Fachportal zur Geschichte und Kultur der Deutschen in Kaukasien

1915 - 1920

The outbreak of the First World War had direct consequences for all the Germans living in Russia. With the so-called liquidation laws of 1915 the livelihoods of the German settlers in Western Russia came under deliberate attack. From 1916/1917 these were extended to the South Caucasus as well. Interventions by the Governor of Yelizavetpol prevented their implementation however, and the October revolution of 1915 led finally to the end of the Russian Tsarist Empire.

Russia withdrew from the War after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. At first a South Caucasian Council was established and in April 1918 a short-lived Transcaucasian People’s Federation was called into being, before Georgia on 26 May 1918 proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Georgia, with Tbilisi as its capital. Only two days later there followed the Democratic Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Germany entered into a treaty with Georgia to assure them of protection against the Ottomans, and demanded in return access to the manganese ore mines at Chiatura in Georgia and transit to the oilfields at Baku. The German colonists and entrepreneurs would also be able to get assistance from Germany. In June, a 3,000 strong expeditionary force landed in Poti under the command of Baron Kress von Kressenstein (1870–1948). He reached Tbilisi on 24 June 1918. Following this a number of German garrisons were established in the country. Friedrich-Werner Graf von Schulenburg (1875–1944) was the first German ambassador in Georgia. As losers of the First World War, the German military withdrew from the Caucasus after October 1918. The advances of the Red Army led to an abrupt end for the independent republics. Large companies were now finally nationalised or in the case of the newly founded wine co-operatives turned into »collectives«.

 Jakob Hummel in the museum he established in Helenendorf, ca. 1924-1936 / Source: State Historical Film and Foto Archive Baku

Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein (1870-1948) / Source: Wikimedia Commons.

»In 1916 there were 1480 men and 14 officers from the colonies serving in the Russian army. Up to then 45 had been killed and 71 wounded. In addition, there were 354 men with the volunteer baggage trains, who provided at their own cost 290 freight wagon with four horses each and 64 wagons with two horses each. The value of these wagons with their teams of horses amounted to 671,000 roubles. The mobilisation involved 2,969 horses and 907 freight wagons. In the last two years of the war 8,450 soldiers and 1,200 refugees were quartered in the German settlements. Donations made for medical supplies amounted to: hard cash 34,841 roubles, wine and cognac to the value of 16,232 roubles, various items of warm clothing to the value of 8,541 roubles; for the maintenance of military hospitals 15,557 roubles; a total of 75,171 roubles.«

Quoted in »German Colonists from the South Caucasus in the First World War«. From: Hummel. J., »Booklet on the Homeland of the Germans in Transcaucasia (1928).«  In 1918, he took command over the German Expedition into South Caucasia. After the armistice he had to leave Georgia. From February 16 to June 28 1919 he was interned, but was able to return to Germany after. 

Up to the year of revolution in 1917, Cossack units were regularly quartered in Helenendorf. With the retreat of the Tsarist Army, local militias undertook their own self-defence until the arrival of German and Ottoman units here in Helenendorf.

Although, as losers of the First World War, the German military withdrew from the Caucasus after October 1918, sponsored opportunities for study in Germany were offered to young Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Germans, and many of them emigrated.

»After a genuine Swabian coffee session in the lovely home of the millionaire wine-producing Vohrer family, we went on a circular tour of the town and visited one of the large winecellars. [...] For two years the Caucasian wine-growers have not been able to sell their harvests, as there were no opportunities for selling to Russia.« Quote from My mission in the Caucasus« (1943) by Friedrich Kress Freiherr von Kressenstein, Commander of the German military mission in the Caucasus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons