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 “This language will live forever” An interview  with Huriye Şahin, the author of the first Hemshinli grammar book

“This language will live forever” An interview with Huriye Şahin, the author of the first Hemshinli grammar book

Here comes the moment when we will talk about Hamshen and Hamshen Armenians not on a somber note, but with good news. 

For the first time in history, Hamshenis of Turkey have been given the opportunity to study their mother language on a completely different level.  Huriye Şahin’s - an intelligent and human right activist - book entitled “Hamşetsnak Lizu Kidanutun” (Studying of Hemshinli language) is that bold and significant step taken throughout the Hamshen Armenians and Hemshinli dialect history, which was a tardy, but not belated step. 

Despite all kinds of pressures, until now, the Hamshen identity, culture and language remain alive thanks to our Hamshen compatriots and their dedication, however we cannot neglect the fact that the Hamshen Armenian dialect has remained in Hamshen grandmothers’ fairy tales, in shepherds’ singing, in women’ loud laughtening while plucking tea, and in children’s jokes, who were gathering near the furnace and making chestnut and acorn in winter evenings of Artvin wooded villages.  

While we were saddened to read the UNESCO reports on that Hemshinli turned to be disappearing language, a fragile and stubborn woman named Huriye Şahin, was examining, writing and making up the first book of Grammar for the Hamshen Armenians. 

Sofia Hakobian, the interviewer from “Horizon”.

Mrs. Şahin, you are among few Hamshentsi intellectuals who have never questioned whether the Hamshen Armenians are Armenians or not, have never avoided explicit formulations and have never taken into account the Nationalists’ pressures and the reports about poor state of the Hamshen Armenian dialect. How did you decide to devote yourself to this hard work? As a classical Hamshen Armenian family’s child, when did you manage to formulate a clear consciousness of your identity?

All this started in my childhood, when I was told my grandfather’s stories. He said that we had been forcibly converted to Islam. Every time we were passing near crops of Artvin, my grandfather used to show me the rocks and say: “The Armenians were pushed from here”. He was telling me different stories. The Armenians used to say “Only in the toilet we can speak our language quietly”. He was telling me that all in the Hamshen dialect. As I had been engaged in the revolutionary movement since thirteen years, I became a part of the struggle against people’s persecution. This allowed me to develop my understanding of the history of Hamshen Armenians and Armenian Genocide.

How was the idea of a book project born?

I had the idea of writing the book still in 2014. After my first book “How the assimilation policy destroys languages”, which was telling about Hamshen Armenians and their history, I decided to write this book. In the first book, I prove that “Hemshinli” is one of the Armenian dialects, compare the Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian languages with Hemshinli. This book is fully devoted to grammar. There were two things that encouraged me when writing this book: the first is that, I know our dialect very well and the second – the teaching handbook, published by the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. When I finished reading it, I realized that I was able to create a linguistic book. As Hemshinli is one of the Western Armenian dialects, I took many examples from there, however the major part of my book focuses on the dialect itself.

Were there other Armenians who supported you all this time?

For the publication of this book, I am mostly obliged to Harutyun Çerme. I was introduced to him in 2011 and the latter taught me the Armenian alphabet and classical Western Armenian. It was him who presented me the book of the Patriarchate. I remember us having a lesson in the “Cafe Taş Fırın Ormancı” that winter. If we didn’t do so, there would be no continuation.

You mentioned that you consider Hemshinli as one of the Western Armenian dialects. There is a range of intellectuals, who consider Hemshinli as the mix of Western and Eastern Armenian languages. At the same time, according to some sources, Hamshenis migrated to Eastern Armenia from Kotayk and Aragatsotn regions.

I have found traces of Eastern Armenian in Hemshinli and have mentioned them in my first book. In any case, Hemshinli is a dialect belonging to the “-kə” (կը) branch. When comparing Hemshinli dialect with others, the things I couldn’t find in Eastern Armenian, I could find in Western Armenian and vice versa. I think that Hemshinli is the classical Armenian which underlies Western and Eastern Armenian languages. It became a dialect in 1700s, after the islamization of Hamshenis, followed by the change of the education system. My book was revised by Armenian teachers Maral Ustapal and Aras Sarıchopan. Sevan Nișanyan wote a beautiful editorial when I finished that.

The Hamshenis’ neighbor Laz people introduced the first Laz official textbook for a long ago. Your book is the first book for Hamshenis. What do you think, in what the Hamshen people were lacking from their neighbors?

I think it is conditioned by our internal disagreements. The dispute “whether we are Armenians or not” “locks” us from inside. It is true that the people living on the Black seashore of the Ottoman Empire were the last ones to adopt Islam. Even now, we are the only group in this area that still opposes and struggles.

The same debate has become an artificial obstacle not only for internal relations of Hamshenis but in their relation with other Armenians. Some people still argue whether a Muslim can be called an Armenian or not. Don’t you think it diverts us from focusing on the actual agenda issues?

That is the reason why I decided to view this problem from the linguistic point of view, as the language is the people itself. I think, the approach is changing and the progress is evident.

In your opinion, what contributed to that progress?

First of all, the scientific works, developed thanks to our devotion, appeared to be effective. Another reason is the intensification of the communication between Armenians coming from Armenia to Khopa and Armenians coming from Khopa to Armenia, which took place after the collapse of the USSR. The Internet has also greatly influenced the process.

When they speak about nationalism in Turkey, the majority point out Trabzon, and then the region of Rize, which is one of the most harmful and painful points in the history of Hamshen Armenians. Young Hamshenis often mention that they differ in their thoughts and lifestyle from the Rize Hamshenis.

We cannot generalize everyone. The number of Rize Hamshenis who think like us, is small. Since the massacres and assimilation policies have begun from Rize, they have forgotten the native language much earlier. Today, only 500 words are used and most of them are names. One of my friends, who was arguing with me and insisting that Hamshenis are Turks, congratulated me on the publication of the book three days ago. That is why we write, work and regularly debate with them.

UNESCO regularly warns that Hemshinli is one of the disappearing languages in Turkey. However, in spite of this, you have published a grammar book, so you belong to the people who really believe that we are able to change the situation if we have willingness to do so.

I think this language will live forever. The UNESCO’s chronology is quite controversial. Now, the Turkish authorities have recognized the right to include the languages existing in Turkey in the program of the secondary schools. UNESCO makes such a statement right now, not when all minority languages ​​were forbidden in Turkey. I am a revolutionary, I don’t trust imperialist structures. In the end, the statement made by UNESCO is also political. I have submitted a draft to include the Hamshen Armenian language as a selective subject in secondary schools. The program consists of 60 pages, and the process is going on now. I think, everything will be clear in two months.

February 11, 2019

Traslated from Armenian. Sourse:

Translated by Manan Ajamyan.


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