Artvin

Hopa-Hamshen communities 

Hopa Hamshen communities visited by the group

Rize

 

Bash-Hamshen communities visited by the group

Who Are They? The Muslim Hamshens
Who Speak Armenian

 

 

 “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 Yılmaz Topaloğlu, the former mayor of Hopa.

 

The language he refers to is Armenian. Yılmaz 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.

 

 

In Başoba village



Wherever I would go, the villages, the shops and cafes of Hopa, or to Çamlıhemşin (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 Çamlıhemşin, 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 Yılmaz 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.

 

****

 

“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 Erdoğan Yenigül. The man displays no antagonism when talking to us. Rather, there’s a smile on his face when we ask questions to which answers are not expected. In a bar in Hopa, Erdoğan 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 northeast region of present-day Turkey, some 90 kilometers from the Georgian border. Today, there are two places bearing the name Hemşin, both in Rize Province. There is Hemşin (both a town and district) and the other is Çamlıhemşin, (also both a small town and district) where the Hamshens speak Turkish. The latter is a combination of the terms "Çamlı" which in Turkish means "pine-forested" and "Hemşin".)

 

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]

 

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 Çamlıhemşin, 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.

 

 

Yılmaz -  “I feel uncomfortable conversing through a translator.”

 

 

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.”

 

****

 

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 Adapazarı in the western Turkish province of Sakarya (near Istanbul), who fled Hopa during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.

 

“The Hamshens of Adapazarı 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.”

 

 




Erdoğan -  “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? Why didn’t the other Armenians want anything to do with us afterwards?”

 


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 Kemalpaşa.

 

Hopa-Hamshens and Bash-Hamshens live side by side in the western Black Sea province of Sakarya (in the provincial center of Adapazarı 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.

 

 


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

 

 

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.

 

Ardeşen

Güroluk

Kaplıca

Aşağı Şimşirli

Yolkıyı

Pazar

Kadiköy

Topluca

Yeşilköy

Eşmekaya

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

 

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. [22]

 

 

-       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.[23]

 

-       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.[24]

 

 





Hava and Nargiza

 

 

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 Yılmaz, 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.

 

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.

 

 





Mumi’s mother Gyonul sings a lullaby for Elisultan

 

 

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

 

The Yılmaz family is from the village of Eşmekaya (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.

 

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.

 

Cihan 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 Yılmaz is to marry 20 year-old Nargiza Mamoushevan, and Cihan Yılmaz 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.

 

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 Yılmaz family home in Eşmekaya. “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.

 

Başoba 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.”

 

 



The house of Mumi Yılmaz

 

 

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.

 

 



“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 Kemalpaşa, Turkey, in 1995.

 

 

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.”

Hendek

Şenyuva

The Bash-Hamshens: These People of Armenian Extraction Despise Armenians

 

 

The town of Çamlıhemşin, one of the centers of the Turkish-speaking Hamshen, lies 70 kilometers west of Hopa. We stayed at the Pension Fortuna, in the village of Çinçiva, six kilometers from Çamlıhemşin in the direction of the mountains. We holed up there for two days.

 

Selçuk Güney, who owns the guesthouse, was born in Çinçiva and lives in Samsun. During the summer, some 60 people reside in the village. It’s empty during the winter. Selçuk opens the guesthouse just when the first tourists from Russia arrive to canoe down the rushing mountain river. It was now November, and Selçuk had come back to the village to celebrate the holiday of Bayram. We were the only guests in the otherwise empty pension.

 

 

The Turkish-speaking Hamshens mostly reside in the province of Rize. The towns of Çamlıhemşin and Hemşin, and the slopes of the Kaçkar Mountains are considered the original settlements of the Hamshen. (The name Kaçkar from the Armenian khachkarmeaning stone cross)

 



Çinçiva village: The women of Bash-Hamshen wear unique head scarves to set them apart.

 

 

 

“Our elders tell us that we once lived side-by-side with Armenians. We became Muslim and they, Christian. As to what happened before we became Muslim, we don’t know,” Selçuk says.

 

“Have you read anything to find out?”

 

“Yeah, I’ve read a number of books and have learnt much,” he says but stops. I don’t pursue the matter any further.

 

“Isn’t it odd that you speak Turkish, are Sunni Muslims, but consider yourselves to be a separate nationality?”

 

“It’s not odd to us.”

 

“You probably once spoke the Hamshen language, like they do in Hopa.”

 

“According to our elders, we never spoke Armenian or the Hamshen dialect. This is what our grandfathers tell us. We can’t go back further than that.”

 

“Do you believe people here once spoke Hamshen?”

 

"The Hamshens indeed had links with Armenians but there’s an unfriendly attitude towards Armenians. There’s some type of contradiction and I don’t know how it started. Why, for example, do the Hopa-Hamshens still speak the language while we have forgotten it? We speak Turkish with a certain accent and use some words that aren’t Turkish.”

 

 


Çinçiva: Houses on the cliffs

 

 

Selçuk gives me some examples of such words that turn out to be mostly Armenian:kaj/kaytz (lightning), kajolik/kaytzorik (firefly) denchkap/glkhashor (headscarf),agos/akos-irrigation furrows in the field; the names of yaylas – baghchur (cold water),jermakjur (white water).

 

The Hamshens have a song in Turkish in which the word akhchik (girl) is used. There are words that I realized were Armenian only after opening a dictionary – hedik (snow shoes). From the Malkhasyan dictionary: “hedik-high boots worn to walk in the snow”; “tchougal-pitcher, wine jar”. It’s probably the word tchouval (large sack)[25] found in the Malkhasayan dictionary where the “g” has changed to “v”. There are words that I can’t label as Armenian: koukma-water pitcher, gilmor-metal chain to hang pots from. (In theNor bargirk haykazyan lezvi, are the words gil-kar (stone), gleli-dzgeli.[26] Selçuk also knows that his family name was Chebants. There’s also the Mehtesants clan name.

 

The Bash-Hamshens still celebrate the holiday of Vardavar (an Armenian Christian holiday with pagan antecedents.  The Bash-Hamshen celebration has been denuded of all religious import and is basically a summer festival up in the mountains). They call it Vardevor. Selçuk says that in the past the holiday was celebrated with great pomp in the yaylas on the slopes of the Kachkar Mountains. When sheepherding faded, so did the holiday. “I remember we went up to the yaylas to celebrate Vardavar when I was ten. The people were playing their tulumsand dancing. Today, we still mark the day but the good times of the past are just memories.” Selçuk had no clue regarding the origins of Vardavar. (Burials also have an Armenian connection. The Hamshens bury their dead in coffins, unlike Muslims who only use a shroud.

 

At the back of Uğur Biryol’s book  Kaçkar Mountains, that deals with the geography, towns and villages of Hamshen, there’s a dictionary of 588 Armenian and non-Turkish words preserved in the language of Turkish-speaking Hamshens. For example

 

-        Budbudigli (flower patterned cloth), Eğinç/Yeghinj (thistle),  Gobit/Kopit (dull, round), Hurç/Khurj (saddle-bag), Kakaçur (farm wastewater), Kargut/Karkut (dry snow),Kec/kaytz  (spark), Keduç/ktouts (snout), Keenk/krounk (sock heel), Kokneç/gognots (apron), Macig/madzoun (yoghurt), Meceğh/mzhegh (a type of mosquito), Palul/Barour (swaddling cloth) Sart/sard (spider). As well as the Hopa-Hamshen -word maskatevwhich is phonetically altered here as Maşkitep, which means “bat”.  Returning from emigration in Russia, these Hamshens also brought back with them a number of Russian words that are still used:  Istikan (стакан) - glass, Suğhari (сухари) – sugar, Peksimet – hard biscuit [27]: Thus we see in the Turkish vocabulary of the Bash-Hamshens many Armenian and some Russian words. 

 

32 year-old Uğur Biryol was born in Konaklar village (formerly Makrevis) and has authored two books on the Hamshens. The first, Gurbet Pastası: Hemşinliler, Göç ve Pastacılık (“Pastry of Exile: The Hamshens, Migration and Pastry”) [Note: Gurbet from the Arabic gharib or exile] tells the story of Hamshen migration and how they became skilled pastry makers.

 

“The 1900’s were economically tough times for the Hamshens just like everywhere else. Tea had not yet entered the marketplace as a commercial commodity. People would grow corn, barley and potatoes, along with raising sheep,” Uğur writes in Pastry of Exile. “People couldn’t make a decent living based on this alone. Many Hamshen left for Russia to seek their fortune where the pastry trade was highly developed. The Hamshens decided to work in the sector for three reasons – they’d earn money, wouldn’t go hungry, and would have a place to stay. They slept right at the job site. Years later, they saved up enough to build some nice homes here. Afterwards, as skilled craftsmen, they branched out to the south. Today, you’ll find the grandchildren of those who left for Russia plying their pastry trade in Istanbul and Izmir. Compared to the other peoples of the Black Sea coast, the Hamshens have really seen much of the world beyond.”

