Armenians in Abkhazia

The modern-day Armenian population of Abkhazia dates back to Russian occupation of this formerly Ottoman territory in 1864, and particularly the years following the 1878 Berlin Conference, which facilitated the movement of Christians from within the Ottoman Empire to the Russian Empire. There was a further influx following the 1915 Armenian Genocide within the Ottoman Empire and later movements during the Soviet era and at times of conflict and unrest in the Caucasus.

The Google Map shows the major known Armenian communities in Abkhazia, but does not purport to be complete or comprehensive. According to the 2011 census of the Republic of Abkhazia, there were 41,907 declared Armenians at that date, which is just over 17% of the total population (and makes the Armenians the largest ethnic group after the Abkhazians themselves). The number is declining (compare 44,870 in 2003 and 76,541 in 1989), mostly due to emigration to Armenia and to Russia for employment.


Dukhobors in Georgia

The Google Map shows the distribution and location of Dukhobor settlement in Georgia from the early 1840s (when the first settlers arrived) to the present day.

By the 1890s, after 50 years in Georgia, through hard work the Dukhobors had become wealthy by local standards and were among the major private landowners in their areas of occupation. However, they were dispossessed during the Soviet era (although their collective farms were successful, as the Dukhobor mindset was consonant with cooperative working – even if Soviet atheism was anathema to them).

The Dukhobors struggled after the collapse of the Soviet system and contentious issues around land ownership and rights. Their problems were exacerbated by political tensions between newly independent Georgia and Russia, with the Georgians identifying the Dukhobor with the Russian Federation and displaced Georgians being settled in Dukhobor areas.

By 2006, the Dukhobor population in Georgia had fallen beneath 1,000 (probably as low as 700-800), following emigration, mostly to Russia, and a declining birth rate in the elderly population. From 2007, more family groups were applying to relocate to Russia and only the largest village, Gorelovka, seemed to be thriving; it features in several beautifully photographed travelogues and ethnographic studies online.

The Hemshin

Official Turkish historiography claims that the Hemshin or Hemşin are Turks who, through an unfortunate proximity, took on elements of Armenian language and culture. The truth, universally accepted elsewhere, is that the Hemshin are ethnic Armenians who either voluntarily or forcibly converted to Islam. For the most part they inhabit mountain valleys inland from Trabzon east to Rize and beyond Çayeli and Pazar to Hopa up by the border with Georgia.

Some of the valleys, such as those of the rivers Karadere and Fırtına, are predominantly Hemshin in character. Their villages are loose clusters of homes, often scattered along a ridge or a winding access road, rather than focused nuclear settlements. Many villages have separate quarters (mahalle) with different names, which have been gathered into a single settlement for administrative purposes. The majority of settlements have been re-named, or have alternative names. In certain parts, villages are associated with traditional highland pastures called yaylas, to which entire communities decamp for the summer grazing season. The yaylas are summertime highland grazing camps rather than permanent year-round settlements.

The Hemshin have also dispersed within Turkey, and there are communities, generally thriving and successful, in big cities such as Ankara and Istanbul (where the Hemshin are famous as pastry cooks). As a result, the Hemshin villages are becoming depopulated, as part of a rural to urban movement pattern common to most developing states in the modern world. This threatens the very existence of the Hemshin as a distinctive people, especially within their context of the homogenising chauvinistic culture of Turkey. However, it is possible that their culture may be preserved through a mixture of urban Hemshin nostalgia and the development of tourism.

Most of the Hemshin are Sunni Muslim and nowadays speak Turkish; however, those in the Hopa district still speak Homshetsma, an Armenian dialect. The same Homshetsma language is spoken by Hemshin in Georgia and Russia where part of the Hemshin (or, rather, their Armenian forebears) migrated to escape conversion to Islam and remain Christian.

The Hemshin are also known variously as Hamshen, Hemşin, Hemşinli, Hemshinli, Homshentsi and Homshetsi.

The Google Map shows current settlements in Turkey and beyond which are known to be Hemshin today. Villages outside Turkey are under-represented on the map. Communities in the big Turkish cities are not shown.

The villages of the Turkish-speaking Hemshin in the western region of habitation are shown with dark blue pins. The villages speaking the Hemshinli language called Homshetsma in the eastern region are shown with the pale blue pins (note that these spill over into Georgia). Purple pins show villages established by displaced Hemshin in western Turkey (see page 2 of the map).

