The Armenians of Hamshen are out Compatriots

The Armenians of Hamshen are out Compatriots

Postby artem » 06 Jul 2007, 14:30

The Armenians of Hamshen are out Compatriots(*)
By Nayiri Mgrditchian

Hamshen has historically been an Armenian region, but it now survives within Turkey's borders. During the 8-th century, under pressure from the Arab Caliph, 12 000 Armenians, under the leadership of prince Sh. Amadouni and his son Hamam, left the homeland and migrated to present-day Drabizon and Khoba (which belong to Byzantium). There, Prince Hamam founded a new city and named it Hamamashen (built by Hamam), which later became known as Hamshen, and its inhabitants Hamshen Armenians. Later the fiefdom of Hamshen gained independence from Byzantium but was periodically subjugated by Dayk. After the latter's fall, Hamshen sustained a semi-independent state, thanks to its freedom-loving population and strategic position. The Seljuk Turks attacked Armenia during the second half of the 11-th century and they were followed by the Mongols in the 13-th century; in the 15-th century Armenia was occupied by the Turkmen Koyounlu tribes. Hamshen retained its semi independence during all those centuries without bowing even to the neighboring Drabizon's Greek kingdom. But in the 10-th and 11-th centuries, being part of the Byzantine Empire and for political reasons, a number of Hamshen Armenians converted to Orthodox Christianity.

In 1498 the Ottoman Turks succeeded in conquering Hamshen and end its 700-year autonomous existence. During Turkish reign, when the whole of Western Armenia was living under catastrophic circumstances, the population of Hamshen was also subjected to political and religious persecution. Christians were forced to pay extremely high taxes; this policy caused serious racial and religious changes. Despite heroic resistance up to 1923, part of the Hamshen Armenians converted to Islam.

However widespread, islamization did not succeed in defacing the character of the Armenians of Hamshen. Despite converting to Islam, they remained deeply aware of and faithful to their national origins.

The number of Hamshen Armenians is currently estimated to be around 400,000. The Muslim half lives in Turkey and considers itself Turkish Hemshils or just Hemshils, who have applied to Turkey's Ministry of Religion to be re-registered according to their original nationality (Armenians). Other ethnicities making similar demands include some Greek, Kurds, and Alewis. Until 1943, as implied by one Turkish regulation, if previously islamized ethnic minorities made attempts to return to their national origins, they would face long prison terms. That law is not in force anymore, and Turkish authorities have found themselves in a dilemma as a result of the current atmosphere of freedoms, because statistics revealed that 37-42% of the population in Turkey does not consider itself Turkish. This creates a difficult situation for Turkey. It is worth mentioning, that islamized Armenians, living in the southern parts of Western Armenia from Bitlis to Diarbekir, have safeguarded our cultural monuments, because they have not forgotten their roots and have regarded the Church as "God's house". On the other hand, in Turkish populated regions, such as the Erzroum plain, Armenian monuments cannot be found anymore. This is evidence that islamized Armenians preserved their identity in very subtle ways by preserving vestiges from the past and historical names of locations.

Today, according to unofficial reports, 1,350,000 ethnic Armenians live in Western Armenia and nearby regions. 700,000 of these Armenians still remember their national origins. 200 to 300 thousand Armenians, particularly in Hamshen, are a much more active ethno-religious community and are ready to speak out about their national origins. They still celebrate many Armenian traditional holidays like Vartavar. According to studies, thanks to newly published documents translated to Turkish, many Armenians living in historic Hamshen who were hesitating on their identity and their religious affiliation understood, that religion does not define ethnicity. By becoming more aware of historic details, the urge to return to their national roots is getting stronger in them. One of the interesting facts is that Moslem Armenians preserve a purer version of the Armenian language than the Christian Hamshen Armenians. This is due to the fact that having lost the religion they remained strongly attached to the language to underline their identity. Christian Hamshen Armenians use many more Turkish and Russian words in their communication compared to the Moslem Hamshen Armenians.