 

The book also tells of the links between the Bash-Hamshens and Armenians. Baker Muzaffer Yücel says that they started to migrate by following the Armenians. The Bash-Hamshens mostly left for Russia – the Crimea, Batumi and as far as Moscow. He says they later found their way to Poland and Iran. The only pastry shop in Iran belonged to an Armenian. The Hamshens opened another one, the New Day pastry café in 1929. Later it was renamed the Café Jale Restaurant and that’s where Yücel worked.[28]

 

The tradition of pastry making is only found within the Turkish-speaking Hamshen community and not in Hopa.

 

Sergey Vardanyan cites an 1893 article, “Turkified Armenians”, where the author writes that there are Armenians in Rostov, Kharkov and Odessa from the Hamshen district of Rize who have accepted Islam, “who  are bread-bakers, cooks and hotel owners. Their last names contain Armenian words – Stepan oghli, Hakop ogli, Kostan oghli. They celebrate Vardavar and “they have not yet forgotten the mother language, and if they often speak Turkish, it is because of their fear of government; but, in spite of all, many know and speak Armenian”.[29]

 

So here is the answer to Selçuk’s vexing query – the Bash-Hamshens were still speaking Armenian at the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Uwe Bläsing, in his chapter “Armenian in the vocabulary and culture of the Turkish Hemshinli”, notes that the presence of a large number of Armenian words retained amongst the western Hamshens indicates that Armenian was spoken in the area even until the beginning and mid-19th century, and can be surmised from travelogues and from information gathered from local residents themselves.[30]

 

Hovann Simonian believes that the main reason for the disappearance of Armenian, both in Hamshen proper and Karadere, were the pressures exacted by local religious and political authorities. Efforts to revert to Christianity, especially in the region of Karadere (Trebizond) increased during the 1840s and 1850s after the promulgation of the Gülhaneedict by Sultan Abdülmecid (1839–1861) in 1839, which inaugurated an era of reforms (Tanzimat) in the Ottoman Empire, among which was included freedom of religion. Urgent measures to stem apostasy from Islam were soon taken. Turkish schools were opened in the district, where Muslim preachers were also dispatched. According to both T‘umayian and Haykuni, a campaign was launched against the use of the Armenian language. Speaking Armenian was declared a sin by mullahs who stated that ‘seven Armenian words were an insult for a Muslim’. This campaign was ultimately successful, since within a few generations Armenian had almost died out in Karadere, and by the early twentieth century it was only spoken by elderly people.[31]

 

“Are there pastry makers in Çamlıhemşin?”

 

“There’s a guy named Kachkar,” says Uğur.

 

“Can we meet him?”

 

“Such things are risky,” explained Uğur, “You can be on the receiving end of something unexpected. They can reject or accept you.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Things are pretty tense there. You’ll be asking questions, taking pictures. They will ask where you are from. When you answer Armenia, it could lead to some unpleasantness. To say, I am Armenian, is problematic,” noted Uğur.

 

“If you ask a Hamshentsi what he is, he will answer “Hamshen’. If you then ask what a Hamshen is, he’s at a loss. In this country, not calling yourself a Turk is an act of courage,” Selçuk says.

 

The Turkish-speaking Hamshens compensate for this courage with their loathing of Armenians.

 

Thus, during our two day stay in Çamlıhemşin, we only got to speak to Uğur and Selçuk.

 

We had two days left to spend some time trekking through the pristine river valley cutting and to marvel at how people had built homes perched on the sheer mountain cliffs. We had time to ponder who had built the bridges dating back to the 1600s and to hear the barking of village dogs piercing the silence of nature.  Once, surrounded by all this beauty, Khachik turned to me and rhetorically remarked, “And some wonder why Armenians would come here in the first place…”

 

 


Selçuk Güney: “If you ask a Hamshentsi who he is, he’ll say, ‘I’m Hamshentsi’. But if you ask, ‘what is a Hamshentsi?’, he’ll have trouble answering.”

 

“There are two theses regarding the origins of the Hamshens,” Uğur says. “One involves the princedom of Hamam Amatuni and his successors. The other claims something quite the opposite; that the Hamshens are a Turkish tribe that migrated from Central Asia. I believe something else entirely. In the past, Armenians and Turks intermingled and girls were given and taken as brides, resulting in the Hamshen people. We’re a mixture of two different cultures. There are Armenians words in the Turkish spoken by Hamshens but they also follow Turkish customs, especially at weddings. I and others like me do not necessarily base our identity on one past or one culture alone. We regard ourselves as humans, first and foremost. Our identity is revealed by living here through our culture. So when I am asked ‘what am I?’, I graciously respond, ‘I am Hamshen’. We say nothing more.”

 

 

 

Fortuna Pension (Motel)

 

 

“Do you feel different than the Hopa-Hamshens?”

 

“Yes, the language of the Hopa-Hamshens makes a world of difference. To maintain their language, Armenian speakers migrated towards Hopa from these parts. The people here couldn’t preserve the language. In addition to the language, there are other cultural disparities. They play the kaval and we, the tulum. Even the clothes we wear are different. They dress more simply while we prefer more decorative attire. Our women also wear distinctive headscarves you won’t see elsewhere. We also celebrate vardavar; they don’t. The topography is also different. Here you’ll find chasms and sheer rock cliffs.”

 

In an article about the Hamshen identity, Hagop Hacikian writes that there are two different Hamshen identities, not one – that of Rize and Hopa. Beside the geographical division, the language is the primary element differentiating the two groups. The Hopa-Hamshens speak a dialect of western Armenian that is called Homshetsma. The Hamshens of Rize no longer speak the dialect. The Turkish they speak is rich in Armenian vocabulary. The Bash-Hamshens have a greater desire to receive a college education. They have produced many doctors, engineers and teachers, including women. They traditionally work at bread and pastry plants, in hotels and restaurants. The Hopa-Hamshens are mostly engaged in the transportation business, as drivers, etc.

 

Hacikian writes that by far, the most ardent promoters and propagators of the Turkish origin thesis are the Hemshinli themselves, and they include many rank-and-file people, mostly of the Bash-Hamshen (Rize) group. He cites the following example.

 

 



“Boughlama” – A staple Hamshen dish served  for breakfast at the Fortuna Pension.

 

 

Following the publication of an article in the Istanbul daily Yeni Yüzyıl mentioning that some Hemshinli spoke Armenian, Ali Ihsan Arol, an officer on the board of the Çamlıhemşin and Hemşin foundation, sent a protest letter to the paper. In his letter, Arol argued that ‘not every Hemşinli is Armenian’ (her Hemşinli Ermeni değil), i.e. that the Hopa Hemshinli perhaps were, but the Bash Hemshinli certainly were not. Arol writes: “It is not true that all Hemshinli have Armenian roots. Yes, there are Hemshinli living in the interior of Hopa speaking the Armenian dialect [sic]. However, it is known that the Hemshinli in Fındıklı, Ardeven, Pazar, Çamlıhemşin, Hemşin and Çayeli are of Turkish descent.” [32]

 

Rüdiger Benninghaus, in turn, cites numerous cases where the Laz and Hamshen accuse each other of having non-Turkish roots. (1989)[33]

 

 


Çinçiva: Bridge from the year 1600 AD

 

 

According to Hagop Hacikian it is not very clear when the idea of denying Armenian origins and ascribing a fictive Turkish past to the group was conceived, or who authored it. While it is likely that this theory was linked to the Turkish Historical Thesis and was probably conceived in the 1930s, it may have found fertile ground in trends dating back to late Ottoman times. Indeed, according to the writer Atrpet (Sargis Mubayajian), a deterioration in relations between Islamicized Armenians and the ones who remained Christians took place during the final two decades of the nineteenth century. Atrpet accused the Ottoman authorities of having played a key role in this deterioration by mounting Muslims of Armenian background against Armenians. These views of Atrpet, published in the 1929 work Chorokhi Awazan[The Basin of the Çoruh] (Vienna: Mekhitarist Press), reaffirm those of Sargis Haykuni appearing in an 1895 article inArarat.[34]

Ülkü

Güneşli

Hopa

Վախի ու խիզախության քաղաքը 

Հոփայում ավելի ցայտուն է ընդգծցում, որ վախն ու խիզախությունը իրար հետ են ծնվում ու կողք-կողքի ապրում:

2011-ի մայիսի վերջին Թուրքիայի խորհրդարանի նախընտրական շրջանում Հոփայում վարչապետ Էրդողանի ավտոշարասյանը քարկոծելով դիմավորեցին, ոստիկանության հետ բախումներում մի հոգի մահացել էր, մի քանիսը վիրավորվել: Քսանից ավել համշենցիներ ձերբակալվեցին: Էրդողանը վերադառնալով Անկարա ասել էր` ես չգիտեի, որ Հոփայում բանդիտներ կան: «Մյուս անգամ, որ գա Հոփա, բոլորս պաստառ կպարզենք` ես բանդիտ եմ, ինչպես Հրանտ Դինքի թաղմանը պարզել էին` ես հայ եմ,-ասում է մի համշենցի կոմունիստ,-ու ավելացնում,-մեզ էլ հնարավոր չի վախի մեջ պահել»:

Մեկ ուրիշ վարորդ էլ ասում է. «Մենք ֆուռի վարորդներ ենք, վախ չունենք  ու զառիվայրի վրա արգելակ չենք տալիս»:

