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.