Thursday, June 20, 2013

German-Azerbaijanis.......and German-Americans.......

 German-Azerbaijanis.......and German-Americans

Being ethnically German-American, I have an innate interest in the fact there are some definite parallels to the stories of the German settlements in Azerbaijan and the German settlements in America.  In the early part of the nineteenth century, political and economic conditions forced many German families to leave their homeland and travel west--to emigrate to North America, or to travel east--to the regions of the then-Russian empire which included the Ukraine and the
In both cases, German immigrants faced many hardships, but banded together in their new settlements to retain their cultural and religious heritage, both in America and in the various regions of the Russian empire.  For decades these ethnic Germans living in foreign lands maintained their own communities, continued to speak their native German language, and conducted their own schools, agricultural enterprises, and communities similarly to what they had known and done in Germany.

(Interestingly, political unrest in the Russian empire half a century later, during the latter years of the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth centuries, caused additional hardships for those German immigrants now living and farming in Russian territories.  So, many of those Russian-Germans, especially those from regions of the Ukraine, with its large wheat and grain fields, packed up and emigrated again, this time to the vast stretches of open spaces in the U.S. and Canada, where they could continue their tradition of wheat farming.  Odessa, Washington, a small wheat-farming community in Eastern Washington, my home state, was in fact named after the major city in the Ukraine--Odessa, as a way to entice these new Russian-German settlers to the wheat fields which to this day prosper in Eastern Washington.  This Washington State community has also not forgotten its heritage, and yearly in the fall a Deutschesfest is held in Odessa, Washington to celebrate and commemorate its German roots, albeit via Russia and the Ukraine.,_Washington )

The two World Wars of the twentieth century also impacted, often quite negatively, the German settlements and the German immigrants in America and in Azerbaijan.  My own ancestors suffered discrimination and had to cease speaking in German during the years of World War I and beyond.  Contact with relatives, who remained in Germany, ceased.  And pride in being German-American was destroyed, as it became much more important to show American-pride and assimilation with other ethnic groups in America, and imprudent, sometimes even dangerous, to expose one’s German ethnicity.  Likewise, many schools and institutions of higher-learning eliminated all German courses from their curricula, even though German had long been an important and popular foreign language to study, especially for future natural and social scientists.  The anti-German-American sentiment during these years was exemplified by the hastily passed regulations forbidding the teaching of German in many parts of the United States, including Seattle and Washington State, as thoroughly examined in an award-winning published article by Robert T. Branom,  Against the “Hun”: Anti-Germanism at the Seattle Public Schools and the University of Washington, 1917-1918,

But the fate of the German-Azerbaijani communities was much harsher, during the years leading up to World War II, as the Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin rounded up all who were living in the German settlements and those with German-sounding names, and had them deported to Siberia and Central Asia, i.e. Kazakhstan.  As the fear of Nazi encroachment and battles in Russia raged, it became imperative to Stalin to rid the all-important land with copious oil and gas reserves--Azerbaijan--of its ethnic German citizens, who might in Stalin's view offer aid to the Nazis (who definitely had their eye on Azerbaijan's oil and gas for Nazi war effort), despite the fact that the German-Azerbaijanis had lived more than a century as citizens of the Russian empire and subsequently the Soviet Union.  This fear and paranoia is not unlike what happened to "Japanese-Americans during World War II, who were first held in great suspicion by the American public and then deported almost entirely to internment camps, as the American public feared they were not completely loyal to the United States. The Cold War likewise saw Americans accuse their friends, neighbors, and colleagues as being communist, and therefore unpatriotic, fearing that ideals held by such people would ruin the American way of life." (Branom. "Against the 'Hun' ")

During the round-up and deportation of German-Azerbaijanis, some German-Azerbaijanis left their children behind to be raised by ethnic Azeri neighbors.  And some, like a friend I have made at the German Lutheran Church in Baku, have been allowed to return to Azerbaijan in recent years, having been born in exile.  She, like others, was born of ethnically German parents, exiled to Kazakhstan before the WWII, and where she was subsequently born long after the War.  Still able to speak German, she is proud of her heritage, but bitter over the fact that her parents were forced into exile and never allowed to return.  Her parents had to leave everything behind when they were deported, and lost all that they and their ancestors had spent decades working for and building up.

