Germans, Russians and other minorities in Caucasus


Tbilisi, as it looks today, was in large parts constructed and built by German engineers. Many Germans also came to settle permanently which is obvious when you get to know the names of streets and other places. Some villages in the countryside also has German names. The Germans came in basically two waves. The first group came in the beginning of the 19th Century, the second much smaller group, was German prisoners of war from the WW2, that stayed behind after the war. Some remains of the second group can be found near Gudauri, where they are buried after they died during slave labour construction work on the so called Military Highway to Russia.

A wine cellar built by Germans in what was then Marienfeld (now a part of central Tbilisi) and a map of Tbilisi with Alexanderdorf (now Didube, a suburb of Tbilisi). The church is the Peter and Paul Kirche, a German lutheran church that was built 1820 and situated at the square outside Marjanishvili metrostation. It was destroyed after WW2. 

In Tbilisi you can find places with German names like Saarbrücken Platz, Neu Tiflis and Insbrucker Garten, all names from the 19th century. Some of the Architects were also German. Among the more famous we find Karl Zaar. A famous German building contractor was Friedrich Vezel. Both Zaar and Vezel were involved in the construction of Sololaki in the 1880s. Sololaki is a distinct part of central Tbilisi, or Tiflis as we said in older Swedish, and still say in German and Turkish. A very common situation was the fact that the building projects was financed by Armenian merchants, but there was also a Russian minority involved in the creation of modern Tbilisi. In the year of 1864 the Russians constituted 20% of the population in Tbilisi and the Armenians as much as 47%. In 1803 the Armenians dominated even more with c. 66% of the urban population. The Russian component can be found in many names too, for example Lermontov street and Pushkin park. Both names are related to famous Russian poets. Another peculiar fact is that the superfamous poet Majakovskij was born in Georgia, more exactly in a place called Baghdati, where his father worked as a forester. Both of his parents were actually ethnic Russian though, of Cossack descent. When Majakovskijs parents died he moved to Moscow.

Tbilisi has gone from Russian to English in a very short time. We can still see where the old Russian streetsigns have been! In some places the Russian signs are still present! The first in Russian and Georgian is "Armazi street" and the last one in Georgian and Russian says "Tchaikovsky street". 

In some places in Tbilisi we can still find Cyrillic script on street signs, but most of the Cyrillic signs has been replaced by English ones. Also some Russian names has been shifted to Georgian names. The former Golovin avenue is todays Shota Rustaveli avenue, Plekhanov street has become Davit Agmashenebeli Avenue, Lenin Square is Freedom Square or თავისუფლების მოედანი Tavisuplebis moedani (originally actually Paskevich-Erevanskiy Square). Today we see streetsigns in Georgian and English, except on buildings that still havn't been renovated. There is actually today a George Bush street in the town.

There are also many Russian newspapers, but not a single one in English. Russian is still the de facto lingua franca all over Southern Caucasus. The quick change from Russian to English has created a lot of problems, actually. Both the war in Abkhazia during the 1990s and the armed conflict in South Ossetia in 2008 has their origins in failed lingustic policies. Actually this problem started already in the 1930s with Lavrentij Beria and his aggressive "Georgianisation" of minority areas. Some of the problems of today has their origins in the fact that the minorities don't know Georgian and English, the only two recognised official languages. They speak their own language, i.e. Abkhazian and Ossetian, and Russian of course. The Georgian language is very difficult to learn and it is not linguistically related to the West Caucasian Abkhazian, neither to the Indo-European Ossetian (Ossetian is actually a relative in the Persian language family). The same situation applies to the Armenians and the Azeris, whom has great problems too, even though they don't have armed conflicts with the majority and the governament in Tbilisi. I would say that it was a great mistake to make such a rapid shift from Russian to English, they should have kept the Russian but introduced English too. It would have made things much smoother and could possibly have prevented the tragedy that unfolded.

The rural German villages that was founded in the 1800s has all shifted to Georgian and Azerian names. The population in those villages was titled German Caucasians. The first German-Schwabian colony was named Marienfeld and was founded 1818. Marienfeld has been absorbed by Tbilisi and the avenue Davit Agmashenebeli is partly situated on the ground of Marienfeld. In the same year, 1818, Elisabethal was founded, but that place has the name Asureti today. Asureti is located in the province of Kvemo-Kartli (Lower Kartli), south of Tbilisi. Whithin a year, following 1818, an additional five German colonies had been established, four that has been swallowed by Tbilisi and one, Katharinenfeld, has become Bolnisi today. The suburb of Tbilisi named Didube was once Alexanderdorf (dorf is the German word for village). The purpose of this Russian tsarist policy, was to divide and rule. He placed loyal subjects from other parts of the empire in the area with the aim to dominate the locals. The Germans, surrounded by Caucasians, felt more security with the Russians than with the locals. The background of the Germans is that they fled religious persecution in Germany. The Germans were followers of the unaccepted Lutheran pietist movement and the Schwabian priest Johann Albrecht Bengel from Württemberg. In total the German colony consisted of some 20.000 individuals. In 1941 the number of internally deported Germans was 190 000. (Other areas included)

Pictures of German built rural structures in Asureti (Elisabethal) from and gravestones from The persons holding a sign is Mrs Ana Zec and Mr Besik Tsiklauri from the Georgian Ministry of Culture. The name Schwabenstrasse is because most Germans that came to Georgia were Swabians from Württemberg.

In the beginning of the 19th century the Caucasians still dressed in Persian style clothes and practised oriental culture and customs, it is only in the mid 1800s that European style traditions and dresscode becomes popular.

In the area that is Azerbaijan today we can find three former German settlements. Elisabethpol has resumed it's old name, Ganja. Helenendorf is today Göygöl and Annenfeld has the name Shamkir. These three settlements was established in 1818 and 1819. During the end of the the 1800s further German settlements was founded but they all have Caucasian names today. In the beginning the Germans of Caucasus had hard times, but later it was better. But it was going to change and when Stalin became mad and paranoid it all turned really bad. From 1932, when terror increased under Lavrentij Beria, times became harsh, and finally turned really bad. In 1941 all Germans was deported to Kazakstan and Siberia as a consequence of the war with Nazi Germany. The total number of Caucasus Germans was at this point 190 000. This was almost the end of the Germans and their history in the Soviet Union. But today, there are increased contacts inbetween Germany and modern day democratic Georgia as Georgia strives to integrate with the European Union. That project includes cultural revival and some restauration projects of old German buildings.

Katharinenfeld is today called Bolnisi and it is located in Trialeti area. Germans in Göygöl during wine harvest. The church of Helenendorf/Göygöl and lutheran Germans in Baku in 1931 or 1933. The Lutheran Church of the Saviour in Baku was built in 1899. Johan Albrecht Bengel (1687 - 1752) was the founder of the pietist sect that the first Swabian settlers followed.  

List of German settlements in Caucasus. Neudorf, Gnadenberg and Lindau was situated in Abkhazia. All three founded in 1844.