Մեր գալուց մեկ շաբաթ առաջ Հոփայում բախումներ էին եղել ձախերի ու ոստիկանության միջև: Գնալով ավելի սրվելու է քաղաքական իրավիճակը Հոփայում ու մերձակա բնակավայրերում:

Բայց հաճախ էր լինում, երբ որևէ անծանոթ համշենցու  հետ զրուցում էի շատ անմեղ բաներից` լեզվի միջի բառեր և այլն ու հենց հանում էի ծոցատետրս, խնդրում էր չգրել ոչինչ, վտանգավոր է,- ասում էր,- գլխիս մի բան կբերեն:  

 «Այո, պատմություն չկա, մեր պատմությունը վերացրել են, հիշողություն չկա, և համշենցիների միակ հիշողությունը ճնշումների առաջացրած վախն է, որ առայսօր ապրում է»,-ասում է Ջեմիլ Աքսուն:

Ինչպե՞ս դեպի Համշեն

Հորս հայրը` Ավետիս Կիրակոսյանը համշենցի է, ծնվել է Տրապիզոնում, 1914թ. մեկնել է Կրասնոդար ուսումը շարունակելու ու փրկվել ջարդերից, եղել է բոլշևիկ, 1937թվին նրան գնդակահարել են Թիֆլիսում: Ավետիսի հայրը՝ Մելքոնը քրիստոնյա համշենական գյուղերից է, ո՞ր գյուղից, չգիտեմ, Տրապիզոնում ջուր ծախող է եղել, մայրս հաճախ հորս ծաղրում էր` ջուր ծախո՞ղ չի եղել պապդ (մորս պապը իրավաբան է եղել Պոլսում): 

1915թ. ջարդերին  թուրքերը սպանել են Մելքոնին, նրա կնոջը` Ազնիվին և նրանց վեց երեխաներից երեքին: Հայրս չգիտեմ որտեղից էր լսել, պատմում էր, որ Մելքոնը նոր գրամոֆոն էր առել ու ձեռքերի մեջ պահած երաժշտությունը միացրած  ընկերների հետ ուրախ-ուրախ գալիս էր տուն քեֆ անելու: Մեկ էլ թիկունքից կրակում են ու արյունը թափվում է ձայնապնակի վրա:

Հորս հորեղբայրը` Հարությունը իր եղբորն ու հորը հասած երկու արհավիրքներից կարողացել է խուսափել` 1915-ին գնդակահարված հայերի դիակների տակ է մնացել, մի թուրք նրան թլպատել ու որդեգրել է, մի քանի տարի անց նրան գտել է եղբայրը`Ավետիսը ու տարել Թիֆլիս:

1937թվին էլ հայրս է փրկել նրան. Թիֆլիսում գիշերով Չեկան եկել է նրան տանելու, դուռը ծեծել են, Հարությունը ուզել է բացել, 15 տարեկան հայրս  չի թողել` եթե բացես ինչ կանեն, կտանեն, եթե չբացես, դուռը կջարդեն էլի կտանեն, ուրեմն ավելի լավ է չբացես: Դուռը չեն ջարդում, իսկ առավոտյան Հարությունը մեկնում է Հյուսիսային Կովկաս ու փրկվում: Ցեղասպանությունից փրկվում է նաև հորս հորաքույրը` Ալմաստը, ով մինչ 1915թ. ամուսնացել-մարդու էր գնացել Սուխումիում:

Հայրս`Ռաֆայելը համշենցի ազգականներ ուներ` իր հոր քեռու զավակները`Թերզյաններ Աբխազիայի Էշերի գյուղում, սովետական տարիներին մի քանի անգամ ծանրոցով խնձոր էինք ստացել ու երբ 2004-ին գնում էի Աբխազիա ակնարկ գրելու, փնտրեցի բայց այդպես էլ  չգտա նրանց հասցեները:

Համշենագետ Հովան Սիմոնյանը իր հայկական գենետիկ ծրագրի համար ինձնից գենային նմուշ վերցրեց, պարզվեց իմ գենետիկ խումբը G1-ն է և ևս մի համշենցի, ինձ անծանոթ Ավիկ Թոփչյանի հետ ոչ միայն նույն խմբից ենք այլև տասը սերունդ առաջ մեր պապերը եղբայրներ են եղել:

Փոքր երեխա էի, տանը խոսում էին, թե` Սև ծովի ափերին մահմեդական համշենցիներ են մնացել, խոսում են համշենի բարբառով, տարբեր թվեր էին ասում` հարյուր հազար, մեկ միլիոն: Ովքե՞ր են նրանք, հա՞յ են արդյոք: Ինչպիսի՞ն են նրանք, մեզ նմա՞ն, տարբե՞ր, շա՞տ տարբեր` չնաշխարհիկ(էկզոտիկ) բան`մարդիկ, ովքեր մուսուլման են և հայերեն են խոսում:  

Շնորհակալությունս Եվրասիա համագործակցության հիմնադրամին, որի դրամաշնորհմամբ  «Հայախոս մուսուլման համշենցիներ» նախագիծը հնարավոր եղավ:

Hopa

Betrothals

 

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 - Açık 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.

 

 


Mukerem and Sevim get engaged

 

 

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.

 

 



Muslim Aksu: “I had a duduk-like instrument but dreamed of a tulum. I worked harvesting tea one season and earned 400 lira. I used the money to by this tulum.”

 

 

***

 

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 Çamlıhemşin 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 Fındıklı. “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.

 

 


Engagement Party: Only juice and pastry is served

 

 

***

 

“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.

 

 


Engagement Party: The hall was too narrow for the dancers

 

 

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.”

Hopa

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”.

 

 


The Hopa-Hamshens call their dialect Hamshesnak

 

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 languageHamshesnak or HomshesnakHomshetsma 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.

 

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)[18]

 

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.

 

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

 

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 (Eşmekaya), and Kemalpaşa Valley residents or Turtsevantsi, i.e. ‘outsiders’ (probably turs + 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)

 

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)[19]:

Hopa

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 Bzhishkyanwrites that those half-Muslim, half-Christian Hamshentsis during the religious conversion phase had names that were half-Turkish and half-Armenian - Ali-Sargis Garabedoğlu, Mahmoud Hovhannesoğlu, etc.[17] 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 Mouslioğlu clan, but the oghlu suffix was considered outdated according to the reform and had to be changed. In the same vein, the names Topaloğlu, Garabedoğlu 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.

Hopa

Cemil Aksu: Eight Years of Torture in a Turkish Prison

 

“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, BirYaşam (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?”

 

“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.

 

 


Yusuf: A scene from the film “Autumn”

 

 

“What was your contribution to the film?”

 

“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?”

 

“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?

 

 

“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.”

 

 


Hopa: Chestnut vendor

 

 

“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?”

 

 



Cemil Aksu: Yusuf, the hero in the film “Autumn”, is based on his life

 

 

“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.”

Hopa

Yılmaz Topaloğlu – 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 Yılmaz. “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: Yılmaz-2,200; other Hamshentsi-800; Laz-3,400)


 


Yılmaz and Ismet Topaloğlu, 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.

 


“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 Yılmaz. “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.

 

Yılmaz 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.”

 

Yılmaz 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. Yılmaz then married a Turkish communist. They have a daughter and a son was born just days ago.

 

 “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 Yılmaz 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.” 

 

 


Hopa at night

 

 

“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.”

Hopa

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.

 

 


Hopa:  In the narrow streets men drink tea, play backgammon and get a shave

 

 

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 Yılmaz 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.”

 

 


Hopa: Entertainment is for men only

 

 

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.

 



Hopa

 

 

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 Başoba 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.

 

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.

 

 


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.”

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 



Ustabaş Restaurant in Sheno:  Tea and more tea

 

 

“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.

 

 



“It’s entrenched in the minds of all in Turkey that the country has three enemies – Armenians, Alevis and communists.”

 

 

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

Hopa

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 thekaval. The shepherding past of the Hamshens lives on in the music only. Sitting in the bar drinking beer and rakı, (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 Kemalpaşa tea factory.

 

 


Hopa: Upper floor of the Hayteh Bar - Hamshens dance the horon; a circle dance from the mountain valleys

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 (Kemalpaşa, 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). (Çarşı 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?

 

 


Hopa: Hayteh Bar - Beer, raki and games

 

 

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 Kemalpaşa 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, Hemşinliler: Dil – Tarih – Kültür (Ankara: Ardanuç Kültür Yardımlaşma 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.

 

 


Call to Prayer: A mosque’s loudspeaker sends the message across the city

 

 

-       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.

 

-       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).

 

 



Hopa: This nightclub is one of the many places to come across women from post-Soviet countries plying the “world’s  oldest profession”

 

 

-       An estimated 200 Hopa Hemshin households in the vicinity of Makrial (now Kemalpaşa) 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.[16]

 

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.

Başoba

“We are neither Turks nor Armenians. We’reHamshentsi

 

 

“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.

 

 


The storehouse of Harun Aksu

 

 

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 Yaşam.

 

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

 

“Yes, I identify with the Hamshens of Çamlıhemşin, 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 Çamlıhemşin, we’re still far removed. Let’s face it, we split from them some 250 years ago.”

 

 



Picking tea leaves

Başoba

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 Süleyman’s home

 

 

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 Çamlıhemşin, 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 Çamlıhemşin 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.”

