The Hemshin people live in the mountainous forested interior of the eastern Black Sea region in an area stretching from the county of Çayeli, in the province in Rize, as far east as the Georgian border of the county of Hopa, in the province of Artvin. They made be divided into two main groups, the first being found in Rize…and the second group living further east…
Most Hemshinli [Hemshin living in Rize province], including many among the ones who live in big cities, are highly devoted to their land and especially to the yaylas because of their natural beauty and cultural meanings. They are very proud of their cultural identity and its uniqueness—even if they do not have a clear idea of their ethnic roots. They refer to themselves as ‘Hemshinli’, and with this name they distinguish themselves from other groups such as their Lazi neighbors living in the coastal lowlands. Moreover, the Hemshinli continue to celebrate their traditional cultural festivals communally each year. In particular, the Vartevor and Hodoç festivals, which originate in old Armenian traditions, are celebrated in the yaylas every summer; they serve to strengthen social cohesion and a sense of ethnic identity among the Hemshinli by preserving the unique cultural values they share.
In the heart of the Asian continent, where mighty conquerors and trading caravans once strode the Silk Road, the “seven Stans” weave a carpet of many colors. Prior to 1991 maps showed only Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then came the Soviet Union breakup and the birth of five new nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Today, these independent states continue to forge identities amid continuing conflicts.
Here, a woman passes the Hazrat Ali mosque (the “Blue Mosque”) in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, where deep ethnic and religious divides are briefly bridged as Sunni and Shiite alike come to pray.