Ethnic groups in Georgia #16 ? Germans

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at
Mon Jun 9 10:03:21 UTC 2008

Tom Trier and George Tarkhan-Mouravi
Georgian Times , June 4

This week?s article in the series of the wealth of ethnic groups in  
Georgia features the Germans. The materials on the ethnic groups are  
provided by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) and the  
Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and are extracted from the book,  
Georgia ? An Ethno-Political Handbook by Tom Trier & George  
Tarkhan-Mouravi. With support from the foreign ministries of  
Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, the book will be published by the end  
of this year in a Georgian and an English edition.

Population in Georgia: 651 (2002 Georgia census). 2,000 by community  

Total Population: 75-80 million.

Settlement: Dispersedly settled in Tbilisi, Rustavi, Bolnisi, Gori,  
Kutaisi, Batumi and Sukhumi.

Kin state: Germany (68 million).

Other countries of settlement: France (1.5 million), CIS countries (1  
million), Netherlands (320,000), Italy (290,000), United Kingdom  
(266,000) and numerous other countries.

Who, What, Where

Germans have been living in Georgia in larger settlements since the  
early 19th century, when a few thousand German peasants were settled  
in the country as part of Russia?s colonial policy. Gradually growing  
in size, the German community counted persons in Georgia according to  
Soviet census data in 1926, and increasing to 20,527 by 1939. Due to  
deportations during World War II, however, almost all Germans were  
deported, and while some returned in the late 1950s, the population  
reached less than 2,300 persons in 1959.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the remaining Germans have  
emigrated to Germany. Today, the German community is one of the  
smallest minority groups in the country, generally concentrated in  
urban areas and without compact settlements, though a few German  
families have returned to traditional German villages such as Asureti  
(formerly Elisabethtal). According to the latest census of 2002, 651  
persons were recorded as belonging to the German minority, although  
the main community organization, Einung, independently has registered  
about 2,000 Germans.

A Bit of History

Between 1817 and 1819 over 2,600 German settlers, mostly Protestants,  
arrived in Georgia from the region of Swabia in southwestern Germany,  
where they established six new settlements mostly near Tbilisi in  
south Georgia. Katharinenfeld (now Bolnisi) was one of these  
settlements. The Russian government, which actively encouraged  
resettlement to the newly incorporated territories of the Empire,  
contributed with significant funds to the settlers, extended free land  
and housing and also provided loans for the purchase of livestock and  
agricultural equipment. On their part, the German colonists were  
attracted by the prospects of resettlement in Russia because of the  
political and economic hardship they faced at home. Napoleon?s  
invasions in Europe, religious persecutions of the protestant German  
peasantry and food shortages all played roles in the large-scale  
relocation of Germans at that time. Settlement of Germans in the  
Caucasus continued until Tsar Alexander II in the 1870s halted  
additional German immigration and in the following years the German  
community increased only due to natural growth.

The establishment of German churches and the arrival of Lutheran  
missionaries were extremely important for the German community and the  
development of their religious, cultural and intellectual life. German  
schools were also founded, based on a German school curriculum.  
Lessons were conducted in German, specifically in Schw?bisch (Swabian)  
- the southwestern German dialect spoken by most of the German  
settlers. Unlike the conditions for the first colonists, who often  
struggled for survival, the Germans arriving from the 1860s found  
successfully developed agriculture, animal breeding and craftsmanship  
enterprises created by their predecessors. Socially and economically,  
the German settlements prospered especially towards the end of the  
19th century, when they started to engage in viticulture and  

However, the privileges bestowed upon the German colonists triggered a  
negative reaction from the local Georgian peasantry, which ultimately  
led to the suspension of all benefits under the agrarian reforms of  
the 1870s. In addition, Germans were subjected to military  
conscription from 1874. In 1881, the existing German schools were  
reorganized and transformed into Russian public schools and the  
knowledge of Russian language become mandatory for all Germans in  
parallel to the German language.

