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About the Number of Hemshil (Hamshen Muslims) Living in Turkey

About the Number of Hemshil (Hamshen Muslims) Living in Turkey

Cover photo: Fahrettin Yüce

Due to the existing ban over the decades the Armenian intellectuals and academics living in Turkey have not had the opportunity to openly speak about the Armenian genocide and one of its consequences; the forced conversion to Islam. In Soviet Union and in Armenia as well, this topic was not being discussed further and only starting 1980 several publications have more or less mentioned about the forsibly Islamized Armenians, in particular Hamshens. 

The numerous publications of the Armenian and Turkish press about the Armenians, who were forcibly converted to the Mohammedan faith made in recent years, are unfortunately very late because the silence of several decades has caused irrecoverable losses. 

Many people, who had changed their religion but had retained their Armenian language and the memory of their origin, were out of touch with the Armenians of Armenia and Georgia due to closed border between the USSR and Turkey and thereby they had forgotten their native language and had distanced themselves from their roots. During this time, Turkish propaganda did its dirty deed: it created a negative image of the Armenian people, falsifying the history of Islamized Armenians. 

The Armenian priesthood of Turkey, deprived of all rights, could not help its compatriots; forcibly Islamized Armenians who lived in provinces and were scattered over distant mountain villages. On May 30, 2007 the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople His Holiness archbishop Mesrop Mutafyan during a meeting with the delegation of congressmen from the USA reminded that 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the genocide, noting 'We should not forget that a large number of Armenians adopted Islam to avoid mass deportation. We consider them our people because despite converting to another religion they continue to speak Armenian and adhere to the Armenian culture."

It appears that the words of Patriarch applies to the Hamshen Armenians as well, forcibly converted into Islam in the 18th century in the Hamshen region, who were forced out of there and today they live far away from their homeland but were able to preserve the Armenian language. 

And what is their number in Turkey at the beginning of the 21 century? 

Although the Turkish authorities formally display that only Turks live in the country, in fact they are very concerned inside and are trying to gain insight into the puzzle of people living in Turkey. On the orders of national council of State security in 2000 the scientists from the following universities: Erdjies (Kayseri), after Inyonyu (Malatya), Firat (Elyazig-Kharberd) studied the ethnic minorities of Turkey and made up a report where along with 60 thousand Armenians, 12.6 million Kurds, 870 thousand Arabs, 80 thousand Lazi, 2.5 thousand Circassians, 1 million Georgians there were also 13 thousand Hamshens living in Rize and Artvin. We are uncertain as to under which principle this census was conducted, but the fact is that according to the Armenian newsletter "Agos" on June 13, 2008 these figures were presented to the National Security Council in Istanbul. 

Hamshen girl / pinterest.com  

According to our research the number of Hamshen, including the Armenian speakers is much higher. They mainly live in the town of Hopa, in Artvin province and in the regions. The locals say that half or even more than half of the residents of Hopa are Armenian speaking Hamshen. In 2015 19 thousand 748 people lived in Hopa and approximately 10-11 thousand of them were Hamshen. The proof of the increase of their number is that since 1922 out of 15 alternating mayors two; Yilmaz Topaloglu (2004–2009) and Nadim Djikhan (elected in 2014) are Hamshen. 

As per the data of 2015 15 thousand 104 people lived in the regional villages of Hopa. As per our research there are more than twenty villages and countries in the province where Hamshen live, part of which administratively subordinate to the regional centre Kemalpasha (former Makrial). The Lazi live in seven villages of the province. And again, according to the locals the number of Hamshen among the rural residents is prevailing. We believe that their number surmounts 8 thousand. 

Summing up we can affirm that in the province of Hopa, in the region of Artvin more than half; about 18-20 thousand (maybe a little more) out of 34 thousand 852 residents (2015) are Hamshen. To confirm our assumptions for the first time we present the comprehensive list of places of residence of Hamshen in Hopa compiled by us which had been added to and verified during the last years of our visits. Their old names and variants used by the locals are also shown in brackets. 

1. Balikli (Zendid), 2. Bashoba (Khigi, Khigoba), 3. Gyuneshli (Dzagrina, Zargina), 4. Eshmekaya (Veyi Ardala), 5. Hendek (Gardji), 6. Ioldere (Zurbidji), 7. Chavushlu (Chavushin), 8. Chimenli (Vayi Ardala), 9. Pnarl (Anchiog, Anchorokh), 10. Koyundjular (Zaluna, Zalona) and also Kemalpasha town (Makrial) and all the villages included in its administrative district, 12. Akdere (Choli ked, Medogum ked), 13. Gyumyushdere (Helu ked), 14. Chamurlu (Chanchakhana, Chanchagon), 15. Uchkardesh, 16. Kazimie (Veyi Sarp), 17. Karaosmanie (Hedzelon, Hetselan), 18. Keprudju, 19. Osmanie (Keshogtsets ked, Keshoglinoun ked), 20. Halbashi, Halbash, 21. Shana, 22. Chagmagin, 23. Papat. 