 





Hadji Süleyman - “We are Turks”

 

 

***

 

“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.”

 

 

 


Truck driver Aytekin (facing camera):  “Give Karabakh back so that we can live together in peace.”

 

 

***

 

Hamdi Yıldız, 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 Çançağan), a village near Kemalpaşa. Everyone is speaking in Turkish at the house of Abdullah Yılmaz, 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.

 

“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.

 

 Abdullah takes me to a nearby room and takes out a gadget from under the bed. “Altın”, he laughs. I didn’t get it. Only later did I learn that altın means gold in Turkish. He flips open the cell phone and starts showing me photos, explaining what they are in the Hamshen dialect. There’s a bridge and some sort of passage in a cliff. Abdullah says there are huge wine jars there. I begin to get is drift. In Ardanuç, a former Armenian village, the Armenians buried their valuables. Abdullah had gone to the village with this prospecting instrument to locate the treasure. But the device isn’t sensitive enough to detect gold is buried more than a half meter deep. He needs a stronger apparatus and asks if I could bring one from Yerevan. We’ll go to Ardanuç, find the gold and divvy it up.

 

It’s an interesting proposition, but my better judgement kicks in. Abdullah wants to involve me in a scheme to pillage. As if he wants to use me to get to my friend’s valuables. I say nothing and we return to the others.

 

 

Hamdi: "No, we are not Armenian. We came from somewhere in Persia."(photo by Vahan Ishkhanyan)

 

 

The topic of conversation is about the origins of the Hamshens. While Harun and Yıldız 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. Then 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 Çamlıhemşin, 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.

Başoba

Başoba: Armenian Songs and Strong Tea

 

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 Çakız 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)

 

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

 

 

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)

 

 

 



Başoba: Lowering goods down the cliff by rope. This time it’s winter firewood.

 

 

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 derunliğule ander / The stream, in its depth, ander

 

Irmak serunluğile ander / The river, in it coolness, ander

 

Yürüdün mü sevduğum ander / Did you walk, my dear, ander?

 

Yürüdün mü sevduğum / 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.

 

 


Başoba: One of the old houses

 

 

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 Kemalpaşa. 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.”

 

 



Hamshen woman

 

 

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 Kemalpaşa, a few from Çavuşlu 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 Başoba. 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.

Balıkköy

Subaşı

Üçkardeş

Yeşilköy

Şerefiyeköy

Güreşen

Çifteköprü

Demircilar

Düzköy

Çaylıköy

Çamlıhemşin

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Ius ne quod timeam audire, sonet tation civibus has ei. Purto postea everti no est. Id quo sint scripserit voluptatibus, cum ullum labore te, sea ea insolens scriptorem. Usu partem expetendis scripserit ne, an elitr nobis semper est, mea illum nemore iriure ne. Ut commune euripidis nec, ut hinc graeci quodsi eum, sed audire neglegentur ad.

Ut dicit dictas vis, sed mazim timeam no. Explicari instructior vis id, vel te veniam bonorum omittam. No eum quodsi atomorum expetenda. Saepe nostrum quo at, prima choro mediocritatem sea ad, sale graece comprehensam cu per. Et vim novum congue habemus.

Ius ne quod timeam audire, sonet tation civibus has ei. Purto postea everti no est. Id quo sint scripserit voluptatibus, cum ullum labore te, sea ea insolens scriptorem. Usu partem expetendis scripserit ne, an elitr nobis semper est, mea illum nemore iriure ne. Ut commune euripidis nec, ut hinc graeci quodsi eum, sed audire neglegentur ad.

Ut dicit dictas vis, sed mazim timeam no. Explicari instructior vis id, vel te veniam bonorum omittam. No eum quodsi atomorum expetenda. Saepe nostrum quo at, prima choro mediocritatem sea ad, sale graece comprehensam cu per. Et vim novum congue habemus.

Kazimiye

Kayaköy

Kayaköy – Eating Yaghaloush in a Hamshen Village

 

“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 – There’s a sheepskin in each Hamshen home.

 

 

“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 Şana), near the town of Kemalpaşa, 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.

 

 



Yaghaloush – the basic Hamshen meal. It’s a dish of curds and onion fried in oil and resembles fried cheese with its sharp tang. And the khavitz... This too was unlike the sweet flour khavitz I was used too.

 

 

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 Yaşam (One Life) Cultural and Environmental Organization, and Harun Aksu. We were discussing the project and decided to leave for Şana that same day. We were headed to see Teciye, the mother of Cemil’s wife Nurcan, who is a master of Hamshen cuisine.

 

 



Father-in-law and son-in-law: Cemal and Cemil

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Teciye: Master of Hamshen cuisine

 

 

“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".

 

 



Cemal Vayiç: “The Hamshens are descended from Armenians. If Armenians interact with us more often, we will be able to improve our language skills.”

 

 

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 has thrown in jail just for uttering the word “us”. Alper was a heavy drinker and died years ago.

Osmaniye

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 Kemalpaşa.

 

Hopa-Hamshens and Bash-Hamshens live side by side in the western Black Sea province of Sakarya (in the provincial center of Adapazarı 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.

 Turkologist Lousineh Sahakyan cites 60,000 as the total number of Turkish-speaking Hamshens.

 

 

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.

 

Kayaköy – Eating Yaghaloush in a Hamshen Village

 

“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 Şana), near the town of Kemalpaşa, 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 Yaşam (One Life) Cultural and Environmental Organization, and Harun Aksu. We were discussing the project and decided to leave for Şana 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?

“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 has thrown in jail just for uttering the word “us”. Alper was a heavy drinker and died years ago.

Köprücü

Çimenli

Koyunçular

Çavuşlu

Yoldere

Başköy

Akdere

Karaosmaniye

Dereiçi

Kemalpaşa

A Loving Family of Adversary Peoples

 

Every time Oğuz 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 Oğuz. 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 Oğuz 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 Kemalpaşa, 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 Gezmiş who was hung in 1972), and Janan-Selen, a 15 year-old daughter.

 

 


Necla and Oğuz

 

 

Oğuz can’t remember a mixed marriage between a Laz and a Hamshen before theirs. Oğuz 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.

 

 


Kemal Tatar: “They tell me I’m an Armenian put through the Muslim grinder. I tell them, I’m not a Muslim but an atheist. They reply that I am different.”

 

 

“Religion was never a factor,” says Hamshen communist Kemal Tatar, a friend of Oğuz. “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 Oğuz’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 Oğuz’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 Oğuz, 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.”

 

Oğuz 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: “Twenty years from now, no one will regard themselves as Laz. They’ll say that their grandparents were Laz. Once the language disappears, so does ones identity.” 

 

 

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 Oğuz and mentions his brother, Kâzım Koyuncu, with great pride. Kâzım 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.

 

Oğuz 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.”

Çamurlu

Weddings

 

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 Yılmaz, 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.

 

 



Hediye Karabajakov says that in  Kyrgyzstan, Hamshens only marry other Hamshens

 

 

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.

 

 


Çamurlu: They’ve come to take the bride

 

 

Khachik and I were listening to the Hamshen songs sung by the women who had painted the   bride’s hands with henna that morning 

 

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 and interviewing Hediye. 

 

In the meantime, Anahit was video-recording the bride’s visit to the local beauty parlor.

 

 


Kemalpaşa wedding: Young men standing around

 

 


…Womenfolk are sitting and waiting

 

 

“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 Anahit.

 

 


The bride’s sisters demand “bakhshish” (gift payment) from the groom

 

 


Aydin and Zulya get married

 

 



Çamurlu wedding

 

 

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. Aydın 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. Aydın 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 Kemalpaşa. 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 Aydın’s father İzzet Yenigül, who is watching the dancers.

 

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

Sarp

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ius tempor possim abhorreant ei, zril insolens et qui. Ea tota saepe sea. His te mucius option. Porro homero virtute no per, mel an blandit atomorum, ad eum perpetua iudicabit gubergren.

Nam clita principes id, vel oratio labore an. Ipsum luptatum comprehensam eum eu, paulo mnesarchum ei quo. Cum unum nihil id, ex tantas nostrum epicurei qui. Nec fabulas scaevola ex, torquatos contentiones cu eam, sea et justo conceptam. Alterum accusam pro ex.

In usu elit nulla vivendo, ei has ornatus facilis dissentiunt, his eu dolore tractatos. Duo ne wisi patrioque gubergren, copiosae indoctum est cu. Ludus iudicabit suscipiantur ut cum, sea iisque mediocrem in, ea mea dicta ignota epicuri. Dico posse gloriatur sea et, laudem explicari est no. Affert aperiam detraxit mei ex, duo in libris temporibus.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ius tempor possim abhorreant ei, zril insolens et qui. Ea tota saepe sea. His te mucius option. Porro homero virtute no per, mel an blandit atomorum, ad eum perpetua iudicabit gubergren.

Nam clita principes id, vel oratio labore an. Ipsum luptatum comprehensam eum eu, paulo mnesarchum ei quo. Cum unum nihil id, ex tantas nostrum epicurei qui. Nec fabulas scaevola ex, torquatos contentiones cu eam, sea et justo conceptam. Alterum accusam pro ex.

