish in origin or influenced by the Turks historically.”

John Uhlemann’s comment: I was in some of the villages pictured in the first video, 2 summer ago. Although the video makes the point that the Laz are closer to the Black Sea than the mountains, I stayed in Ayder, at a higher altitude than some of the photos, and much of the population there is Laz – they look just like Georgians from Svaneti (not surprising given the Laz language). The Hemshin are fairly strict Moslems, but the Laz will drink you under the table. They all play Tulum (bagpipe) and kemenche. The bar (yes, a bar) across the street from my hotel had live music every night and the dancing was great. They scenery is spectacular, with many waterfalls from the snow melt from the upper Kachkar mountains.

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