Exploring Western Azerbaijan’s German Traces
Today, when you walk along the streets of Ganja, Goygol and Shamkir, you can still feel the strength of the region’s former German community, and find traces of their culture in the architecture, city planning and local viticulture. It’s hard to believe now but 200 years ago German settlements were established in western Azerbaijan.
As a result of economic instability and religious differences, hundreds of Swabian Germans moved from Württemberg to the South Caucasus having received an invitation from the Russian tsar. They began their journey in 1816 and first settled in Tbilisi, but later about 500 migrants continued their journey to western Azerbaijan, which was then underthe Russian Empire.
They first stopped in Yelizavetpol (now Ganja) in 1818 where local people sheltered them in their homes. After spending the winter there, in 1819 they started to build their first colony, Helenendorf, 20 kilometres to the south. In total, eight German colonies were established in Azerbaijan: Helenendorf, Annenfeld, Georgsfeld, Alekseevka, Grunfeld, Eigenfeld, Traubenfeld and Yelizavetinka, located throughout the regions of Goygol, Shamkir, Tovuz, Agstafa and Gazakh.
Many of the Germans were skilled craftsmen but their main occupations were agriculture and especially winemaking. In 1922, the Concordia cooperative was established in Goygol and its products became popular throughout the Soviet Union. But with the start of the Great Patriotic War in June 1941, their situation in Soviet Azerbaijan became extremely precarious, and in October of that year, 22,741 Germans were forced to relocate from Azerbaijan to the Kazakh SSR. Only those in mixed marriages stayed in Azerbaijan.