In usu elit nulla vivendo, ei has ornatus facilis dissentiunt, his eu dolore tractatos. Duo ne wisi patrioque gubergren, copiosae indoctum est cu. Ludus iudicabit suscipiantur ut cum, sea iisque mediocrem in, ea mea dicta ignota epicuri. Dico posse gloriatur sea et, laudem explicari est no. Affert aperiam detraxit mei ex, duo in libris temporibus.

Who Are They? The Muslim Hamshens
Who Speak Armenian

 

 

 “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 Yılmaz Topaloğlu, the former mayor of Hopa.

 

The language he refers to is Armenian. Yılmaz 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.

 

 

In Başoba village



Wherever I would go, the villages, the shops and cafes of Hopa, or to Çamlıhemşin (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 Çamlıhemşin, 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 Yılmaz 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.

 

****

 

“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 Erdoğan Yenigül. The man displays no antagonism when talking to us. Rather, there’s a smile on his face when we ask questions to which answers are not expected. In a bar in Hopa, Erdoğan 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 northeast region of present-day Turkey, some 90 kilometers from the Georgian border. Today, there are two places bearing the name Hemşin, both in Rize Province. There is Hemşin (both a town and district) and the other is Çamlıhemşin, (also both a small town and district) where the Hamshens speak Turkish. The latter is a combination of the terms "Çamlı" which in Turkish means "pine-forested" and "Hemşin".)

 

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]

 

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 Çamlıhemşin, 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.

 

 

Yılmaz -  “I feel uncomfortable conversing through a translator.”

 

 

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.”

 

****

 

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 Adapazarı in the western Turkish province of Sakarya (near Istanbul), who fled Hopa during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.

 

“The Hamshens of Adapazarı 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.”

 

 




Erdoğan -  “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? Why didn’t the other Armenians want anything to do with us afterwards?”

 


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 Kemalpaşa.

 

Hopa-Hamshens and Bash-Hamshens live side by side in the western Black Sea province of Sakarya (in the provincial center of Adapazarı 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.

 

 


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

 

 

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.

 

Ardeşen

Güroluk

Kaplıca

Aşağı Şimşirli

Yolkıyı

Pazar

Kadiköy

Topluca

Yeşilköy

Eşmekaya

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

 

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. [22]

 

 

-       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.[23]

 

-       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.[24]

 

 





Hava and Nargiza

 

 

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 Yılmaz, 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.

 

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.

 

 





Mumi’s mother Gyonul sings a lullaby for Elisultan

 

 

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

 

The Yılmaz family is from the village of Eşmekaya (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.

 

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.

 

Cihan 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 Yılmaz is to marry 20 year-old Nargiza Mamoushevan, and Cihan Yılmaz 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.

 

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 Yılmaz family home in Eşmekaya. “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.

 

Başoba 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.”

 

 



The house of Mumi Yılmaz

 

 

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.

 

 



“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 Kemalpaşa, Turkey, in 1995.

 

 

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.”

Hendek

Şenyuva

The Bash-Hamshens: These People of Armenian Extraction Despise Armenians

 

 

The town of Çamlıhemşin, one of the centers of the Turkish-speaking Hamshen, lies 70 kilometers west of Hopa. We stayed at the Pension Fortuna, in the village of Çinçiva, six kilometers from Çamlıhemşin in the direction of the mountains. We holed up there for two days.

 

Selçuk Güney, who owns the guesthouse, was born in Çinçiva and lives in Samsun. During the summer, some 60 people reside in the village. It’s empty during the winter. Selçuk opens the guesthouse just when the first tourists from Russia arrive to canoe down the rushing mountain river. It was now November, and Selçuk had come back to the village to celebrate the holiday of Bayram. We were the only guests in the otherwise empty pension.

 

 

The Turkish-speaking Hamshens mostly reside in the province of Rize. The towns of Çamlıhemşin and Hemşin, and the slopes of the Kaçkar Mountains are considered the original settlements of the Hamshen. (The name Kaçkar from the Armenian khachkarmeaning stone cross)

 



Çinçiva village: The women of Bash-Hamshen wear unique head scarves to set them apart.

 

 

 

“Our elders tell us that we once lived side-by-side with Armenians. We became Muslim and they, Christian. As to what happened before we became Muslim, we don’t know,” Selçuk says.

 

“Have you read anything to find out?”

 

“Yeah, I’ve read a number of books and have learnt much,” he says but stops. I don’t pursue the matter any further.

 

“Isn’t it odd that you speak Turkish, are Sunni Muslims, but consider yourselves to be a separate nationality?”

 

“It’s not odd to us.”

 

“You probably once spoke the Hamshen language, like they do in Hopa.”

 

“According to our elders, we never spoke Armenian or the Hamshen dialect. This is what our grandfathers tell us. We can’t go back further than that.”

 

“Do you believe people here once spoke Hamshen?”

 

"The Hamshens indeed had links with Armenians but there’s an unfriendly attitude towards Armenians. There’s some type of contradiction and I don’t know how it started. Why, for example, do the Hopa-Hamshens still speak the language while we have forgotten it? We speak Turkish with a certain accent and use some words that aren’t Turkish.”

 

 


Çinçiva: Houses on the cliffs

 

 

Selçuk gives me some examples of such words that turn out to be mostly Armenian:kaj/kaytz (lightning), kajolik/kaytzorik (firefly) denchkap/glkhashor (headscarf),agos/akos-irrigation furrows in the field; the names of yaylas – baghchur (cold water),jermakjur (white water).

 

The Hamshens have a song in Turkish in which the word akhchik (girl) is used. There are words that I realized were Armenian only after opening a dictionary – hedik (snow shoes). From the Malkhasyan dictionary: “hedik-high boots worn to walk in the snow”; “tchougal-pitcher, wine jar”. It’s probably the word tchouval (large sack)[25] found in the Malkhasayan dictionary where the “g” has changed to “v”. There are words that I can’t label as Armenian: koukma-water pitcher, gilmor-metal chain to hang pots from. (In theNor bargirk haykazyan lezvi, are the words gil-kar (stone), gleli-dzgeli.[26] Selçuk also knows that his family name was Chebants. There’s also the Mehtesants clan name.

 

The Bash-Hamshens still celebrate the holiday of Vardavar (an Armenian Christian holiday with pagan antecedents.  The Bash-Hamshen celebration has been denuded of all religious import and is basically a summer festival up in the mountains). They call it Vardevor. Selçuk says that in the past the holiday was celebrated with great pomp in the yaylas on the slopes of the Kachkar Mountains. When sheepherding faded, so did the holiday. “I remember we went up to the yaylas to celebrate Vardavar when I was ten. The people were playing their tulumsand dancing. Today, we still mark the day but the good times of the past are just memories.” Selçuk had no clue regarding the origins of Vardavar. (Burials also have an Armenian connection. The Hamshens bury their dead in coffins, unlike Muslims who only use a shroud.

 

At the back of Uğur Biryol’s book  Kaçkar Mountains, that deals with the geography, towns and villages of Hamshen, there’s a dictionary of 588 Armenian and non-Turkish words preserved in the language of Turkish-speaking Hamshens. For example

 

-        Budbudigli (flower patterned cloth), Eğinç/Yeghinj (thistle),  Gobit/Kopit (dull, round), Hurç/Khurj (saddle-bag), Kakaçur (farm wastewater), Kargut/Karkut (dry snow),Kec/kaytz  (spark), Keduç/ktouts (snout), Keenk/krounk (sock heel), Kokneç/gognots (apron), Macig/madzoun (yoghurt), Meceğh/mzhegh (a type of mosquito), Palul/Barour (swaddling cloth) Sart/sard (spider). As well as the Hopa-Hamshen -word maskatevwhich is phonetically altered here as Maşkitep, which means “bat”.  Returning from emigration in Russia, these Hamshens also brought back with them a number of Russian words that are still used:  Istikan (стакан) - glass, Suğhari (сухари) – sugar, Peksimet – hard biscuit [27]: Thus we see in the Turkish vocabulary of the Bash-Hamshens many Armenian and some Russian words. 

 

32 year-old Uğur Biryol was born in Konaklar village (formerly Makrevis) and has authored two books on the Hamshens. The first, Gurbet Pastası: Hemşinliler, Göç ve Pastacılık (“Pastry of Exile: The Hamshens, Migration and Pastry”) [Note: Gurbet from the Arabic gharib or exile] tells the story of Hamshen migration and how they became skilled pastry makers.

 

“The 1900’s were economically tough times for the Hamshens just like everywhere else. Tea had not yet entered the marketplace as a commercial commodity. People would grow corn, barley and potatoes, along with raising sheep,” Uğur writes in Pastry of Exile. “People couldn’t make a decent living based on this alone. Many Hamshen left for Russia to seek their fortune where the pastry trade was highly developed. The Hamshens decided to work in the sector for three reasons – they’d earn money, wouldn’t go hungry, and would have a place to stay. They slept right at the job site. Years later, they saved up enough to build some nice homes here. Afterwards, as skilled craftsmen, they branched out to the south. Today, you’ll find the grandchildren of those who left for Russia plying their pastry trade in Istanbul and Izmir. Compared to the other peoples of the Black Sea coast, the Hamshens have really seen much of the world beyond.”