During the 1870s, a significant portion of Christian Hamshen Armenians migrated to the shores of the Black Sea, mainly the district of Batoum, Abkhazia, and even Crimea, where they could re-awaken the Christian lifestyle and other aspects of their national identity. Today, more than 100 thousand Hamshen Armenians reside in the Sochi district. They had moved there out of necessity and succeeded in preserving and developing their culture and becoming regular citizens of a new state. They speak their native language and they have erected cross-stones commemorating the Armenian Genocide in a few villages. The Sochi Armenians devote much attention to cultural life and athletic education. Every year, they organize a cultural festival, and in 2005 alone five young Armenian athletes from the region won international championships in five different sports. The area's Armenian community has constructed the St. Sarkis Church. In Sochi, education plays an important role in the preservation of national identity. The local Armenian community has seven schools teaching both Russian and Armenian. The main difficulty the schools face is the availability of textbooks on Armenian language and literature. These books are purchased through contributions from parents. The Hamshen Armenian community of Russia is numerous too, has succeeded in preverving its national and religious identity, but they have just started organizing themselves.

Tens of thousands of Hamshen Armenians reside in Armenia. According to a census conducted a decade ago, the number of Hamshen Armenians living in Armenia was 14,000. In 1992, the "Hamshen Armenian Association" was created, and publishes a free newspaper, circulated also to Armenians in Apkhazia and the district of Krasnodar. The paper prints 1000 copies per issue and contains articles on the history of Hamshen in Armenian and Russian.

We are slowly reaching the conclusion that the Muslim Armenian is also Armenian, and has embraced Islam under pressure. Hamshen Armenians are also starting to overcome their internal psychological barrier, and some cases of marriages between Christian and Muslim Hamshen Armenians have been documented.

Naturally, certain factions within our nation still rebel against the concept considering the factor of religion. But no doubt that with time, they will reach the same conclusion that a hand must be extended to the Armenian who was compelled by fate to convert to Islam.

After all, they are our compatriots.

----------
(*) Hamshen Armenians are referred to in English as Hemshils and their dialect is subject to extensive research by many linguists.

Horizon Weekly 2006.03.01
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Re: The Armenians of Hamshen are out Compatriots

Postby artem » 06 Jul 2007, 14:44

Nayiri Mgrditchian wrote:Today, according to unofficial reports, 1,350,000 ethnic Armenians live in Western Armenia and nearby regions. 700,000 of these Armenians still remember their national origins.

So, up to ~50% of ethnic Armenians in Western Armenia forgot their origins during the islamization process :(
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Postby hagop » 06 Jul 2007, 17:51

Artem,

Those numbers are just numbers, or more like gueses. Nobody knows the real numbers or, for that matter, the effect of the centuries-long pouring of tons of Armenian genes into the Turkish/Azeri and Kurdish gene pool.

But there is something still worse -- most Armenians in Diaspora and Armenia are unconcerned Armenians -- that is without the Islamicization process to blame it on.
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Postby artem » 08 Jul 2007, 15:16

hagop wrote:But there is something still worse -- most Armenians in Diaspora and Armenia are unconcerned Armenians -- that is without the Islamicization process to blame it on.

Yes, you're right :(
I think, it occurs therefore, we know very little about our people still living on the historical native land.
We know only about Armenians who live openly in territory of Turkey (mainly in Istanbul).

Official Ankara interferes with an establishment of contacts to our people, living on territory of Cilicia, Hamshen and other historical places of residing of Armenians :(
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Postby artem » 08 Jul 2007, 15:21

artem wrote:Official Ankara interferes with an establishment of contacts

This problem is actual also for Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities in Turkey :(
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Postby hagop » 08 Jul 2007, 17:01

artem wrote:
artem wrote:Official Ankara interferes with an establishment of contacts

This problem is actual also for Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities in Turkey :(


True. However, our indifference is worse that than interference. Sooner we understand this fact and are honest about it, the better off we are.
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Postby artem » 09 Jul 2007, 07:51

hagop wrote: Sooner we understand this fact and are honest about it, the better off we are.
You're right!
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