Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan (Tsarist Times)

Another topic of research I would like to pursue here in Kyrgyzstan is the country's former Russian-German population. In particular I am interested in the Mennonites who were the first German colonists to settle in Central Asia. While there are not too many left today, they had a strong presence in the Talas region for over a century. Below is a short history of the founding of the various Mennonite villages in Kyrgyzstan during Tsarist times.

In spring 1882 the Russian government gave more than 2500 acres of land in the Talas Valley to 72 Mennonite families. Most of these Mennonites, 62 families (360 people) came from Taurida in the Black Sea region. They founded the villages of Nikolaipol, Gnadental and Gnadenfeld in what is today northwest Kyrgyzstan. Another 10 Mennonite families came from the area around Samara on the Volga. They established the village of Keppental. Together these four villages formed the Nikolaipol Mennonite Society. They specialized in the production of cheese (Krieger, p. 11).

In 1890 the Mennonites established a fifth village in the Talas Valley by the name of Orlov. By this time the five villages had 514 people, 309 horses, 250 cows, 1,519 sheep and 341 pigs. Each village also had a school that taught religion, German, Russian, geography and arithmatic. (Krieger, p. 12).

The Russian government gave Russian names to the original settlements in 1893. Gnandental became Andreevka, Keppental became Romanovka and Gnadenfeld became Vladimirovka. In August 1894 the five German villages became formed into a single administrative unit, Nikolaipol Volost (Krieger, p. 12).

Between 1907 and 1909 Mennonites founded a number of new colonies in Kyrgyzstan. In 1907, 21 Mennonite families from Nikolaipol and 9 from Orlov founded the village of Alekseevka in the Chu River Valley. In 1908 Mennonites established the village of Johannesdorf in the Talas Valley. Finally, in 1909 Mennonites from Ak-Mechet in what is now Uzbekistan founded the village of Hogendorf in the Talas Valley. (Krieger, p. 14). By 1912 there were 1,595 Mennonites in the region (Krieger, p. 37) of which 390 lived in Orlov, 208 in Alekseevka, 293 in Nikolaipol, 192 in Andreevka (Gnadental), 192 in Romanovka (Keppental) , 79 in Vladimirovka (Gnadenfeld) and the rest in other villages and towns (Krieger, table 1, p. 15).

The Mennonites in the Talas and Chu valleys survived the upheavals of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution. Indeed the Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan generally fared far better than most of the Russian-German population of the USSR. I will write more on this later. But, despite adapting and surviving throughout the Soviet era, most of them have emigrated since the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Kyrgyzstan as an independent state.

Source: Viktor Krieger, Rein, Volga, Irtysh: Iz Istorii Nemtsev Tsentral'noi Azii (Almaty: Daik-Press, 2006).


Nah Esu said...

Do you know where the Mennonites who were forced from Ak Metchet (near Khiva), Uzbekistan in 1937 for not collectivizing and not being willing to have their community be split apart were sent (Tajikistan but where), and where their decendants are today? See a story: http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/2007fall/nathan.php

J. Otto Pohl said...

According to the source at hand the deportation was on 30 April 1935. Krieger has contradictory information on their destination. In the text he says it is in the region of Dushanbe, but the endonote to the same sentence says it was settlement number 7 in the region of Kurgan-Tyube.

Source: Viktor Krieger, _Rein, Volga, Irtysh_, p. 102 and note 60, p. 105.

The endnote cites as its source the 2005 edition of Karl Stumpp, "Das Russlanddeutschtum in Nord-(Sibirien) und Mittelasien, Samara und Orenburg," in _Heimatbuch der Deutschen aus Russland_ (Stuttgart, 1964), p. 16.