 

The book also tells of the links between the Bash-Hamshens and Armenians. Baker Muzaffer Yücel says that they started to migrate by following the Armenians. The Bash-Hamshens mostly left for Russia – the Crimea, Batumi and as far as Moscow. He says they later found their way to Poland and Iran. The only pastry shop in Iran belonged to an Armenian. The Hamshens opened another one, the New Day pastry café in 1929. Later it was renamed the Café Jale Restaurant and that’s where Yücel worked.[28]

 

The tradition of pastry making is only found within the Turkish-speaking Hamshen community and not in Hopa.

 

Sergey Vardanyan cites an 1893 article, “Turkified Armenians”, where the author writes that there are Armenians in Rostov, Kharkov and Odessa from the Hamshen district of Rize who have accepted Islam, “who  are bread-bakers, cooks and hotel owners. Their last names contain Armenian words – Stepan oghli, Hakop ogli, Kostan oghli. They celebrate Vardavar and “they have not yet forgotten the mother language, and if they often speak Turkish, it is because of their fear of government; but, in spite of all, many know and speak Armenian”.[29]

 

So here is the answer to Selçuk’s vexing query – the Bash-Hamshens were still speaking Armenian at the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Uwe Bläsing, in his chapter “Armenian in the vocabulary and culture of the Turkish Hemshinli”, notes that the presence of a large number of Armenian words retained amongst the western Hamshens indicates that Armenian was spoken in the area even until the beginning and mid-19th century, and can be surmised from travelogues and from information gathered from local residents themselves.[30]

 

Hovann Simonian believes that the main reason for the disappearance of Armenian, both in Hamshen proper and Karadere, were the pressures exacted by local religious and political authorities. Efforts to revert to Christianity, especially in the region of Karadere (Trebizond) increased during the 1840s and 1850s after the promulgation of the Gülhaneedict by Sultan Abdülmecid (1839–1861) in 1839, which inaugurated an era of reforms (Tanzimat) in the Ottoman Empire, among which was included freedom of religion. Urgent measures to stem apostasy from Islam were soon taken. Turkish schools were opened in the district, where Muslim preachers were also dispatched. According to both T‘umayian and Haykuni, a campaign was launched against the use of the Armenian language. Speaking Armenian was declared a sin by mullahs who stated that ‘seven Armenian words were an insult for a Muslim’. This campaign was ultimately successful, since within a few generations Armenian had almost died out in Karadere, and by the early twentieth century it was only spoken by elderly people.[31]

 

“Are there pastry makers in Çamlıhemşin?”

 

“There’s a guy named Kachkar,” says Uğur.

 

“Can we meet him?”

 

“Such things are risky,” explained Uğur, “You can be on the receiving end of something unexpected. They can reject or accept you.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Things are pretty tense there. You’ll be asking questions, taking pictures. They will ask where you are from. When you answer Armenia, it could lead to some unpleasantness. To say, I am Armenian, is problematic,” noted Uğur.

 

“If you ask a Hamshentsi what he is, he will answer “Hamshen’. If you then ask what a Hamshen is, he’s at a loss. In this country, not calling yourself a Turk is an act of courage,” Selçuk says.

 

The Turkish-speaking Hamshens compensate for this courage with their loathing of Armenians.

 

Thus, during our two day stay in Çamlıhemşin, we only got to speak to Uğur and Selçuk.

 

We had two days left to spend some time trekking through the pristine river valley cutting and to marvel at how people had built homes perched on the sheer mountain cliffs. We had time to ponder who had built the bridges dating back to the 1600s and to hear the barking of village dogs piercing the silence of nature.  Once, surrounded by all this beauty, Khachik turned to me and rhetorically remarked, “And some wonder why Armenians would come here in the first place…”

 

 


Selçuk Güney: “If you ask a Hamshentsi who he is, he’ll say, ‘I’m Hamshentsi’. But if you ask, ‘what is a Hamshentsi?’, he’ll have trouble answering.”

 

“There are two theses regarding the origins of the Hamshens,” Uğur says. “One involves the princedom of Hamam Amatuni and his successors. The other claims something quite the opposite; that the Hamshens are a Turkish tribe that migrated from Central Asia. I believe something else entirely. In the past, Armenians and Turks intermingled and girls were given and taken as brides, resulting in the Hamshen people. We’re a mixture of two different cultures. There are Armenians words in the Turkish spoken by Hamshens but they also follow Turkish customs, especially at weddings. I and others like me do not necessarily base our identity on one past or one culture alone. We regard ourselves as humans, first and foremost. Our identity is revealed by living here through our culture. So when I am asked ‘what am I?’, I graciously respond, ‘I am Hamshen’. We say nothing more.”

 

 

 

Fortuna Pension (Motel)

 

 

“Do you feel different than the Hopa-Hamshens?”

 

“Yes, the language of the Hopa-Hamshens makes a world of difference. To maintain their language, Armenian speakers migrated towards Hopa from these parts. The people here couldn’t preserve the language. In addition to the language, there are other cultural disparities. They play the kaval and we, the tulum. Even the clothes we wear are different. They dress more simply while we prefer more decorative attire. Our women also wear distinctive headscarves you won’t see elsewhere. We also celebrate vardavar; they don’t. The topography is also different. Here you’ll find chasms and sheer rock cliffs.”

 

In an article about the Hamshen identity, Hagop Hacikian writes that there are two different Hamshen identities, not one – that of Rize and Hopa. Beside the geographical division, the language is the primary element differentiating the two groups. The Hopa-Hamshens speak a dialect of western Armenian that is called Homshetsma. The Hamshens of Rize no longer speak the dialect. The Turkish they speak is rich in Armenian vocabulary. The Bash-Hamshens have a greater desire to receive a college education. They have produced many doctors, engineers and teachers, including women. They traditionally work at bread and pastry plants, in hotels and restaurants. The Hopa-Hamshens are mostly engaged in the transportation business, as drivers, etc.

 

Hacikian writes that by far, the most ardent promoters and propagators of the Turkish origin thesis are the Hemshinli themselves, and they include many rank-and-file people, mostly of the Bash-Hamshen (Rize) group. He cites the following example.

 

 



“Boughlama” – A staple Hamshen dish served  for breakfast at the Fortuna Pension.

 

 

Following the publication of an article in the Istanbul daily Yeni Yüzyıl mentioning that some Hemshinli spoke Armenian, Ali Ihsan Arol, an officer on the board of the Çamlıhemşin and Hemşin foundation, sent a protest letter to the paper. In his letter, Arol argued that ‘not every Hemşinli is Armenian’ (her Hemşinli Ermeni değil), i.e. that the Hopa Hemshinli perhaps were, but the Bash Hemshinli certainly were not. Arol writes: “It is not true that all Hemshinli have Armenian roots. Yes, there are Hemshinli living in the interior of Hopa speaking the Armenian dialect [sic]. However, it is known that the Hemshinli in Fındıklı, Ardeven, Pazar, Çamlıhemşin, Hemşin and Çayeli are of Turkish descent.” [32]

 

Rüdiger Benninghaus, in turn, cites numerous cases where the Laz and Hamshen accuse each other of having non-Turkish roots. (1989)[33]

 

 


Çinçiva: Bridge from the year 1600 AD

 

 

According to Hagop Hacikian it is not very clear when the idea of denying Armenian origins and ascribing a fictive Turkish past to the group was conceived, or who authored it. While it is likely that this theory was linked to the Turkish Historical Thesis and was probably conceived in the 1930s, it may have found fertile ground in trends dating back to late Ottoman times. Indeed, according to the writer Atrpet (Sargis Mubayajian), a deterioration in relations between Islamicized Armenians and the ones who remained Christians took place during the final two decades of the nineteenth century. Atrpet accused the Ottoman authorities of having played a key role in this deterioration by mounting Muslims of Armenian background against Armenians. These views of Atrpet, published in the 1929 work Chorokhi Awazan[The Basin of the Çoruh] (Vienna: Mekhitarist Press), reaffirm those of Sargis Haykuni appearing in an 1895 article inArarat.[34]

Ülkü

Güneşli

Hopa

Վախի ու խիզախության քաղաքը 

Հոփայում ավելի ցայտուն է ընդգծցում, որ վախն ու խիզախությունը իրար հետ են ծնվում ու կողք-կողքի ապրում:

2011-ի մայիսի վերջին Թուրքիայի խորհրդարանի նախընտրական շրջանում Հոփայում վարչապետ Էրդողանի ավտոշարասյանը քարկոծելով դիմավորեցին, ոստիկանության հետ բախումներում մի հոգի մահացել էր, մի քանիսը վիրավորվել: Քսանից ավել համշենցիներ ձերբակալվեցին: Էրդողանը վերադառնալով Անկարա ասել էր` ես չգիտեի, որ Հոփայում բանդիտներ կան: «Մյուս անգամ, որ գա Հոփա, բոլորս պաստառ կպարզենք` ես բանդիտ եմ, ինչպես Հրանտ Դինքի թաղմանը պարզել էին` ես հայ եմ,-ասում է մի համշենցի կոմունիստ,-ու ավելացնում,-մեզ էլ հնարավոր չի վախի մեջ պահել»:

