The origins of Hamshen Armenians are wrapped in myth. History tells that in the 8th century a varied group moved from Armenia under the leadership of an Armenian prince called Hamam Amatuni. They settled in modern Turkish Black Sea region of Hopa and Rize, close to the border with modern Georgia. Thus the area was called Hamamshen, or 'built by Hamam' in Armenian. It later became Hamshen. Until the end of 15th century there was an Armenian kingdom in Hamshen.
From the end of 18th century Islam started to spread among the Christian community and under the Ottoman empire the process of islamization intensified. Today Hamshen Armenians are Muslim and majority Turkish-speakers, with some of them still communicating in Hamshetsnak, considered a dialect of the Armenian language.
Take Aydogan Topal(35) and Shafak Karaibrahimoğlu(32). Originally from Hopa, currently the Istanbul residents are determined to keep their identity, including linguistic, alive. Topal is a musician who composes both in the Turkish and Hamshen dialects as, “songs are one of the ways to preserve his identity.”
Born in Hopa, a few kilometres away from Georgia, Shafak and his family moved around Turkey until he settled in Istanbul where he works in a cafe. “The Hamshen boasts a beautiful culture,” he says.