Hamshen – Armenia

Hamshen (Armenian: Համշեն) is a coastal part of Lesser Armenia, encompassing two regions: Armeniak (Djanik) and Haldia (Ordu, Trabzon).

9th century BC – 4th century BC – Greek colonization.
4th century BC – 1st century BC – part of Lesser Armenia, a vassal of the Kingdom of Pontus.
1st – 5th centuries AD – part of Lesser Armenia, under the power of the Roman Empire.
5th – 13th centuries – part of Armeniakon, under the power of Byzantium.
13th – 15th centuries – an autonomous principality within the Empire of Trebizond. Dynasty of Amatuni
15th – early 20th centuries – under the power of the Ottoman Empire.
16th century – first violent Islamization and Turkification of Armenians.
1894-96 – Armenian pogroms.
1915-17 – Armenian genocide
1920 – inclusion of Hamshen in the Republic of Armenia according to the Treaty of Sevres.
1923 – according to the Treaty of Lausanne, Hamshen becomes part of the Turkish Republic.

Capital – Hemshin, Trabzon, Amasya. Major cities – Samsun, Amasya, Ordu, Trabzon, Rize, Hopa. Languages – Western Armenian and Greek.


Hamshen is a region in the northeast of modern Turkey, within the northern slopes of the East Pontic Mountains, facing the Black Sea. The altitude reaches up to 3931 m (Mount Kaçkar). The climate is subtropical with precipitation of 2-3 thousand mm per year. The coastal strip cultivates tobacco, vineyards, corn, hazelnuts, citrus.

Broad-leaved forests of oak, maple, beech, hornbeam with dense evergreen undergrowth are common at the foot of the mountains; at an altitude of 400-1250 m beech-fir forests; at an altitude of 1250-1900 m fir forests with a mixture of spruce; higher up there are stunted forests and mountain meadows.

Hamshenis – Համշե(ն)ցիներ

Hamshenis, Hemshils, Hemshins (self-names: Hemshinli, Homshetsi; Armenian: Համշե(ն)ցիներ; Turkish: Hemşinli) are sub-ethnic groups of Armenians. The area of settlement is the Black Sea coast from the province of Samsun in the north-central part of Turkey to the south of Russia.

There are also significant communities in the Izmit region in western Turkey, in various cities of Central Asia, as well as among those who have emigrated in search of work to Germany. The total population is about 400,000 people. Language – Hamshen dialect of Armenian and Turkish languages. Religion – Islam (Sunnis), Armenian Apostolic Church.

Armenian princes Hamam and Shapuh Amatuni, having lost their possessions in Artaz in a battle with the Arabs, resettled 12,000 Armenians within the Byzantine Empire. Gevond, an author of the late 8th century, reports: “Having lost all their property, naked, barefoot, hungry, in need of food, though it was already late, they decided to cross into the Greek country. Their number, it is said, was up to 12,000 men with wives and children.

Their leaders were Shapuhur, of the Amatuni family, Hamam, his son, and others from the Armenian nobility and their horsemen. Merciless enemies pursued them and caught up with them on the borders of Iberia, in the Kog region; but they were defeated and turned into fugitives; and they themselves crossed the Akampsis River, which, flowing through the Thai country to the northwest through Egeria, falls into the Pontus.

Upon their crossing of the river, news about them soon reached Emperor Constantine, who summoned them, honored the nobles and their horsemen with rewards; and he settled the rest of the people in a fertile and rich country.

They founded the city of Tambur (Dampur) in the Pontic Mountains, later renamed Hamamshen and then Hamshen (this is the Armenian and local name; the official Turkish name is Hemşin). This ethnic group, virtually cut off from the rest of the Armenian ethnos, retained a unique dialect.

Most of the Hamshen Armenians were Christians and belonged to the Khachkar Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church. In 1461, Hamshen was conquered by the Turks. After the Ottoman conquest, a significant number of Hamshenis converted to Islam during the 16th to 18th centuries, but preserved their language and culture.

