Traces of Germany in Armenian History and Culture



By Heide Rieck-Wotke

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BOCHUM, Germany — What do we know about the footprints left since the Middle Ages in Armenia, footprints made by German emperors, bishops, researchers, artists, farmers and mountain climbers? This is the question that Armenian historian Azat Ordukhanyan delved into during a discussion with German author Heide Rieck on March12 in the Bochum University. Ordukhanyan, who is the president of the Armenian Academic Assocation 1860, has been collaborating with author Rieck on Armenian cultural events over the past several years in this city in Germany’s Ruhr region. Illustrations projected onto a screen brought the lecture to life for the capacity crowd.

The history of Germans in Armenia follows two main historical routes: the first, in the wake of the Crusades, leads through Cilicia (in today’s Turkey), the second goes from Ulm, along the Danube to the Black Sea and then via Odessa overland towards the Caucasus into the region of today’s Republic of Armenia.

As a typical example of the many German aristocrats and church leaders who crossed the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (1080-1375) on their way to Jerusalem in the Crusades, Ordukhanyan presented the story of the end of the life of German-Roman Emperor Frederick I, known as Barbarossa. In 1190, on his crusade to Jerusalem, Barbarossa carried with him a crown, which he planned to place on the head of the Armenian Prince Levon II, making him King of Cilicia. On the evening before the festive ceremony, the German emperor wanted to refresh himself in the waters of the briskly flowing Calycadnus river. But he was never to return to the home of his host. Who can imagine what a mood Levon II fell into when he learned that his high-ranking guest from Germany had drowned? Now there was no joyous coronation celebration. A funeral instead.

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The heart of Friedrick I was embalmed and buried in the Armenian Cathedral of St. Sophia of Tarsus, his mortal remains were sent on to Jerusalem, but must have been taken to Tyre (in modern-day Lebanon) due to ongoing conflict. The Armenian cathedral is no longer Armenian however. It was turned into a Turkish mosque. There one can read on a plaque:




Barbarossa’s son Henry VI made good on his father’s promise eight years later when he sent a representative to the Armenian Kingdom. In 1198 the Cardinal of Mainz, Conrad of Wittelsbach, as Papal legate and representative of the German Emperor Henry VI, crowned the Armenian Prince Levon II, making him King Levon I of Cilicia (1187-1219 also known as Leo I) in the cathedral of St. Sophia. He was also called “the lion from the mountains.” The holy unction was performed by the Armenian Catholicos Grigor Abirad.

In their book titled, The Swabians on the Black Sea Coast and in the Caucasus, Alexander Yaskorski and his son Rudolf Yaskorski documented the departure of the Brotherhood of the Children of Christ from Swabia, Hessen, Luxemburg and Bavaria. Two hundred years ago this Christian community of well over 8,000 men and women, young and old, had a goal that was far away, and yet in a sense, so near, because it was obvious: that goal was the holy mountain of Ararat. At the beginning of the 19th century, these pious Christians believed that a second flood was about to overwhelm the earth. On top of Mount Ararat they would be saved and would be able to survive by trusting God; since it had been prophesied to them that in 1836 Jesus would come back to earth. For this reason, they sent a letter to the Russian Czar Alexander I requesting permission to traverse part of the czarist territory. The request was granted without difficulty, because the mother of the czar was a German, Sophia Dorothea Augusta von Württemberg (in Russian: Maria Fyöderovna). Thus in the summer of 1816, 40 families with bags and baggage started out from Ulm on their journey — along the Danube and across the Black Sea. In Odessa they paused to rest. In February 1817 the General of the Russian-Caucasian army Yermolov gave them permission to settle 35 kilometers from Tiflis, and already by September 1817 the village named “Marienfeld“ was so well built for habitation that in Spring 1818 they could send numerous letters back home, with the message, “You can come.” Immediately 1,500 families with 5,000 children and youngsters made their way via the Danube to the East – in 14 columns, about 8,000 people, among them the aged and the sick. Three thousand of them perished along the way and many were so exhausted that they could not continue, and stayed in Odessa. Only 500 members of the Brotherhood of the Children of Christ remained true to their mission and continued on to Mount Ararat.

