August 19, 2017

The Unknown and Invisible Country of Gagauzia


The text says "Welcome to Gagauzia," - photo by Guttorm Flatabø
The text says “Welcome to Gagauzia,”

Gagauzia. This is actually a place that most likely you or 99.9% of people within a 100 meter radius around you have probably never heard of. In case you’re wondering, Gagauzia is a geographic entity (actually several pieces of land) that occupies the parts of southern Moldova, a tiny country snuggled in between Romania and Ukraine that most people also have never heard of.

Moldova’s one notable distinction is that it currently ranks as the poorest country (GDP per capita-wise) in all of Europe. In fact before 1991, Moldova as an independent country didn’t even exist at all; it was one of the 15 republics that made up the old Soviet Union. Then of course there is Gagauzia. The people who claim that this area should be a separate country are known as the Gagauz. No one knows their exact origin but it is believed that they are the descendants of the Seljuk Turks that migrated into the region during the 1200s. Though their language is of Turkic origin and they themselves were at one time Muslims, today most Gagauz are Orthodox Christians and, at least culturally, very pro-Russian. In fact, the later has often caused the Gagauz to face discrimination and outright hatred from Moldovan nationalists who see them as a sort of third column within modern Moldova. Such Moldovans have cause to be fearful; remember what Russian President Vladimir Putin did when he felt that Russian speakers in Ukraine were facing a similar situation? He sent troops and other forms of military support into a sovereign country and caused billions of dollars in damages with hundreds (perhaps now thousnds?) of people getting killed in the process.

It’s hard to find much information on Gagauzia and the reason for this is fairly obvious: Gagauzia, with the exception of an uprising that led to an internationally unrecognized 5-day state (the Republic of Kormat), has never existed. The Gagauz people are also relatively few, numbering about 150,000 in Moldova.

Gagauzia_map

Moldovan politics is very unique. In fact, one the major things that many politicians in the country discuss is the status of their own independence. As mentioned earlier, Moldova as an independent political entity also didn’t exist until 1991. Culturally and historically, the country is close to Romania, a country which most Moldovan people have ethnic and linguistic ties to. If it wasn’t for the many other minorities that reside in Moldova, it is likely that most Moldovans would choose to unite with Romania. This of course would make ethic groups like the Gagauz from being a small minority to an insignificant one; Moldova is a country of 3.5 million people, but Romania is a country with nearly 20 million.

Flag of Gagauzia
Flag of Gagauzia

With regard to independence for Gagauzia, things do not look very promising. The area is one of the poorest areas in Moldova, the later itself the poorest country in Europe. Though they have established their own media networks and have increased awareness of their uniqueness amongst the Moldovan population, the truth is that there is little if any support for their cause. Even the Russians are shying away from making any comments with regard to Gaguaz aspirations.

Despite this, the concept of Gagauzia and the hold that it has on the Gagauz people is quite interesting. I wonder if in 20 years people, most notably the Gagauz themselves, will be talking about an independent Gagauzia.

Who knows. Let’s wish the people of Gagauzia the best, with or without their independent homeland.


Go to the main page