What is Hamshin?

The Hamshin peoples (Armenian: Համշէնցիներ Hamshentsiner, are a diverse group of peoples who in the past or present have been affiliated with the Hemşin district in the province of Rize, Turkey.
It is generally accepted that they were Armenian in origin, and were originally Christian and members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, but over the centuries evolved into a distinct ethnic group.

History until the Ottoman conquest

Robert H. Hewsen shows the region where today’s Hemşin is located to be populated by a people with different designations throughout the ancient and early medieval history. He indicates thereby that some designations may have alternative forms and partially presents the names used with question marks. In summary from 13th century to 6th century BC Kolkhians, 550 to 330 BC Kolkhiansa and Makrones, 180 BC to 14 AD Laz (Chanian tribes), in the Arsacid Period (63–298 AD) Heniokhians, Makhelones, Heptakometians, Mossynoeci as well as Sannians, Drilles and Makrones are mentioned.

The Hemşin region is shown as part of Colchis (299–387), Tzanica (387–591) and Chaldia (654–750). The specific location of Hemşin is indicated as Tambur/Hamamašen as a fort and town for the first time in the map covering the period 654–750.

480px-Hemshin_WomenThose two names (Tambur and Hamamašen) are included in the History of Taron by John Mamikonean in a short passage about a war between the ruler of Tambur, Hamam, and his maternal uncle the Georgian Prince, which resulted in the destruction of the town to be rebuild by Hamam and be named after him namely Hamamshen. This event is declared by Mamikonian to have taken place in early seventh century. Hamamashen became Hamshen over time. Simonian who conveys this story reports also that the date given by the author may be wrong.

Two other Armenian chronicles Ghewond and Stephen Asoghik of Taron, report in short passages in their histories about a migration from Armenia/Oshakan led by prince Shaspuh Amatuni and his son Hamam. Ghewond conveys this immigration to be to avoid heavy taxes imposed on Armenians by the Arab rulers. The Amatuni lords are offered fertile land to settle down by the Byzantine Emperor, after they crossed the Corukh river. This migration is dated to be after 789 by Ghewond and as 750 by Stephen Asoghik of Taron.

Benninghaus specifies “Tambur” as the destination of the migration led by Hamam and his father Shapuh Amaduni and says that they have seemingly met people there who were already Christians, possibly Greeks. Redgate informs about possible symbolism used in the Ghewond’s history and possible garbling in Mamikonian’s history, and cautions not to take everything at face value. Hachikian states “There is no clue as to where Tambur, the legendary capital of Hamshen, was located. The only certain thing about it is that it clearly belonged to a much earlier time- if it existed at all”. He also mentions in the footnote the name similarity between Tambur and a yayla known as Tahpur or Tagpur, in the heights of Kaptanpasa. Simonian states that Tambur is probably in the vicinity of Varoşkale (altitude 1800 m).
A description of “Haynsen” in the Kingdom of Georgia, its inhabitants and history is contained in “La Fleur des histoires de la terre d’Orient” by Hetu’m of Corycos, written around 1307, translated into English in 1520, and later reproduced in the travellers’ tales of Samuel Purchas published in 1614. Purrchas uses the term “Hamsem” to designate the region and concludes that this is the place of the original Cimmerian gloom of Homer’s Odyssey The translation of He’tum’s related passage to modern English uses the term Hamshen. He’tum describes the region to be “miraculous and strange place” unbelievable unless seen by own eyes, dark and without roads. Signs of human settlement are that “… People in those parts say that one frequently hears the sounds of men bellowing, of cocks crowing, of horses neighing in the forest,” Those people are described by He’tum, leaning upon Georgian and Armenian Histories, to be the descendants of the men of the “wicked” Iranian Emperor Shaworeos who had chased and harassed Christian people.

The referenced translation suggests this Emperor could be Shapuhr II, [309–379].

Simonian considers the so described difficulty in access not to imply total isolation. On the contrary, he reports, Hamshen served sometimes as a transit route between the coastal regions and the Armenian plateau.

Further theories of medieval settlement to Hamshen are that

following the Seljuk Turks occupation, Ani Armenians have fled to Hemshin which had never seen any human face before;
there has been continuous influx of Armenians from the South following the initial settlement; resulting in an armenisation of the area through expelling local Tzans population and
the armenization of the Tzan people took place through ruling dynasties in the South.
Sources of the ruling powers in the region, (Byzantine Trapezuntine, Georgian, Armenian and Turkish) are silent about Hemshin; until the conquest by the Ottomans. It is deduced that Hemşin has been governed by local lords under the umbrella of the greater regional powers changing by the time namely the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, the Byzantine Empire, its successor the Empire of Trebizond, the Georgian Kingdom, the Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu Turkmen Confederations until it was annexed by the Ottoman Empire which collapsed as a result of the World War I and gave birth to the Republic of Turkey.

The Ottoman conquest of Hemshin occurred sometime in the 1480s: an Ottoman register dated around 1486 calls it Hemshin and mentions it as being an Ottoman possession.