Islamized Hamshenis (Hemshils) were not persecuted by the Turkish authorities. In the 19th century, Hemshils populated the eastern districts of the Trebizond vilayet of the Ottoman Empire.

Hamshenis who did not convert to Islam, for the most part, migrated to the western part of Pontus: to Trabzon, Giresun, Ordu, Samsun, to the west of Turkey (Adapazari, Bolu, and others), and later also to the Black Sea coast of the Russian Empire. Only in some areas of Hamshen, for example, in the village of Yeliovit, the Christian population was preserved.

In the early 20th century, due to the Armenian genocide and the war for Turkey’s independence, most of the surviving Christian Hamshenis in Turkey emigrated to settlements in Russia. A group of Hamshenis from Adapazari, according to some sources, found refuge in Armenia.

Among the Hamshenis who migrated to the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, there are virtually no natives from Hamshen; Trabzon and Ordu people prevail. When getting acquainted, it is customary to inquire about the “origin” of the interlocutor.

It is believed that the Trabzon Hamshenis, who are externally lighter, relatively tall, with “large” facial features, are kind, melancholic and somewhat lazy, while the Hamshenis from Ordu are active, even aggressive, and are incorrigible foul-mouthed.

According to a joking tradition, when choosing a husband, preference is given to those from Ordu, as they are more entrepreneurial and capable of providing for a family, while it is recommended to marry girls from Trabzon, modest and compliant, unlike the headstrong and “talkative” girls from Ordu.

Hamshenis can be divided into three main groups:

The Hamshenis (Hemshils) of the western group (Hemshinli), or Bash-Hemshin, mainly live in the mountain villages of Rize province. These are Sunni Muslims, represented in large numbers in the districts of Çamlıhemşin (Vijaya) and Hemşin.

Smaller Hemshil communities live far to the west of Turkey in the provinces of Istanbul, Erzurum, Sakarya, Düzce, Kocaeli, and Zonguldak. The Western group uses a special dialect of the Turkish language, called Hemshince.

The Eastern group of Hamshenis (Homshetsi), or Hopa-Hemshin, are also Sunni Muslims and live in the province of Artvin, mostly in the city of Kemalpaşa (Makriyal), in the Hopa district, and in the village of Muratlı (Berlivan) in the Borçka district.

A large number lived in Adjara (Georgia), but they, like the local Turks (including the Turks – Meskhetians), were deported to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan during the Second World War.

A significant part of these resettled people moved to the Krasnodar region in 1989 along with the Turks – Meskhetians. The spoken language of Eastern Hamshenis is an archaic dialect of the Armenian language (Homshentsi).

The Northern group of Hamshenis (Hamshentsi) are descendants of the non-Islamized part of Hamshenis who left Hamshen during the conversion to Islam of the rest of the population and initially settled in the Samsun (Canik, Kurshunlu, Çarşamba), Ordu, Giresun, and Trabzon regions (in the valley of Kara-dere, “Black River” to the east of Trabzon).

Most of these Hamshenis now live in the Krasnodar region, in particular in Sochi, in Abkhazia, and Adygea. Being Christians, they maintain a unique culture and a special Hamshen self-awareness.

Like the Eastern group of Hamshenis, they speak the Hamshen dialect, calling it Hayren (Armenian). Among the peculiarities of the dialect are “okanye”, the replacement of the sound “r” with “y”, the use of the suffix “-ush” instead of “-el” and “-al” in the indefinite form of the verb, etc.

Turkish Hamshenis

Currently, there is a general and significant surge of interest in Hamsheni (Hemshil) culture in Turkey. The first feature film in the Hemshin dialect, “Momi” (“Grandma”), was filmed in 2000.

Hamsheni singer Gökhan Birben, a representative of the Western group, and Laz singer Kâzım Koyuncu also sing in the Hemshin dialect.

In 2005, the first album was released with exclusively folk songs, performed mainly in Hemshin, under the name “Who is this? — Hamsheni songs” (Vova — Hamşetsu Ğhağ).

