On ‘Republic’ Anniversary, Moldova’s Gagauz Look to Moscow, and Chisinau

The Gagauz are a small Christian Turkic minority that lives primarily in southern Moldova and Ukraine's Odessa region. According to the 1989 Soviet census, over 153,000 Gagauz lived in Moldova, concentrated mainly in the cities of Comrat and Ceadîr-Lunga, and with a considerable minority in the nearby regions of Vulcănești, Taraclia, and Basarabeasca.

During the Soviet era, the Gagauz were a particularly disadvantaged ethnic group. The area they inhabited in Moldova was the poorest region of one of the poorest Soviet republics, an area reliant on Collective Farming, subject to prolonged droughts and lacking running water and paved roads.

The Gagauz language was not standardised until the 1950s, nor was it taught in schools. Only a handful of books were produced in the Gagauz language between the 1950s and 1980s.

The quality of education in southern Moldova was also significantly lower than elsewhere in the republic, with the number of teachers working with degrees being far lower than the republic average. As a result, the Gagauz became the most Russified group in Moldova and were significantly underrepresented in universities and state structures.

Congress of the Gagauz people in Russian and Gagauz. Photo: Archive photo.

Campaign for autonomy

Spurred on by calls from Moscow for reform, Gagauz intellectuals in the south of Moldova began to form cultural clubs in early 1988. Initially, these groups focused on issues such as the revival of the Gagauz language and culture and including more Gagauz history on the Moldovan syllabus.

Their focus on cultural issues, however, attracted criticism from citizens, particularly those in Comrat, who believed these groups should campaign for autonomy.

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