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Although Germans came to live in Georgia as early as the 19th century, while the contribution of these people to the development of the country has been largely unstudied. A project carried out by a multi-ethnic research team between 2011 and 2013 aimed at analyzing the social memory of Georgians in the areas where Germans previously lived. This is significant for historical studies and for historical studies and for the analysis of stereotypes. One of several multicultural projects, TSU researchers carried out this study within a larger project  entitled Caucasus, culture, conflict within the Faculty of Humanities. The Faculty of Humanities worked in collaboration with the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of Philipps-Universität Marburg in 2011-2013. The German project supervisors were Dr. Stefan Foel and Professor Ernest Halbmeier and the Georgian supervisor was Dr. Ketevan Khutsishvili, Professor at the TSU Institute of History and Ethnology. Researchers from TSU also included Natia Jalabadze and Lavrenti Janiashvili, both TSU PhDs, as well as Tea Kamushadze and Irakli Pipia and other BA students.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) supported the implementation of the project.  Researchers selected a specific research issue to study each year, as follows: 2011--“Caucasus, conflict, culture: conflict anthropology and prevention in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”; 2012--“Crossing borders from below: Inter-ethnic contacts in the border villages of the South Caucasus”; and 2013--“Germans in the Caucasus: relations in a multi-ethnic environment”.

The third project had scientific as well as educational-practical objectives. Its educational aim was to teach students of German universities and the South Caucasus universities to plan fieldwork jointly, to share knowledge (including the techniques of anthropological research) and make plans for future collaboration. In 2013, eight Georgians (BA, MA and PhD students), three Azerbaijani, six Armenian and six German students were engaged in the project. , According to Professor Khustishvili, another important aim of the project was to provide the possibility for citizens of the South Caucasus countries to discuss the perspectives of a peaceful Caucasus, based on personal contacts they made during their collaboration. This research was a powerful unifying factor for the students from conflicting parties, and hopefully they will be politically active in the future, as it will create the basis for positive future relations.  

The third stage of the project analysed the social memory of the Germans who migrated from the southwest of Germany in the 19th century to Georgia, and those who were deported in 1941.  The research was undertaken in Georgia and Azerbaijan through observation and interviews in villages where Germans formerly resided.

People living in ethnically mixed regions of the Caucasus still remember these periods and hold contradictory stereotypes.  Professor Khutsishvili points out that the complex impressions left by Germans were at the same time dictated by a respect for their economic and agricultural knowledge, yet on the other hand by cultural differences--the behaviour of the Germans was sometimes strange for local residents; their customs and lifestyles were very different from those of the Caucasians they lived with.  Impressions also included distrust, caused by German official support for the Russian Empire. e. Tsarist Russia considered it beneficial to settle Germans in border regions and financially supported this initiative.

The main target communities for the research project were the German Protestant settlements (mainly Pietists, a Protestant movement) having moved from Swabia in Germany to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the 19th century. The Russian Emperor, Alexander I (1777-1825) was indeed fascinated by Pietist ideology and invited the Swabian minority group from Germany where they suffered from political instability and a high population density in their region.  He settled them in the Tbilisi area with the intention of promoting agricultural development. The second wave of Swabians moved into the southeast of Georgia and northern Azerbaijan, near Elizabetpoli, today’s Ganja. The new settlers’ motivation to live in the Caucasus was driven mainly by religious beliefs--they expected the second advent of Christ in 1836, with the founding of God’s Kingdom on Earth, and wanted to be witnesses of the events. They believed that Georgia was located near the site these events would take place.

Scientific and historical literature details Swabian migration. The newly arrived Germans settled in Tbilisi outskirts and played an important part in the social and cultural life of the time. There are still German structures and objects found in the outskirts of Tbilisi, including houses, agricultural buildings, church ruins and everyday items. The Lutheran Church, German in origin, holds services in Tbilisi. However, the main target of the research was the culture of Germans residing in villages, and especially in the Georgian villages of Katarinenfeld (today’s Bolnisi) and Elizabettal (today’s Asureti) as well as in Azerbiajan’s Helenendorf (today’s Göygöl).     

The researchers concluded that today there are no Germans living in these villages. There are only the remains of their material culture and memories of local citizens. One woman of German origin lives in Helenendorf.  A German has moved into what was known as the “German house” in Asureti, yet has no contact with the earlier Germans. No one of German origin remains in Bolnisi—some were expelled after World War II and some returned to Germany on their own.  Today their lives are reflected mainly in the narratives of local citizens.   Materials collected in Bolnisi and Asureti reflect German material culture of the epoch--socio-cultural information that includes descriptions of the Germans’ daily lives and the influence of this group on today’s lifestyle and cultural relationships.

German houses with large, deep basements remain intact in the area today. Georgians who migrated from Imereti and Racha in the 1940s, and the Armenians who migrated from neighbouring villages now live in these homes. Buildings that belonged to the Germans are also used for local businesses, such as restaurants with a German interior, shops, etc.  Locals admit that despite their age, the buildings are still practical and comfortable. There is a new Lutheran house of prayer in Bolnisi, and the parishioners are Armenian and Georgian. Today, there is a sports school in the place of the Germans’ old house of prayer. The researchers noted a phenomenon of “religious replacement”, as the place of the Swabian German Pietists has been taken by the Georgian-Armenian Lutheran community.

Locals have a largely positive attitude towards Germans who had previously lived in the area. They believe that Germans greatly benefited the region--they built vineyards, used advanced agriculture and brought various technical innovations—for example they had planned a tram line in Asureti. However, locals also mention that Germans had little contact with others in the community--Azerbaijanis, Armenians or Georgians.

Head researcher at the Institute of History and Ethnology, Lavrenti Janiashvili believes that the history of German settlements in Georgia holds practical implications today.  They want to get in touch with the descendants of the Germans who left, and perhaps increase their interest in investment and tourism development. 

The academic achievements of the project were published as a collection entitled Caucasus, Conflict, Culture - Anthropological vision of the periods of crisis, published by Kurupira, Philipps-Universität Marburg, which also includes research on existing conflicts in the South Caucasus.