The old generation of Hamsheni Muslims negatively perceives the name “Ermeni” (i.e. “Armenian”: this is how their Laz neighbors call Hamshenis), however, young people, especially with strong leftist political beliefs, lean towards Armenian self-identification.

Mesut Yılmaz, the former Prime Minister of Turkey, a native of Istanbul, partially comes from a Western Hamsheni family.

Other well-known Hamshenis are Minister of Education Ahmet Tevfik İleri, born in the village of Yaltkaya (Gomno), and Murat Karayalçın, the current leader of the Social Democratic Party of Turkey (SHP) and former mayor of Ankara.

The Chief Vizier of the Ottoman Empire on the eve of the Crimean War in 1853, Damat Mehmet Ali Pasha, was a Hamsheni.

Recently, the number of tourists in traditional Hamsheni settlements in Turkey has increased, attracted by the beauty of such places as Rize, Hopa, and Ayder. Many Hamshenis are upset by this sudden tourist boom, which threatens local nature and culture.

“Ayder began to degenerate after the road connected it with the neighboring town of Çamlıhemşin,” says local Hamsheni activist Selçuk Güney, who considers his mission to protect his native places – the Fırtına (Furtuna) Valley, which is nearby.

Hamshenis in Russia and the former Soviet Union

In 1878, the San Stefano peace treaty incorporated the Batumi district into the Russian Empire, on the territory of which twelve Hemshil villages were located. On November 25-26, 1944, Hemshils, together with Greeks, Kurds, and Meskhetian Turks, were deported from Adjara as an “unreliable population” to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Most of them settled in small groups in Southern Kyrgyzstan (mainly in the Osh and Jalal-Abad region), a small part in the Chimkent and Dzhambul regions of Kazakhstan. In 1956 they were released from administrative supervision, but were not allowed to return to the places from which they were deported.

From 1982 to 1984, 22 Hemshil families moved from Kyrgyzstan to the Apsheronsk region and, around the same time, along with the first families of Turks and Kurds, to the Psekhskaya stanitsa in the Belorechensk district of the Krasnodar Territory.

Interethnic conflicts in Central Asia pushed about 200 Hemshil families from Kyrgyzstan to flee to the Krasnodar Territory.

In the late 1980s, the Hemshils of Kazakhstan sent a petition to the government of the USSR asking for permission to resettle in Armenia. However, their request was rejected by Moscow due to fears that the resettlement of Muslims to Armenia could cause conflict with the Christian population.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the Hamshenis lived in relative peace, however, the Hamshenis of Abkhazia were drawn into the Georgian-Abkhazian war on the side of the Abkhaz.

In the Krasnodar Territory, Hamshenis, like Meskhetian Turks, were not registered and were not issued Russian passports. Since 2000, several hundred Hamsheni Muslims who moved from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the Krasnodar Territory (mainly in the Apsheronsk region) have tried to obtain formal recognition from local authorities, but have been refused.

Hamsheni organizations defended their brethren with letters to the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, asking for the help of the Russian federal authorities in granting Hamsheni Muslims legal status.

Interest in their culture and history is growing among Hamsheni Christians. In 2006, the first music album in the Hamsheni language with folk songs performed by the “Caravan” group was released in Krasnodar. The Scientific Information and Cultural Center began work on restoring the cultural heritage of the Hamshenis living in the region. The newspaper “Amshen” is published in Sukhum.

The population of Hemshils in the Russian Federation is 1.5 thousand people. The majority live in the Krasnodar Territory (1 thousand people), most compactly in the Apsheronsk and Belorechensk districts, as well as in the Kamensk district of the Rostov region and the Gribanovsky district of the Voronezh region.


Hamshenis are known as storytellers of funny anecdotes, puzzles, and stories. Some of the anecdotes told by Hamsheni Muslims are based on older Armenian stories that have undergone “de-Christianization”.

Hamshenis accompany their dances with distinctive music, using tulum (Pontic bagpipe, Western group), kemence (folk Pontic violin), shimshir-kaval (boxwood flute, Eastern group) and hamshna-zurna (Hamsheni zurna, Northern group). Traditional occupations of Hamshenis in Turkey are growing tea and corn, animal husbandry, and beekeeping.

