Turkey’s Disappearing Triad

The Homshetsi, Laz, Syriac: Fighting to preserve mother tongue and culture alike

In the village of Xigoba, in Turkey’s northeast Black Sea region, villagers speak the Hopa language, yet, the traditional language here is Homshetsi, a highly endangered archaic western Armenian dialect also spoken in western Georgia, Russia and parts of Armenia, and which up to 130,000 people may speak throughout Turkey. Some of these groups have been marginalized due to their apparent networks with Christian origins. Homshetsi is an archaic Western Armenian dialect spoken by the eastern and northern group of Hemshin peoples (Hemşinli), a people living in northeastern Turkey, Abkhazia, Russia, and Central Asia.

The Homshetsi are of Turkey’s minority ethnic groups, alongside Armenians, Kurds, Circassians and Zazas  Many within these communities rely on festivals and special gatherings to sustain the language, yet this is proving futile, despite numerous efforts to salvage the languages. These efforts are impeded by academics who believe that revitalization work will not prove successful, largely influenced by a connection to Amernia. This is influenced by that languages such as Homshetsi are prohibited through language planing and policy, sometimes punishable through techniques such as forcing spicy paste in people’s mouths. The damage is now critical, as the next generation of Homshetsi, Laz and Syriac people may not speak their heritage languages (UNESCO).

Similarly, the Laz people share a similar past and anxiety for their future, marked as endangered by UNESCO. The Laz people, constitute an indigenous Kartvelian-speaking ethnic group. Laz is a South Caucasian language with about 33,000 speakers around the Black Sea, mainly in the northeast of Turkey, but also in Georgia. Laz is closely related to Mingrelian, and though the two languages are not mutually intelligible, they are considered by some as dialects of a single language known as Zan. In Turkey Laz is written with a version of the Latin alphabet, while in Georgia a version of the Georgian alphabet is used. Laz has no official status in either Turkey or Georgia and there is no standard written form.

Laz has over 1.5 million ethnic citizens across Turkey, with few efforts now directed to preserving the language. Several such as Birol Topaloglu, a renowned Laz musician, as well as late folk-rock singer Kazim Koyuncu, have attempted to use music to revitalize the language. National policy allows the Laz language, yet cultural dynamics are acting against its revitalization. Similar to Homshetsi, speakers of Laz were previously punished for speaking the language. Currently, some schools immediate to the region offer Laz classes, following the 2013 “democratisation” policy.

The third of the three languages, Syriac is making significant efforts to revitalize itself. Here, the problem lies in that its heritage is significantly Christian Orthodox, a religious trait which may become the sole or at least central factor in its revitalization.. Syriac has a long history, and constitutes a very ancient language.

Syriac, also known as Syrian/Syriac Aramaic, Syro-Aramaic or Classical Syriac, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic of the Northwest Semitic languages of the Afroasiatic family, written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet. Syriac, constitutes an eastern dialect of Aramaic spoken by Christians in the lands in between the Roman and Parthian empires between the 1st and 12th centuries.

Syriac dialects includes Western Syriac, Eastern Syriac. Syrian churches: Eastern (Nestorian), Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite), and Syrian Catholic (Melkite, Maronite.

Xigoba (Başoba)

 

The Artvin and Rize Provinces where the Laz people live

 

The Turkish Assyrians live in Southeastern Turkey and Istanbul.

Listen to and read exerts from the Homshetsi, the Laz and the Syriac communities.


‘Saving Turkey’s endangered Laz language’ report by Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught in 2010.



Basics of Classical Syriac Video Lectures – The Syriac Alphabet by Steven C. Hallam in 2017.



Hamshen Armenians by Ter Karapet in 2012 .



The Hemshin People by Ter Karapet in 2012 .