Hemshin Peoples, also known as Hamshenis, are a group of Armenians who live in Turkey and Georgia. They are the native inhabitants of a district in Rize province in northeastern Turkey. The Hemshin Peoples include both Christians and Muslims. Their language, a mixture of the Armenian and Turkish languages, has been influenced by the Armenian language. Some of the older members of the Hemshin community speak the Anatolian dialect, but others speak a variety of the Turkish language.
In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire conquested Hemshin and forced them into Islam. The Muslim Hemshin grew into a distinct ethnic group and established a unique culture. Many of the Hemshinli were converted to Islam in order to preserve their lives. This led to some of the Hemshinli rejecting their origin as Armenians. Several Hemshinli were killed because they were mistaken for Armenians. There are also those who have refused to convert to Islam. Others have tried to return to Christianity.
Since the early nineteenth century, men from the Hemshin area have emigrated to larger cities of the Ottoman Empire. This migration was a result of a Tanzimat reform program. It is unclear whether the majority of the men in the region were actually Muslim. However, during World War I, Hemshinli Muslims were responsible for robbing Khodorchur Armenians.
As the Ottoman Empire became unstable in the second half of the twentieth century, the area was occupied by the Russians. This prompted changes in the village names, which largely erased the original Armenian names. By 1959, thousands of villages with non-Turkish roots had been renamed. A British consul in Trebizond verified the change.
During the Soviet era, some Hemshinli who spoke the language of Armenia were deported to Kyrgyzstan. At the same time, the last district of Ispir remained inhabited by Christian Armenians. After the Soviet Union broke up, some of the Muslim Hemshinli returned to the area. But as a result of the new Islamic majority, many of the men lost their ability to speak the language of their ancestors.
Despite the loss of their native language, the Hemshin people continued to have a strong identity. Members of the Hemshinli in western areas continue to maintain the Turco-Muslim identity. These individuals raise livestock and work in large numbers. One of the main cash crops is tea. Most of the Hemshinli live in small villages. Families tend to be very large. Men wear hats and vests. Women usually have a long piece of cloth wrapped around their head. Usually, food is stored in cloth bags hanging from the ceiling.
Hemshin Peoples, like other minority groups, have been subjected to great oppression. Thousands of their villages were renamed under the Young Turks. Several Hemshinli had their language wiped out by pressure from local authorities. Additionally, most Hemshinli married within their own ethnic group. Consequently, a large number of youth emigrated to major urban centers.
While there are many Hemshinli that refuse to consider themselves Armenian, there are still others who remain faithful to their Christian heritage. A large proportion of the Hemshinli live close to the Black Sea. Nonetheless, Hemshin have been the subject of several publications that focus on their history and cultural traditions.