The Autonomous Region of Gagauzia
Gagauzia or Gagauz Yeri, officially the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, is an autonomous region of Moldova. It is the national homeland of the Gagauz people and its motivation for autonomy is ethnically motivated by the predominance of the Gagauz people, who make up a majority in the autonomous region.
Gagauz people are primarily of the Orthodox Christian faith and speak a Turkic language. Gagauz Yeri literally means "place of the Gagauz."
According to some theories, the Gagauz people descend from the Seljuq Turks who settled in Dobruja following the Anatolian Seljuq Sultan Izzeddin Keykavus II (1236–1276).
More specifically, one clan of Oghuz Turks is known to have migrated to the Balkans during intertribal conflicts with other Turks. This Oghuz Turk clan converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity after settling in medieval Bulgaria, and were called Gagauz Turks.
A large group of the Gagauz later left Bulgaria and settled in southern Bessarabia (a region that largely lies within the territory of today's Moldova, Transnistria and Ukraine), along with a group of ethnic Bulgarians. As such, this head led to other theories on the origins of the Gagauz people.
According to other theories, Gagauz are descendants of Kutrigur Bulgarians. In the official Gagauz museum, a plaque mentions that one of the two main theories is that they descend from the Bulgars.
In turn, it is possible that the ethnic group is both related to Turkic and Slavic peoples, although their language is not of Slavic origin.
Gagauzia During the Russian Empire
In 1812, Bessarabia, previously the eastern half of the Principality of Moldavia, was annexed by the Russian Empire following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War between 1806 and 1812.
Between 1812 and 1846, the Russians relocated the Gagauz people from what is today eastern Bulgaria (which was then under the Ottoman Empire) to the orthodox Bessarabia, mainly in the settlements vacated by the Nogai tribes. They settled there together in what is today the region of Gagauzia, in many of its main cities and regions.
Some Gagauz were also settled in the part of the Principality of Moldavia that did not come under Russian control in 1812. Within a short period of time however, villagers moved to live with their own people in in what is now Gagauzia.
With the exception of a five-day de facto independence in the winter of 1906, when a peasant uprising declared an autonomous Republic of Comrat (today the capital city of Gagauzia) and from 1990-1994, when the region became and unrecognized country, ethnic Gagauzians have been ruled by other dominant groups: the Russian Empire (1812–1917), Romania (1918–1940 and 1941–1944), the Soviet Union (1940–1941 and 1944–1991), and Moldova (1917–1918 and 1994 to date).
Gagauzia During the Soviet Union
Gagauz nationalism, along with nationalism in other parts of the former Soviet Union remained an intellectual movement during the 1980s, but strengthened by the end of the decade, as the Soviet Union began to embrace democratic ideals and eventually led to its dissolution.
In 1988, activists from the local intelligentsia aligned with other ethnic minorities to create a movement known as the "Gagauz People".
The "Gagauz People" held its first assembly; they passed a resolution demanding the creation of an autonomous territory in southern Moldova, with the city of Comrat as its capital.
The Gagauz national movement intensified when Moldovan (Romanian) was accepted as the official language of the Republic of Moldova in August 1989, replacing Russian, the official language of the Soviet Union. This was staunchly against the people's wishes, who remain staunchly pro-Soviet/Russian until today.
A part of the multiethnic population of southern Moldova was concerned about the change in official languages. They had a lack of confidence in the central government in Chișinău.
The Gagauz were also worried about the implications for them if Moldova reunited with Romania, as seemed likely at the time, and therefore suck independence from the former.
In August 1990, Comrat, the de facto capital, declared itself an autonomous republic, but the Moldovan government annulled the declaration as unconstitutional. The newly independent state was not recognized by the international community who's policy at the time was to recognized the independence of former Soviet republics and not autonomous regions within those republics.
The Gagauz Republic was an unrecognized country that separated from the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but later peacefully joined the Republic of Moldova through a mutual agreement after being de facto independent from
1990 to 1994.
This process has drastically differed from Gagauzia's neighbour, Transnistria, who declared independence under similar circumstances but has remained and unrecognized country until today.
Gagauzia Within Moldova
Support for the Soviet Union remained high in Gagauzia, with a referendum in March 1991 returning an almost unanimous vote in favour of remaining part of the USSR. Many Gagauz supported the Moscow coup attempt in August 1991, and Gagauzia declared itself an independent republic on 19 August 1991.
Today, the autonomous region of Gagauzia is stuck between many in Moldova who are pro-West/EU and their own political pro-Russian aspirations.
In February 1994, the President of Moldova promised autonomy to the Gagauz, but opposed independence outright. He was also opposed to the suggestion that Moldova become a federal state made up of three republics: Moldova, Gagauzia, and Transnistria.
In 1994, the Parliament of Moldova awarded to "the people of Gagauzia" (through the adoption of the new Constitution of Moldova) the right of "external self-determination".
In December 1994, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova accepted the "Law on the Special Legal Status of Gagauzia", resolving the dispute peacefully. This date is now a Gagauz national holiday.
Gagauzia is now a "national-territorial autonomous unit" with three official languages: Romanian (Moldovan written in the Latin script), Gagauz, and Russian.
On 2 February 2014, Gagauzia held a referendum. An overwhelming majority of voters opted for closer ties with Russia over EU integration. They also said they preferred the independence of Gagauzia if Moldova chooses to enter the EU.
On 23 March 2015, Irina Vlah was elected as the new governor after a strongly pro-Russian campaign, dominated by the quest for closer ties with the Russian Federation.
Travel to Gagauzia
Travelling to Gagauzia is quite simple and straightforward. The region is easiest accessed through Moldova, which has direct regular flights from many countries in Europe.
If travellers join an organized tour, Gagauzia can easily be visited along with sights in Moldova and the neighbouring unrecognized country of Transnistria.