Today, several of these former German communities in Azerbaijan are undergoing a revitalization program, intended to renovate the buildings and streets, homes and Lutheran churches of these German-Azerbaijanis of long-ago.  One such community today is known as Goygol, but to the Germans of its day it was called Helenendorf; and today's Shamkir was once known to its German settlers as Annenfeld.  The vineyards, surrounding these settlements, which the Germans planted and tended (they were all originally from Wuerttemberg) are still there today, as are the remnants of wineries with such names as Concordia.  

Several weeks ago, a group of members from the Baku German Lutheran Church and I traveled to these communities to meet up with a delegation from Bonn, Germany, which supports the church in Baku.  Coming from Bonn, they were interested in the history of the German settlements in Azerbaijan, and the Azerbaijanis (most of German descent) were likewise interested in learning more about their heritage together with these friends of their congregation from Germany.  We were entertained by the assistant to the Minister in charge of the region, given special tours of the churches and homes, and treated to a typical meal, including wine-tasting from the vineyards planted by the German-Azeri ancestors.  One Azerbaijani on our tour was anxious to see the heritage museum, now housed in the renovated former church, and to locate the street on which her parents used to live in Helenendorf (Goygol) before they were exiled to Kazakhstan.  

German Church in Annenfeld (Shamkir)

Outside renovations taking shape; during Soviet times interiors of
churches often served as sport centers and gymnasiums 

Interior is being renovated in order to create a cultural center  and German heritage museum 

District cultural director explains the renovations to visitors from
Baku German Lutheran Church and guests from Bonn, Germany

The streets and houses are also being renovated to reflect their German past.
Settlers from Germany were from Wuerttenberg, and the little ditch for run-off water is not
unlike the Baechle (little brooks) found in Freiburg

Group from German Lutheran Church in Baku relaxes in Shamkir's lovely park

Park in Shamkir (Annenfeld)

The Minister of Taxes, the government official responsible for this
region, entertains us with a feast for lunch--3 kinds of kabab,
salad, soups, tea and sweets--and of copious amounts of bread. 

Facades of houses are being renovated to
remind visitors and residents of the town's
German heritage
On the road between Shamkir (Annenfeld) and Goygol (Helenendorf)
Pastoral alpine views between Shamkir and Goygol

And we were treated to tea and cakes in
an old wine-cellar, turned restaurant, and
offered wine-tasting

German-style street scene in Goygol (Helenendorf)
Off in the distance, Narorno-Karabagh--bitterly disputed lands, technically Azerbaijani territory, but occupied by Azeri arch-enemy, neighboring Armenia
Inside the Goygol home of Victor Klein, last surviving descendant of German  settlers
German Lutheran Church in Goygol,
housing a German-heritage museum
Helenendorf's Town Hall (Rathaus)
Following WWII, German prisoners-of-war on Soviet soil were detained and used as laborers to rebuild parts of the Soviet Union, including Azerbaijan.  Towns, including Mingachevir, where I live, were built by German prisoners-of-war, as well as the dam and power plant on the Kur River, Mingachevir.  These cemetery views in Goygol show the graves of German prisoners-of-war, those who died here, still in captivity long after the end of the war, as well as the graves of the German settlers of Helenendorf.

"Here rest the prisoners of war--victims of the Second World War...may God have mercy on them and all victims of war"

The German prisoner-of-war graves join the graves of the German Christian settlers who for more than a century lived and worked throughout this region.
In years past, after the German settlers had been deported to Central Asia and Siberia, the German cemetery was vandalized by local Azeris, thinking that the Christian graves were perhaps Orthodox Armenian (their arch-enemies), not realizing nor being able to discern that they were the graves of German Lutherans
Nagarno-Karabagh is off in the distance...the region occupied by Armenia, but technically part of Azerbaijan

The overnight Night Train to and from Baku was in and of itself an *experience*   

1 comment:

  1. Greetings from Shamkir! You were at our house museum, waiting for you again!