As per the official Turkish statistics in 1990 2 thousand 658, in 2000 – 4 thousand 124, in 2007 – 4 thousand 597, 2008 – 4 thousand 519, in 2009 – 4 thousand 480, in 2010 – 4 thousand 794, in 2011 – 4 thousand 894, in 2012 – 4 thousand 942, in 2013 – 5 thousand 216, in 2014 – 5 thousand 182, in 2015 – 5 thousand 176 people lived in Kemalpasha (Makriali). 

Almost 3 thousand Islamized but Armenian speaking Hamshen live in the Artvin province, Borchka region (population in 2007: 24 thousand 133, in 2015 – 22 thousand 293 people), in the town of Borchka (in 2015 – 10 thousand 864 people) and in villages Chiftekepru (Chkhala), Chayli (Beylivan, Beglevan, Baglivon) and Yeshilkey (Manastir). 

Thus, the total amount of residents in the province of Artvin in 2015 was168 thousand 370 people, as per our approximate estimates 24–25 thousand Armenian speaking Hamshens live there, including 22–23 thousand in the Hopa and Borchk regions, 1–2 thousand (or a little less) are scattered around the province. According to our data in the village of Achmabash of Sakaria province they also understand the Hamshen dialect of Hopa, although in everyday life the middle and the new generation prefer to communicate in Turkish. 

Today there are several villages of Hamshen-Muslims in the towns of Karasu and Kochali in Artvin region and also in the region of Akchakodja of the neighboring Duzce province: Paral(mainly bash-Hemshil, there are also hopa-Hemshil, they have settled in the former Greek village of 1930's, there is a Greek church there), Kestanepnar, Aktash, Karapelit, Yenidag (now Ortakey), Lakhana, Karatavuk, Yenidje, Khemshin (now Armutlu) and Gegam (now Kovukpelit) which used to be inhabited by Christian Hemshils. The middle and the new generation of these villages speak Turkish, although they understand the dialect of Hopa. According to the inhabitants of the neighboring villages (the representatives of other nationalities) living in the abovementioned villages, Hamshen are called "Ermeni" (Armenians). And how many Turkish speaking Hamshen live in the Rize province, where the historical province of Hamamashen-Hamshen was once located and is currently divided into five regions: Hemshin, Chamlikhemshin, Findigli, Igizdere, Chayli, Pazar, Ardeshen. As per 2015 data 328 thousand 979 people lived in the province of Rize, from which 215 thousand 596 people are urban residents and 113 thousand 383 people live in the village. According to our inquiries every third or fourth person in different villages of the province is Hamshen, although not everyone accept their Armenian roots. There are many supporters of left-wing political beliefs, Marxists, a large number of radical Islamists and grey wolves among the Hamshen of this province. Most likely the amount of Turkish speaking Hamshen is about 80–100 thousand. Since the flow of people from the villages to the cities is very large, one may assume that approximately the same amount of Hamshen live in Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Izmir and other provinces of Turkey. 

The Turkish speaking Hamshen live in the Trabzon province; (population as of 2013 – 758 thousand 237 people) in Arakla. Syurmene and other regions. Due to lack of material resources we could not do the same kind of work in Trabzon, hence we cannot say anything about the amount of Hamshen living there. 

We managed to find out that there are fourteen villages in the Erzurum province, where Turkish speaking Hamshen live. We were able to visit two villages. According to our surveys one could notice that estrangement is at its highest in these fourteen villages: people hardly remember Armenian language. As we were not able to visit all the villages, we cannot say anything about the Hamshen of Erzurum. 

To sum up as per our research data 30-35 thousand Armenian speaking Hamshen (hopa-Hamshen) who speak their own dialect and about 200 thousand Turkish speaking Hamshen live in Turkey. To reconfirm the real amount of Hemshil living in Turkey, researches need to be implemented in the provinces of Artvin, Rize, Trabzon, Erzurum, Düzgeur and Sakarya, also in Istanbul and other towns, but it requires material resources, therefore we turn to our compatriots to assist in this matter. Alongside with the study of the number of Hamshen, ethnographic, folkloristic, dialectological studies will be implemented, as well as surveys of villages, houses, household items and work tools, songs and dances of peasants, musicians, all the speakers will be sound recorded. High quality devices for sound recording, video recording and photographing are needed to implement the abovementioned. As to the muslim Armenians, their number according to the press and television ranges from 2 to 5 million people, but we think that these figures today are not scientifically proven and it is unknown whether there are more or less Islamized Armenians, as these numbers were disclosed without taking into account the standards adopted in science, without reliable ethnographic, dialectological, genealogical database of the inhabitants of provinces, regions, cities and villages. 

Translated from Armenian. "Dzayn Hamshenakan", march-april 2017

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