“Between the first half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, over 200,000 Germans moved into the Caucasus region of Azerbaijan,” said the story’s author.
Helendorf was a German colony and the first Azerbaijani town founded by foreigners.
“That was in 1819. Later renamed Khanlar, but now known as Goygol, it carries the indelible mark of 122 years of German cultural influence. German settlers first arrived in Azerbaijan in 1818. Two hundred families came to the existing town of Elisabethpol, now named Ganja,” the narrator said.
Shergiyye Humbatova of Goygol’s Culture and Tourism Department told Euronews, “The Germans who arrived here at the beginning of the 19th century came from Württemberg, because of the poverty in their country, because of miserable conditions, war and a lack of jobs. At the same time the Russian government wanted to increase the number of Christians in this area.”
“There are no Germans left in Goygol. The last resident, Viktor Klein, died in 2007, at the age of 72. His friend Fikret Ismayilov took us to his house, which was built by Viktor’s father,” the narrator.
Euronews was given access to the building, before it becomes a museum.
“Welcome to Viktor’s house, this is where Viktor lived. Everything is well-preserved,” Ismayilov told Euronews.
“Entering Viktor’s house is like going back in time,” the narrator said. “Viktor Klein was a radio technician. As well as German, he could speak Azerbaijani and Russian. He was well-integrated and rooted in multiple cultures.”
“Viktor and I met in 1951, we met at a youth camp. From 1951 till his death we were friends, we visited each other, and we were very close,” Ismayilov recalled.
In 1941, after the Nazi attack against the Soviet Union, Moscow issued a decree exiling Germans from the Caucasus. Viktor’s family stayed, but they were an exception. In a period of around one week nearly 200,000 Germans were deported from the Caucasus to Central Asia and Siberia. Over 22,000 had to leave Azerbaijan.
“His [Viktor’s] father was a Polish senior doctor. He was a member of the Communist party. At that time there was a decision that mixed couples wouldn’t be deported. Because of that they were allowed to stay,” Ismayilov told Euronews.
“Viktor, like many other Germans in town, loved to produce homemade wine. That passion was widespread in Goygol and still today there are many opportunities to taste local wine,” the narrator said.
In 1860, German settlers founded Azerbaijan’s first winery in Goygol.
“The company founded by the Fohrer and Hummel brothers produced nearly 60 percent of the region’s wine by the end of the 19th century. These days it remains one of the country’s most prolific wineries,” the narrator explained.
Rasim Omarov of Goygol Winery told Euronews, “The plant continued operating during Soviet times, it produced cognac and spirits, which were sold in the Russian market and in Europe.”
The author said that the Germans left their mark also in terms of architecture and urban planning.
“St. John’s, Azerbaijan’s first Lutheran Church, was built here in 1857. Today it is a museum. Strolling around the town center, you can find over 300 German houses along the notably straight streets,” the narrator said.
“There are things we learnt from them, and things they learnt from us. In 1822, that type of construction was a big advance,” said Fikret Ismayilov, a former architect.
Germans were an active and well-integrated community in Azerbaijan, said the story’s narrator, adding that their legacy has become part of the Azerbaijani cultural heritage.