Մեկ ուրիշ վարորդ էլ ասում է. «Մենք ֆուռի վարորդներ ենք, վախ չունենք  ու զառիվայրի վրա արգելակ չենք տալիս»:

Մեր գալուց մեկ շաբաթ առաջ Հոփայում բախումներ էին եղել ձախերի ու ոստիկանության միջև: Գնալով ավելի սրվելու է քաղաքական իրավիճակը Հոփայում ու մերձակա բնակավայրերում:

Բայց հաճախ էր լինում, երբ որևէ անծանոթ համշենցու  հետ զրուցում էի շատ անմեղ բաներից` լեզվի միջի բառեր և այլն ու հենց հանում էի ծոցատետրս, խնդրում էր չգրել ոչինչ, վտանգավոր է,- ասում էր,- գլխիս մի բան կբերեն:  

 «Այո, պատմություն չկա, մեր պատմությունը վերացրել են, հիշողություն չկա, և համշենցիների միակ հիշողությունը ճնշումների առաջացրած վախն է, որ առայսօր ապրում է»,-ասում է Ջեմիլ Աքսուն:

Ինչպե՞ս դեպի Համշեն

Հորս հայրը` Ավետիս Կիրակոսյանը համշենցի է, ծնվել է Տրապիզոնում, 1914թ. մեկնել է Կրասնոդար ուսումը շարունակելու ու փրկվել ջարդերից, եղել է բոլշևիկ, 1937թվին նրան գնդակահարել են Թիֆլիսում: Ավետիսի հայրը՝ Մելքոնը քրիստոնյա համշենական գյուղերից է, ո՞ր գյուղից, չգիտեմ, Տրապիզոնում ջուր ծախող է եղել, մայրս հաճախ հորս ծաղրում էր` ջուր ծախո՞ղ չի եղել պապդ (մորս պապը իրավաբան է եղել Պոլսում): 

1915թ. ջարդերին  թուրքերը սպանել են Մելքոնին, նրա կնոջը` Ազնիվին և նրանց վեց երեխաներից երեքին: Հայրս չգիտեմ որտեղից էր լսել, պատմում էր, որ Մելքոնը նոր գրամոֆոն էր առել ու ձեռքերի մեջ պահած երաժշտությունը միացրած  ընկերների հետ ուրախ-ուրախ գալիս էր տուն քեֆ անելու: Մեկ էլ թիկունքից կրակում են ու արյունը թափվում է ձայնապնակի վրա:

Հորս հորեղբայրը` Հարությունը իր եղբորն ու հորը հասած երկու արհավիրքներից կարողացել է խուսափել` 1915-ին գնդակահարված հայերի դիակների տակ է մնացել, մի թուրք նրան թլպատել ու որդեգրել է, մի քանի տարի անց նրան գտել է եղբայրը`Ավետիսը ու տարել Թիֆլիս:

1937թվին էլ հայրս է փրկել նրան. Թիֆլիսում գիշերով Չեկան եկել է նրան տանելու, դուռը ծեծել են, Հարությունը ուզել է բացել, 15 տարեկան հայրս  չի թողել` եթե բացես ինչ կանեն, կտանեն, եթե չբացես, դուռը կջարդեն էլի կտանեն, ուրեմն ավելի լավ է չբացես: Դուռը չեն ջարդում, իսկ առավոտյան Հարությունը մեկնում է Հյուսիսային Կովկաս ու փրկվում: Ցեղասպանությունից փրկվում է նաև հորս հորաքույրը` Ալմաստը, ով մինչ 1915թ. ամուսնացել-մարդու էր գնացել Սուխումիում:

Հայրս`Ռաֆայելը համշենցի ազգականներ ուներ` իր հոր քեռու զավակները`Թերզյաններ Աբխազիայի Էշերի գյուղում, սովետական տարիներին մի քանի անգամ ծանրոցով խնձոր էինք ստացել ու երբ 2004-ին գնում էի Աբխազիա ակնարկ գրելու, փնտրեցի բայց այդպես էլ  չգտա նրանց հասցեները:

Համշենագետ Հովան Սիմոնյանը իր հայկական գենետիկ ծրագրի համար ինձնից գենային նմուշ վերցրեց, պարզվեց իմ գենետիկ խումբը G1-ն է և ևս մի համշենցի, ինձ անծանոթ Ավիկ Թոփչյանի հետ ոչ միայն նույն խմբից ենք այլև տասը սերունդ առաջ մեր պապերը եղբայրներ են եղել:

Փոքր երեխա էի, տանը խոսում էին, թե` Սև ծովի ափերին մահմեդական համշենցիներ են մնացել, խոսում են համշենի բարբառով, տարբեր թվեր էին ասում` հարյուր հազար, մեկ միլիոն: Ովքե՞ր են նրանք, հա՞յ են արդյոք: Ինչպիսի՞ն են նրանք, մեզ նմա՞ն, տարբե՞ր, շա՞տ տարբեր` չնաշխարհիկ(էկզոտիկ) բան`մարդիկ, ովքեր մուսուլման են և հայերեն են խոսում:  

Շնորհակալությունս Եվրասիա համագործակցության հիմնադրամին, որի դրամաշնորհմամբ  «Հայախոս մուսուլման համշենցիներ» նախագիծը հնարավոր եղավ:

Hopa

Betrothals

 

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 - Açık 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.

 

 


Mukerem and Sevim get engaged

 

 

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.

 

 



Muslim Aksu: “I had a duduk-like instrument but dreamed of a tulum. I worked harvesting tea one season and earned 400 lira. I used the money to by this tulum.”

 

 

***

 

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 Çamlıhemşin 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 Fındıklı. “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.

 

 


Engagement Party: Only juice and pastry is served

 

 

***

 

“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.

 

 


Engagement Party: The hall was too narrow for the dancers

 

 

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.”

Hopa

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”.

 

 


The Hopa-Hamshens call their dialect Hamshesnak

 

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 languageHamshesnak or HomshesnakHomshetsma 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.

 

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)[18]

 

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.

 

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

 

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 (Eşmekaya), and Kemalpaşa Valley residents or Turtsevantsi, i.e. ‘outsiders’ (probably turs + 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)

 

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)[19]:

Hopa

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 Bzhishkyanwrites that those half-Muslim, half-Christian Hamshentsis during the religious conversion phase had names that were half-Turkish and half-Armenian - Ali-Sargis Garabedoğlu, Mahmoud Hovhannesoğlu, etc.[17] 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 Mouslioğlu clan, but the oghlu suffix was considered outdated according to the reform and had to be changed. In the same vein, the names Topaloğlu, Garabedoğlu 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.

Hopa

Cemil Aksu: Eight Years of Torture in a Turkish Prison

 

“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, BirYaşam (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?”

 

“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.

 

 


Yusuf: A scene from the film “Autumn”

 

 

“What was your contribution to the film?”

 

“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?”

 

“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?

 

 

“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.”

 

 


Hopa: Chestnut vendor

 

 

“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?”

 

 



Cemil Aksu: Yusuf, the hero in the film “Autumn”, is based on his life

 

 

“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.”

Hopa

Yılmaz Topaloğlu – 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 Yılmaz. “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: Yılmaz-2,200; other Hamshentsi-800; Laz-3,400)


 


Yılmaz and Ismet Topaloğlu, 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.

 


“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 Yılmaz. “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.

 

Yılmaz 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.”

 

Yılmaz 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. Yılmaz then married a Turkish communist. They have a daughter and a son was born just days ago.

 

 “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 Yılmaz 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.” 

 

 


Hopa at night

 

 

“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.”

Hopa

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.

 

 


Hopa:  In the narrow streets men drink tea, play backgammon and get a shave

 

 

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 Yılmaz 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.”

 

 


Hopa: Entertainment is for men only

 

 

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.

 



Hopa

 

 

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 Başoba 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.

 

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.

 

 


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.”

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 



Ustabaş Restaurant in Sheno:  Tea and more tea

 

 

“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.

 

 



“It’s entrenched in the minds of all in Turkey that the country has three enemies – Armenians, Alevis and communists.”

 

 

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

Hopa

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 thekaval. The shepherding past of the Hamshens lives on in the music only. Sitting in the bar drinking beer and rakı, (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 Kemalpaşa tea factory.

 

 


Hopa: Upper floor of the Hayteh Bar - Hamshens dance the horon; a circle dance from the mountain valleys

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 (Kemalpaşa, 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). (Çarşı 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?

 

 


Hopa: Hayteh Bar - Beer, raki and games

 

 

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 Kemalpaşa 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, Hemşinliler: Dil – Tarih – Kültür (Ankara: Ardanuç Kültür Yardımlaşma 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.

 

 


Call to Prayer: A mosque’s loudspeaker sends the message across the city

 

 

-       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.

 

-       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).

 

 



Hopa: This nightclub is one of the many places to come across women from post-Soviet countries plying the “world’s  oldest profession”

 

 

-       An estimated 200 Hopa Hemshin households in the vicinity of Makrial (now Kemalpaşa) 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.[16]

 

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.

Başoba

“We are neither Turks nor Armenians. We’reHamshentsi

 

 

“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.

 

 


The storehouse of Harun Aksu

 

 

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 Yaşam.

