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Total population 207,000
Regions with significant populations Moldova:
Language Gagauz, Russian
Religion Predominantly Eastern Orthodox.
Related ethnic groups Other Turkic peoples
The Gagauz are a minority Turkic people in southern Moldova (in Gagauzia) and southwestern Ukraine (in Budjak) that numbers around 250,000. Along with the Chuvash, Yakut and Dolgan people of Russia, they are the only ethnic Turkic groups that are predominantly Christian (Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant).
1 Geographic distribution
2.1 Early history and settlement in Bessarabia
2.2 Soviet Union and Republic of Moldova
3 See also
Gagauz people live mainly in the Ukrainian regions of Odessa and Zaporizhzhia, as well as in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Romania and the Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria. There are also nearly 20,000 Gagauz living in the Balkan countries of Greece, Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
There is a related ethnic group also called Gagavuz (or Gajal) living in the European part of Northwestern Turkey, in Northeastern Bulgaria, and in the Republic of Macedonia, who are Muslims.
Early history and settlement in Bessarabia
Ancestors of the Gagauz can be traced to the early nomadic tribes, Guzi and Uzi (also called Ghuzz and Uz which are branches of Oghuz). Byzantine written history records that in the 11th century the nomadic tribe Guzi crossed the Danube River and settled in the Balkan regions of Greece and Bulgaria.
Once settled in these new regions, the Guzi people shifted to a sedentary lifestyle and adopted Orthodox Christianity. The ethnic mixes of the Guzi with other Turkic tribes of the Pecheneg, Polovtsi and Cumans are direct ancestors of modern day Gagauz.
Turkic-speaking tribes of the Nogai Horde inhabited the Budjak region of southern Bessarabia from the 16th to 18th centuries. Before 1807, a portion of these tribes were forced to abandon the Budjak by the Tsarist government of Russia and resettled in Crimea, Azov and Stavropol.
Between 1820 and 1846, the Russian Empire allocated land to the Gagauz and gave them financial incentives to settle in Bessarabia in the settlements vacated by the Nogai tribes. They settled in Bessarabia along with Bulgarians, mainly in Avdarma, Comrat (or Komrat), Congaz (Kongaz), Tomai, Cismichioi and other former Nogai villages located in the central Budjak region. Originally, the Gagauz were settled also in several villages belonging to boyars throughout southern Bessarabia and the Principality of Moldavia, but within a very short period they resettled to join their kin in the Bugeac.
With the exception of a five-day independence in the winter of 1906, when a peasant uprising declared the autonomous Republic of Komrat, the Gagauzian people have mainly been ruled by the Russian Empire, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Moldova.
Soviet Union and Republic of Moldova
Gagauz nationalism remained an intellectual movement during the 1980s but strengthened by the end of the decade as the Soviet Union began to embrace capitalist ideals. In 1988, activists from the local intelligentsia aligned with other ethnic minorities to create the movement known as the “Gagauz People”. A year later, the “Gagauz People” held its first assembly which accepted the resolution to create an autonomous territory in the southern Moldavian SSR, with Comrat designated as capital. The Gagauz nationalist movement increased in popularity when Romanian (Moldovan) was accepted as the official language of the Republic of Moldova in August 1989. The minorities of southern Moldova (Gagauz, Bulgars, and Russians) regarded this decision with concern, precipitating a lack of confidence in the central government located in Chişinău. The Moldavian population regarded Gagauz demands with suspicion; being convinced they were acting as puppets of forces that wanted to preserve the Soviet Union.
In August of 1990, Comrat declared itself an autonomous republic, but the Moldovan government annulled the declaration as unconstitutional. The Gagauz were also worried about the implications for them if Moldova reunited with Romania, as seemed increasingly likely at the time. Support for the Soviet Union remained high, with an almost unaminous 'yes' vote to staying in the USSR in a local referendum of March 1991, although Moldovans in Gagauzia boycotted the referendum. Many Gagauz supported the Moscow coup attempt, further straining relations with Chişinău. However, when the Moldovan Parliament voted on whether Moldova should become independent 6 of the 12 Gagauz deputies voted 'yes'.
Gagauzia declared itself independent on 19th August 1991 (the day of the Moscow coup attempt), followed in September by Transnistria. Some believe that these moves prompted the nationalist Moldovan Popular Front to tone down its pro-Romanian line and speak up for the rights of minorities. In February 1994 President Mircea Snegur promised the Gaugauz autonomy, although he was against its independence. He was also opposed to the suggestion that Moldova become a federal state made up of three “republics”—Moldova, Gagauzia, and Transnistria—the plan put foward by the forces that wanted to rehabilitate the former Soviet Union. In 1994, the Parliament of Moldova awarded to “the people of Gagauzia” the right of “external self-determination”.
On December 23, 1994 the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova voted the “Law on the Special Legal Status of Gagauzia” (Gagauz Yeri), resolving the dispute peacefully. This date is now a Gagauzian holiday. Many European human-rights organizations recognize Gagauzia as a successful model for resolving ethnic conflict. Gagauzia became a national-territorial autonomous unit with three official languages – Russian, Gagauz and Moldovan/Romanian.
30 settlements, including 3 towns and 27 villages, expressed their desire to be included in the Gagauz Autonomous Territorial Unit as a result of a referendum to determine Gagauzia's borders. In 1995, George Tabunshik was elected to serve as the Governor (Bashkan) of Gagauzia for a four year term, as were the deputies of the local parliament, “The People's Assembly” (Halk Topluşu) and its chairman Peter Pashali.
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