In Tiflis, Georgia, the settlers heard from Russian officials and soldiers that it would be too dangerous to go farther – because of the wild Kurds, Turks and Tartars. (This was the region of today’s Azerbaijan.) As a result the “Swabian villages” — Katharinenfeld, Marienfeld, Elisabethtal, Aleksandersdorf, Petersdorf, Freudenthal and Alexanderhilf — grew up about 35 kilometers from Tiflis. The settlements Neudorf, Lindau and Gnadenberg were established in Abkhazia. German was the language they spoke. In this way other German communities came into being (like Old Katharinenfeld, Annenfeld, Helenendorf, Alexejevka, Grünfeld, Eichenfeld and other places in the East, like Arzach Province, Koxt District, in the czarist period: Yelisavetpol Province, today the Republic of Azerbaijan). Around 1900 there were about 25,000 Germans in the Caucasus. Following the arrival of German troops in the Soviet Union in 1941 all Germans were relocated to Siberia and Central Asia.

There were some settlers, however, who traveled farther and in 1891 founded three German villages between Kars and Gumri (Petrovka, Estonka and Vladikars). They specialized in wine growing, forestry and hunting. Almost every village had its own school and church. Soon some Swiss also moved to this region, set up two milk and cheese factories and later sent Swiss cheese to all the lands of the Czarist empire. Each German family owned 50-70 cows. In 1914 the Russian czarist army deported many of these villagers to the Yelisavetpol Province, beyond the Ottoman Empire.

In 1921 a treaty was signed between two revolutionary movements, namely the Bolsheviks (Lenin and Stalin) and the Atatürk movement: on March 16 the Moscow Treaty and on October 13, 1921 the Treaty of Kars. In the process, the holy Mount Ararat was wrested from the Armenians.

In 1971 a grandson of German emigrants photographed a home in Petrovka near Kars, where Muslims were living. Above the door frame he recognized a wooden beam with an inscription carved in German: “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him” (Psalm 37:5).

Only half the 8,000 Swabians, Bavarians, Hessians and Luxemburgers who had set out for Mount Ararat ever saw it. Was there a flood in the 19th century? — that is the question this author raised, and added: In the 20th century a flood enveloped mankind in such a horrendous manner that even a holy mountain could not save it…. Since 1921, Ararat no longer lies on Armenian territory.

In 1946 Stalin gave the order to German prisoners of war to blow up one of the two German churches in Tiflis. Following protests, however it was not blown up, but rather torn down, dismantled stone by stone and the stones were used for other purposes. German prisoners of war were forced by the dictator also to build a fantastic bridge in Yerevan, which, to mock them, was named the “Victory bridge.”


German Scientists in Armenia

In 1829 the German geologist and geographer Prof. Friedrich Parrot from the German University Dorpat in Estonia received permission from the Russian czar to explore Ararat. From time immemorial it had been strictly forbidden to climb the holy mountain. Parrot appealed for assistance to the Catholicos of the Armenians and in this way the young writer, researcher, pedagogue and translator Khatchatur Abovyan became his fellow-traveler. To climb the mountain, they took Russian soldiers and Armenian mountain guides from the surrounding villages with them. On September 27, 1829 at 3:15 p.m. the group reached the peak Massis (greater Ararat). They danced with joy on the ice and Abovyan placed a cross, which he had brought from Echmiadzin, on the peak. On November 8, they climbed up the “Sis” (smaller Ararat). The press throughout Europe reacted with indignation, anger and hatred to this sacrilege. Did it not even come to a trial? But with foresight the explorers had cleverly brought glacier chunks from the summit back with them. Never had the soles of their feet touched the holy mountain. Snow and ice had protected it from contact. In1845 Abovyan made the climb again, this time with the German geologist and mineralogist Prof. Otto Wilhelm Hermann von Abich (1806 – 1886) at his side. (There is a mineral named after the German researcher, called Arbichit.)

In 1914, together with the German theologian Dr. Johannes Lepsius, the Armenian writer Avetik Isakyan founded the German-Armenian Society in Berlin. Avetik Isakyan is the name of the library at Republic Square in Yerevan. The building was constructed in 1896 by the German master builder Nikolaus von der Nonne, who also built many residences that he rented out in Yerevan. For a time von der Nonne was also the mayor of Baku.

Many more such stories could have been told that evening in Bochum, had time allowed; but at the conclusion of the delightful presentation, now and again interrupted by questions from Heide Rieck-Wotke, listeners rushed to add their comments and queries.

Translated from German by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach


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