 

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

 

“Yes, I identify with the Hamshens of Çamlıhemşin, 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 Çamlıhemşin, we’re still far removed. Let’s face it, we split from them some 250 years ago.”

 

 



Picking tea leaves

Başoba

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 Süleyman’s home

 

 

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 Çamlıhemşin, 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 Çamlıhemşin 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.”

 





Hadji Süleyman - “We are Turks”

 

 

***

 

“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.”

 

 

 


Truck driver Aytekin (facing camera):  “Give Karabakh back so that we can live together in peace.”

 

 

***

 

Hamdi Yıldız, 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 Çançağan), a village near Kemalpaşa. Everyone is speaking in Turkish at the house of Abdullah Yılmaz, 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.

 

“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.

 

 Abdullah takes me to a nearby room and takes out a gadget from under the bed. “Altın”, he laughs. I didn’t get it. Only later did I learn that altın means gold in Turkish. He flips open the cell phone and starts showing me photos, explaining what they are in the Hamshen dialect. There’s a bridge and some sort of passage in a cliff. Abdullah says there are huge wine jars there. I begin to get is drift. In Ardanuç, a former Armenian village, the Armenians buried their valuables. Abdullah had gone to the village with this prospecting instrument to locate the treasure. But the device isn’t sensitive enough to detect gold is buried more than a half meter deep. He needs a stronger apparatus and asks if I could bring one from Yerevan. We’ll go to Ardanuç, find the gold and divvy it up.

 

It’s an interesting proposition, but my better judgement kicks in. Abdullah wants to involve me in a scheme to pillage. As if he wants to use me to get to my friend’s valuables. I say nothing and we return to the others.

 

 

Hamdi: "No, we are not Armenian. We came from somewhere in Persia."(photo by Vahan Ishkhanyan)

 

 

The topic of conversation is about the origins of the Hamshens. While Harun and Yıldız 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. Then 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 Çamlıhemşin, 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.

Başoba

Başoba: Armenian Songs and Strong Tea

 

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 Çakız 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)

 

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

 

 

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)

 

 

 



Başoba: Lowering goods down the cliff by rope. This time it’s winter firewood.

 

 

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 derunliğule ander / The stream, in its depth, ander

 

Irmak serunluğile ander / The river, in it coolness, ander

 

Yürüdün mü sevduğum ander / Did you walk, my dear, ander?

 

Yürüdün mü sevduğum / 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.

 

 


Başoba: One of the old houses

 

 

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 Kemalpaşa. 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.”

 

 



Hamshen woman

 

 

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 Kemalpaşa, a few from Çavuşlu 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 Başoba. 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.

Balıkköy

Subaşı

Üçkardeş

Yeşilköy

Şerefiyeköy

Güreşen

Çifteköprü

Demircilar

Düzköy

Çaylıköy

Çamlıhemşin

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, laudem minimum facilisis ne duo. No tollit ornatus honestatis cum. Has velit debet consul ei, at eos solum dolore. Case possit antiopam ea nam, alia sensibus reprimique ne per, ea detraxit vituperata nec. Et usu detracto oporteat, mei ei mentitum pertinax.

Ius ne quod timeam audire, sonet tation civibus has ei. Purto postea everti no est. Id quo sint scripserit voluptatibus, cum ullum labore te, sea ea insolens scriptorem. Usu partem expetendis scripserit ne, an elitr nobis semper est, mea illum nemore iriure ne. Ut commune euripidis nec, ut hinc graeci quodsi eum, sed audire neglegentur ad.

Ut dicit dictas vis, sed mazim timeam no. Explicari instructior vis id, vel te veniam bonorum omittam. No eum quodsi atomorum expetenda. Saepe nostrum quo at, prima choro mediocritatem sea ad, sale graece comprehensam cu per. Et vim novum congue habemus.

Ius ne quod timeam audire, sonet tation civibus has ei. Purto postea everti no est. Id quo sint scripserit voluptatibus, cum ullum labore te, sea ea insolens scriptorem. Usu partem expetendis scripserit ne, an elitr nobis semper est, mea illum nemore iriure ne. Ut commune euripidis nec, ut hinc graeci quodsi eum, sed audire neglegentur ad.

Ut dicit dictas vis, sed mazim timeam no. Explicari instructior vis id, vel te veniam bonorum omittam. No eum quodsi atomorum expetenda. Saepe nostrum quo at, prima choro mediocritatem sea ad, sale graece comprehensam cu per. Et vim novum congue habemus.

Kazimiye

Kayaköy

Kayaköy – Eating Yaghaloush in a Hamshen Village

 

“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 – There’s a sheepskin in each Hamshen home.

 

 

“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 Şana), near the town of Kemalpaşa, 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.

 

 



Yaghaloush – the basic Hamshen meal. It’s a dish of curds and onion fried in oil and resembles fried cheese with its sharp tang. And the khavitz... This too was unlike the sweet flour khavitz I was used too.

 

 

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 Yaşam (One Life) Cultural and Environmental Organization, and Harun Aksu. We were discussing the project and decided to leave for Şana that same day. We were headed to see Teciye, the mother of Cemil’s wife Nurcan, who is a master of Hamshen cuisine.

 

 



Father-in-law and son-in-law: Cemal and Cemil

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Teciye: Master of Hamshen cuisine

 

 

“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".

 

 



Cemal Vayiç: “The Hamshens are descended from Armenians. If Armenians interact with us more often, we will be able to improve our language skills.”

 

 

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 has thrown in jail just for uttering the word “us”. Alper was a heavy drinker and died years ago.

Osmaniye

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 Kemalpaşa.

 

Hopa-Hamshens and Bash-Hamshens live side by side in the western Black Sea province of Sakarya (in the provincial center of Adapazarı 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.

 Turkologist Lousineh Sahakyan cites 60,000 as the total number of Turkish-speaking Hamshens.

 

 

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.

 

Kayaköy – Eating Yaghaloush in a Hamshen Village

 

“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 Şana), near the town of Kemalpaşa, 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 Yaşam (One Life) Cultural and Environmental Organization, and Harun Aksu. We were discussing the project and decided to leave for Şana 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?

“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 has thrown in jail just for uttering the word “us”. Alper was a heavy drinker and died years ago.

Köprücü

Çimenli

Koyunçular

Çavuşlu

Yoldere

Başköy

Akdere

Karaosmaniye

Dereiçi

Kemalpaşa

A Loving Family of Adversary Peoples

 

Every time Oğuz 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 Oğuz. 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 Oğuz 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 Kemalpaşa, 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 Gezmiş who was hung in 1972), and Janan-Selen, a 15 year-old daughter.

 

 


Necla and Oğuz

 

 

Oğuz can’t remember a mixed marriage between a Laz and a Hamshen before theirs. Oğuz 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.

 

 


Kemal Tatar: “They tell me I’m an Armenian put through the Muslim grinder. I tell them, I’m not a Muslim but an atheist. They reply that I am different.”

 

 

“Religion was never a factor,” says Hamshen communist Kemal Tatar, a friend of Oğuz. “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 Oğuz’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 Oğuz’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 Oğuz, 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.”

 

Oğuz 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: “Twenty years from now, no one will regard themselves as Laz. They’ll say that their grandparents were Laz. Once the language disappears, so does ones identity.” 

 

 

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 Oğuz and mentions his brother, Kâzım Koyuncu, with great pride. Kâzım 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.

 

Oğuz 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.”

Çamurlu

Weddings

 

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 Yılmaz, 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.

 

 



Hediye Karabajakov says that in  Kyrgyzstan, Hamshens only marry other Hamshens

 

 

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.

 

 


Çamurlu: They’ve come to take the bride

 

 

Khachik and I were listening to the Hamshen songs sung by the women who had painted the   bride’s hands with henna that morning 

 

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 and interviewing Hediye. 

 

In the meantime, Anahit was video-recording the bride’s visit to the local beauty parlor.

 

 


Kemalpaşa wedding: Young men standing around

 

 


…Womenfolk are sitting and waiting

 

 

“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 Anahit.

 

 


The bride’s sisters demand “bakhshish” (gift payment) from the groom

 

 


Aydin and Zulya get married

 

 



Çamurlu wedding

 

 

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. Aydın 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. Aydın 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 Kemalpaşa. 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 Aydın’s father İzzet Yenigül, who is watching the dancers.

 

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

Sarp

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ius tempor possim abhorreant ei, zril insolens et qui. Ea tota saepe sea. His te mucius option. Porro homero virtute no per, mel an blandit atomorum, ad eum perpetua iudicabit gubergren.

Nam clita principes id, vel oratio labore an. Ipsum luptatum comprehensam eum eu, paulo mnesarchum ei quo. Cum unum nihil id, ex tantas nostrum epicurei qui. Nec fabulas scaevola ex, torquatos contentiones cu eam, sea et justo conceptam. Alterum accusam pro ex.

In usu elit nulla vivendo, ei has ornatus facilis dissentiunt, his eu dolore tractatos. Duo ne wisi patrioque gubergren, copiosae indoctum est cu. Ludus iudicabit suscipiantur ut cum, sea iisque mediocrem in, ea mea dicta ignota epicuri. Dico posse gloriatur sea et, laudem explicari est no. Affert aperiam detraxit mei ex, duo in libris temporibus.