The villages of the Homshetsma-speaking Hemşin in Georgia and Russia who fled the Ottoman Empire and remain Christian are also shown.


A version of this article and map was originally posted on the bluebirdresearch site in 2012.

Armenians in Javakhk 

This  Google Map shows the distribution of current and former Armenian settlements in Javakhk, Georgia, the region that adjoins the Republic of Armenia and has a majority Armenian population.

Although Armenian settlement in this region historically dates back many hundreds of years, the current population of the small towns and villages in Javakhk generally descends from Armenians displaced from Ottoman Turkey circa 1829/30. Many came from Erzurum province, with a minority from other districts such as Ardahan, Kars and Van.

As Erzurum was also the source of many emigrants to America around the turn of the 19th/20th century, this means that many Armenians both in the Republic and in the diaspora may well have kin residing in Georgia.

Note that the map shows the settlements in the Javakhk region of Georgia which have or had an Armenian population. The villages are shown under their Armenian not their Georgian names (transliterated from the Armenian alphabet of course) and are listed in Latin alphabet order.

Villages are Armenian Apostolic unless otherwise described as Armenian Catholic (red pins).

Ethnic Georgian villages in the region are not marked with pins.


This is a version of a blog post and map first published by bluebirdresearch in 2012.

The Azeri Germans of Helenendorf 

In the years leading up to the start of WW1, one could find, eight versts from Elizavetpol, an outpost of the Germanic world – the neat, homely village of Helenendorf (ЕленендорфЪ, or Elenendorf, in Russian). In Russian terms, this was a koloniya, a colony, settled on land within the Empire regarded as vacant. In this case, the village was established by Swabian Germans in 1819 on the general invitation of Alexander I, grandson of Catherine the Great (who had opened up to colonists many parts of Russia’s vulnerable, newly acquired southern frontier regions). The initial settlers came from places such as Balingen, Degerloch, Reutlingen, Stuttgart, Tübingen and Ulm in today’s Baden-Württemberg.

Over the course of the long C19th, this German community thrived, specialising in viticulture. The 1910 official gazetteer for Elizavetpol Guberniya states that, at the most recent count (in 1908), the village had harvested 261,900 puds of grapes and pressed 196,425 vedros of wine (over 2.3m litres). Cognac was produced as well as wine.

To put that into context, in 1910 the village comprised 289 households (charmingly referred to in Russian as smokes, or chimneys – perhaps one would say hearths) with a population of 2,234 (1,106 males and 1,128 females). It had both a Lutheran church (built in the late 1850s) and a smaller prayer house, a secondary-level school attended by 185 boys and 227 girls, nine shops or market stalls, and seven mills. The mills were used for grain, as the villagers cultivated wheat, barley and oats, at least some of which would have been ground locally for flour for domestic use – they were self-sufficient and traded their excess agricultural produce. However, prior to the arrival of electricity, some of the mills may also have been used to power irrigation, as a third of the cultivated land (including most or all of that used for grape vines) was irrigated.

The 1910 gazetteer also records livestock headcounts – 340 horses, 689 cows and 271 calves, 2 oxen and 49 pigs. As pork was of course taboo for the surrounding Azeri Muslim population, one supposes that the pigs were for village consumption only, unless traded with some of the local Armenians and Russians.

Among the surnames to be found in the village upon the eve of WW1 were Aichler, Hartenstein, Kies, Epp, Votteler, Hummel, Vohrer and Klein. However, Helelendorf was a so-called Mutterkolonie or “mother colony”. In other words, over time settlers left Helenendorf to found new settlements elsewhere in the Caucasus, for instance the colonies of Elisabetthal (in Georgia), Georgsfeld and Grünfeld (both in today’s Azerbaijan). However, Nazi Germany’s Drang nach Osten proved the downfall of all the German communities within this part of the Soviet Union; in 1941 a paranoid Stalin deported the communities en masse to Central Asia and Siberia, to ensure they did not become an enemy within. Today, there are no Germans in Helelendorf (today known as Göygöl), although doubtless their DNA lives on in the local Azeri population. The Lutheran church is now a gym.

For the location of Helenendorf, see this Google Map showing the German communities in the Caucasus. This map shows only some of the German agricultural colonies to be found in the Caucasus region of the Russian Empire up to, and sometimes, beyond, WW1. The map makes no claim to be comprehensive (other colonies are not marked) or accurate (in some cases, the precise location of a village is not known).



This is a revised version of an article and map first published by bluebirdresearch in 2014.