The Hamshenis of the northern group, living in the south of Russia and in Abkhazia, are engaged in growing citrus fruits, tobacco, corn, tea, silkworm breeding, and fishing. Some of the Hamshenis (both Muslims and Christians) are known in their places of residence as prominent confectioners, restaurant owners, and transporters. The Hamshenis of Turkey are excellent gunsmiths.


In 1912, there were 109 Armenian churches and monasteries in Hamshen, as well as 118 villages of Hamsheni Christians and about 50 villages of Hamsheni Muslims. Hamshen was the residence of the Armenian Archbishop and the Armenian Uniate Bishop.

After the Armenian genocide, all Armenian churches and monasteries were destroyed or converted into mosques, and the villages of Hamsheni Christians were settled by Muslim Turks.

Recognition in Armenian society

Most Armenians, both Muslims and Christians, recognize Hamshenis as Armenians. In October 2005, a scientific conference on the issues of Hamshen was held in Sochi. The conference was organized by the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, the Moscow regional public organization “Russian-Armenian Friendship” (Ay Data ARF Dashnaktsutyun Commission) with the assistance of the Armenian Scientific Information and Cultural Center “Hamshen” and the newspaper of Armenians of Russia “Yerkramas”.

Scientists from different countries (Armenia, Russia, USA, Germany, and Iran) gathered to discuss the history of Hamshen. The reports discussed such topics as “The State of Pontus and Armenia from 1914 to 1921”, “The Genocide of the Armenians of Hamshen from 1915 to 1923”, “Armenians of Abkhazia at the turn of the centuries”, “Hamshen: Historical and Geographical Review”. The conference ended with performances by Hamsheni music groups from Kuban.


•Torlakyan B. G. Ethnography of Hamshen Armenians // Hamshen Library. No. 1. Historical and ethnological collection. Krasnodar, 2002

•Hemshils // Peoples of Russia. Atlas of cultures and religions / resp. Ed. V. A. Tishkov, A. V. Zhuravsky, O. E. Kazmina. – M .: Design. Information. Cartography, 2008. – P. 70. – ISBN 978-5-287-00607-5.

•Torlakyan B. G. Clothing of Hamshen Armenians at the end of the XIX century. Pontic-Caucasian Research Center. Krasnodar, 1995

•Anisimova V. N., Kiselev A. A., Popov A. P. Armenians of the village of Sukko (ethnographic notes). Pontic-Caucasian Research Center. Krasnodar, 1995

•Atabekyan N. V., Grigoryan K. E. et al. Armenians of the village of Haykadzor (ethnographic notes). Pontic-Caucasian Research Center. Krasnodar, 1995

•Gololobov I. V. Wedding ceremony of Armenians of the village of Haykadzor. Pontic-Caucasian Research Center. Krasnodar, 1995

•Armenian Scientific Information and Cultural Center “Hamshen”

•Theme “Diaspora” on the “Open Armenia” forum. A lot of useful information about Hamshen.

•Agadzhanyan, Mikhail Hamshenis: a sub-ethnic group of the Armenian ethnos. Noravank Foundation (26.01.2007). Archived from the original on October 23, 2012.

•Land and Roots Artavazda Tulumdzhyan’s article in the “Aniv” magazine

•Armenian ethno-religious element in Western Armenia essay by Karen Khanlaryan (Iran)

•Monitoring of the situation of ethnic minorities in the Krasnodar Territory

•Bondar N. I. What do we know about each other?

•Yerkramas Newspaper of Armenians of Russia (Krasnodar) regularly publishes materials about Hamshenis.


•Simonian Mger. History of the Armenian diaspora in Kuban.

•Voice of Hopa – website of the Turkish city with a large Laz-Hemshil population. Hemshil poetry, forum. (Turkish)

•Kuznetsov I. V. Pontica Caucasica Ethnica. Pontic-Caucasian Research Center. Archived from the original on March 21, 2013.

by Alexander Bakulin

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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