Sergei Vardanian: Hamshen Week Will Help Understand Who We Are, How


Noyan Tapan

Ju ly 30, 2008

event of the cultural week dedicated to Hamshen Armenians that started
on July 21 in Yerevan was the concerts of the Vova Hamshen ensemble
invited from Turkey.

The first concert of the Vova (this name is translated as "Who
is?") Hamshen ethnographic ensemble took place in the Naregatsi
art center. Everything seemed unusual at first. They were singing
in Armenian, but in an unknown dialect. Then suddenly the sound of
bagpipe was heard. The hall was filled with applaud. A new kind of
Armenian song was discovered so in Yerevan.

A happy mood was felt among those gathered, many were excited. Sergei
Vardanian, a well-known specialist of Hamshen studies in Armenia,
highly evaluated the idea of such an event. In his opinion, today
Armenians do not know themselves, and the Hamshen Week will help
understand better "who we are, who many we are, and what kind of
people we are."

Film director Tigran Khzmalian confessed that he is too excited. "I
think it is a historic event," he said. "I was astonished to learn
that the Hamshen ensemble has arrived in Armenia. In my opinion,
now we are entering an era, when we start uniting on the basis of
national solidarity."

A historic review. Hamshen or Hemshin Armenians are those who settled
at the south-eastern coast of the Black Sea. According to the accepted
opinion, escaping Arab violence, lords Hamam and Shapuh Amatuni
transmigrated there from Vaspurakan with thousands of migrants in
the 8th century.

Later an Armenian semi-independent power was established there,
which by the name of its founder lord Hamam was named Hamamshen. The
name changed in some time and became Hamshen. In 1489 Hamamshen was
occupied by Turks and went to ruin.

Today Hamshen Armenians can be conditionally divide into two large

The first group includes Christian Hamshen Armenians who settled at
the Black Sea’s Abkhazian and Russian coast. And the representatives
of the second group mainly live at the Pontian coast of Turkey and
profess Islam.

The latters, in difference to Christian Hamshen Armenians, have never
kept in touch with Armenia. Moreover, many of them are convinced up
to the present that they are not Armenians.

In modern Turkey Hamshen Armenians were first spoken about after
the 1990-s.

Before that even Hamshen Armenians themselves preferred to keep
silence about their origin. The Armenians of Hamshen arriving in
Armenia within the framework of the Yerevan cultural week confessed
that they learnt about their origin already at a very mature age.

For instance, Istanbul-based Hamshen Armenian Mahir Ozkan told in
his talk with us that he first read about his Armenian roots in a
book. And Hikmed Akcicek, the founder and the soloist of the Vova
ensemble, confessed that he was already 15 years old when he was told
who indeed Hamshen Armenians are.

However, it did not hinder him in the future to collect Hamshen songs,
to found an ethnographic ensemble, and to present the unique melodies
of Hamshen to the world.

Nevertheless, not all members of the Vova ensemble are Hamshen

There are also Lazes, and the drummer is Hogr Gyoregen Kurdish by
nationality. In response to the question of what made the Kurdish
drummer become a member of the Armenian ethnographic ensemble, Gyoregen
said: "We help each other. Today singing in Kurdish in Turkey is,
to put it mildly, a difficult matter. And Hamshen Armenians have no
such problem, their language, for some reason, is considered a Turkish
dialect. Therefore, if I cannot sing my national song, I can even if
help other national minorities keep their culture."

Hikmed Akcicek was very much inspried with the Yerevan success of
his ensemble. However, it was more noteworthy what he said about
his impressions from Armenia’s capital: "When we entered the city,
it seemed to me that I had never left it. I am at home."