After the establishment of the Soviet regime in Georgia in 1921, all  
German organizations were closed and hundreds of Germans who rejected  
taking Soviet citizenship soon left the country. Although the Germans  
were regarded as a national minority in the Soviet Union, many German  
schools were closed down and the teaching of the German language was  
allowed only in compact settlements. The original names of many  
settlements were changed into Russian names. In 1931, the  
Lutheran-Evangelic Church was banned and several Protestant clergymen  
were arrested or murdered.

World War II opened a process of severe persecution of Germans in the  
USSR. After deportations of Germans in Central Russia, almost all  
Germans in the South Caucasus were deported in October 1941 to  
Kazakhstan or Novosibirsk oblast in Siberia including over 23,500 from  
Georgia. Only women who were married to non-Germans were allowed to  
stay. As a consequence of this deportation almost all German  
settlements in Georgia were emptied and merged with neighboring  
Georgian settlements and the German names of the settlements were  

Although the Germans were formally rehabilitated by a decree of  
December 1955, no entitlements to return to their pre-deportation  
settlements were granted. While in 1957, the republics of deported  
people, such as the Chechen-Ingush ASSR or the Kalmyk ASSR that had  
been abolished during the war were restored and their deported  
populations allowed to return, the Volga German Republic, from which  
some 366,000 Germans had been deported, remained a territorial entity  
of the past. However, return to other pre-deportation areas than the  
territories of the former Volga German Republic proved less  
controversial and although the authorities did not encourage  
resettlement to such areas they did not actively prevent it either.  
Hence, from 1956 a small number of Germans returned to Georgia.

Language, Education and Culture

The role of Germans in the development of cultural life in Tbilisi  
beginning in the second part of the 19th century was considerable.  
Trained professionals such as pharmacists, architects and  
industrialists settled in Tbilisi, and made a significant impact on  
urban life. Institutions founded by Germans shortly acquired  
nationwide importance since they served not only the Germans but the  
population as a whole. These institutions included the Tbilisi German  
Council, the Charity Society of the Lutheran Church, the South  
Caucasus Lutheran Missionary Organization, the German School of Peter  
and Paul, and many others.

In contrast, the cultural and educational activities of Germans in  
Georgia were minimal during the Soviet period. Among those who  
returned after the deportation, only a few preserved their original  
names and their German nationality designation in official documents.  
The constant threats of suppression and the hiding of German ethnicity  
led to a loss of the German language and Germans fully integrated if  
not assimilated into the ? Russian or Georgian speaking ? society.  
Nevertheless, after their return, the German minority was allowed to  
publish German language newspapers and even a German radio station was  
established. In 1957, German was also introduced in some schools with  
pupils of German origin. The study of German as a foreign language  
became very popular in the 1960s, and besides the availability of  
German language in many schools, several special schools with  
intensive German language instruction, the so-called ?German Schools?  
were established. At the university level in the Soviet period there  
were two leading universities with special Chairs of German language  
and literature, respectively at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State  
University and the Institute for Foreign Languages, though German was  
also taught at other higher education institutions. These departments  
trained hundreds of German language specialists. The German language  
has remained an important foreign language in the post-Soviet period,  
although English has now by far surpassed German in popularity.

Today, the overwhelming majority of Germans in Georgia are bilingual  
and speak Russian and Georgian, while largely no German. In the Soviet  
period, Germans mostly preferred to attend Russian schools and were  
counted as Russian speakers. Georgian language has largely replaced  
the role of Russian, and Georgian schools have become more popular  
among persons of German origin. At the same time, with the appearance  
of German community organizations after Georgian independence, ethnic  
Germans now have the opportunity to attend German language courses,  
and a revival and increased interest in the culture and traditions of  
their historical homeland can be noted especially among the younger  
generations. Many young persons of German origin as well as other  
youth also take the opportunity to receive higher education in Germany.

The main German community organization is the association Einung,  
founded in 1991, with activities focusing on the restoration of German  
language, traditions and religion. The organization is financially  
supported by the German Embassy and other German charity  
organizations. Another important institution of Germans in Georgia is  
the Evangelic-Lutheran Church of Atonement, which was rebuilt in  
Tbilisi at the location of the former German colony of Friedhof. In  
the late 1990s and early 2000s, Lutheran communities have also been  
established in Rustavi, Gardabani, Borjomi, Bolnisi and Sukhumi.

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