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Faded German Heritage In Azerbaijan

RFE/RL Azerbaijan Service photographer Abbas Atilay visited the town of Göygöl, once known as Helenendorf, which was founded by German immigrants in the early 19th century. Besides a church and a cemetery, little remains of the town's German history.

This town in western Azerbaijan today is known as Göygöl, but it once bore the name given by its German settlers: Helenendorf. Photos by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service correspondent Abbas Atilay
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This town in western Azerbaijan today is known as Göygöl, but it once bore the name given by its German settlers: Helenendorf.

Photos by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service correspondent Abbas Atilay

The town was founded in 1820 when Tsar Alexander I offered land in Azerbaijan's Ganja region, then known as Elisabethpol, to some 200 German families. The region was one of several in the Caucasus settled by German immigrants in the first half of the 19th century.
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The town was founded in 1820 when Tsar Alexander I offered land in Azerbaijan's Ganja region, then known as Elisabethpol, to some 200 German families. The region was one of several in the Caucasus settled by German immigrants in the first half of the 19th century.

German settlers built homes, schools, workshops, and wineries. The Russian text on this photograph identifies this as a cellar storing cognac. Archival photos courtesy of vinagro.az
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German settlers built homes, schools, workshops, and wineries. The Russian text on this photograph identifies this as a cellar storing cognac.

Archival photos courtesy of vinagro.az

Ethnic German vintners Christopher Forer and Christian Gumel founded a vineyard that continues to operate today...
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Ethnic German vintners Christopher Forer and Christian Gumel founded a vineyard that continues to operate today...

...although it now produces wine under its Azeri name as the Göygöl Winery.
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...although it now produces wine under its Azeri name as the Göygöl Winery.

German names are still visible on some homes...
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German names are still visible on some homes...

...and the town's Christian heritage is still plain to see in this majority Muslim country, although this Lutheran church is now used as a museum.
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...and the town's Christian heritage is still plain to see in this majority Muslim country, although this Lutheran church is now used as a museum.

Little else remains of the town's German history. In 1941, as Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin ordered all ethnic Germans to be deported to remote areas of Siberia and Kazakhstan.
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Little else remains of the town's German history. In 1941, as Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin ordered all ethnic Germans to be deported to remote areas of Siberia and Kazakhstan.

Today, the town is home to ethnic Azeris, mainly the descendants of people who came here to work in German-run businesses and farms.
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Today, the town is home to ethnic Azeris, mainly the descendants of people who came here to work in German-run businesses and farms.

Residents said they knew of no cases of ethnic Germans returning to the town from elsewhere in the Soviet Union. After Stalin's mass exiles, some ethnic Germans assimilated in their new homes; others fled to Germany.
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Residents said they knew of no cases of ethnic Germans returning to the town from elsewhere in the Soviet Union. After Stalin's mass exiles, some ethnic Germans assimilated in their new homes; others fled to Germany.

Asked about the town's German heritage, residents mentioned only occasional visits from the German ambassador and the old cemetery, which has now fallen into disrepair.
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Asked about the town's German heritage, residents mentioned only occasional visits from the German ambassador and the old cemetery, which has now fallen into disrepair.

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