Stalin’s Paranoia and the German town of Helenendorf in Azerbaijan

Helenendorf 2011

I was confronted by the ghost of Stalin’s paranoia this week, when visiting the town of Goygol [formally known as Helenendorf] in North West Azerbaijan. The attractive town is full of houses that would not look out-of-place in the Black Forest and a Lutheran church built in 1857.

Comrade Stalin

Although the town was founded by German settlers in 1819, today there are none thanks to comrade Stalin, who had the entire population [along with hundreds of thousands of other Russian people of German decent] deported to Siberia and Kazakstan in 1941, when Hitler misguidedly invaded Russia.

The community moved from balmy Southern Germany to the windswept steppe of the Norther Caucasus, as the economy of Wuttemburg had been devastated by the Napoleonic war. Tzar Alexander I offered grants of land in its newly acquired Caucasian empire, a loan of money and a horse to every family prepared to pledge allegiance to Russia.

Helenendorf in about 1900

In the winter of 1818–1819, 194 German families arrived at the regional capital of Elisabethpol (now known as Ganja) from Tbilisi in Georgia.  They were granted land 6 kilometres to the west of the city and it was here that they founded the town of Helenendorf.

 

Another German settlement, the town of Annenfeld was founded almost simultaneously 40 kilometres away and by the beginning of the 1880s and six more German colonies were established throughout the region. By 1918 there were thought to be some 6,000 Germans living in Azerbaijan.

Valarisa - a survivor

I can certainly testify to the quality of the local wine. After wandering around the town for an hour or so, my friend Mason and I ended up outside the local pork butchery and restaurant owned and run by Valerisa Daniella Alexandrianova and her husband Teodor Danielllavich. Here we sat down to a splendid meal of massive pork sausages and roast potatoes washed down by Valerisa’s home-made wine. To be frank, it was the best I have tasted since coming to the country last August. Served surprisingly cold, it was rich, well-rounded and full flavoured. Certainly worth the few kopek we paid for the privilege…

The valley of Helenendorf, on a cold February afternoon

Valerisa

 provided another reminder of Stalin’s murderous paranoia. Her Grandfather was a Christian Iraqi who moved to Turkey then to Azerbaijan in 1914 due to inter-ethnic clashes. In 1940 he was forcibly removed to Tomsk in Siberia where he eventually married and Valerisa was born. In 1956, the family were allowed to move to Georgia and finally Valerisa married in 1976 and moved to Helenendoft by then renamed Xanlar and now called Goygol…

Internally displaced families from the occupied region of Nagorno-Karabakh now occupy many of the houses first built by German families in the middle or the 19th Century.

Ironically, descendents of the families exiled to Siberia in 1941 were given the right to return to Germany in 1989, one-hundred and seventy years after making their epic journey to Azerbaijan. I wonder how many were still alive by that point to take up the offer?

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About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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4 Responses to Stalin’s Paranoia and the German town of Helenendorf in Azerbaijan

  1. Julia Hawkes-Moore says:

    Interesting Post, Steve. Thank you for this! All this was news to me.

  2. Ali says:

    Great ! Thanks for information!

  3. Anton says:

    Well Steve, now confront the Great American Paranoia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans
    and I can give you another 6 examples of american paranoia.
    To be serious, that practice was and is common during a war. And is made not by someones “stupid” will, but due to lots of experience.

  4. eduard.votteler@uni-duesseldorf.de says:

    This is part of my familystory. My name is Eduard Votteler. My ancestors were part of the first settlers in Helenendorf and founded this village. Thanks for this post. History shall not be forgotten.

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