Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Brief Consideration of Gagauzia

Moldova has been in the news a lot lately, at least if you read the kind of news I do. Not only did the Communists just lose the elections there, but the international press has been pointing out that this election was a key moment in deciding if Moldova will tilt toward Brussels and Washington or toward Moscow. Meanwhile, the Chinese have been working to elbow their way onto the scene as well.

For those of you familiar with Moldova, you may know about Transnistria, the break-away Russian-speaking micro-state run from Moscow, whose main economic drivers may be the illegal trade of weapons, women and cigarettes. But - let's be honest - this little Russian puppet statelet is kid's stuff in the world of esoterica. I have, however, recently discovered...

Gagauzia, a Turkish-speaking province of Moldova. You clever members of the blogosphere will be raising eyebrows: Turkish? Really? But Moldova doesn't border Turkey. But you more clever members will recall that Turkey once had an empire, a large empire.

To be precise, the people of Gagauzia, the Gagauz, are not Turkish, nor is their language quite Turkish, though it belongs to the Turkic family of languages and is closely related to Turkish, along with Azeri and Turkmen. One might guess that the Gagauz are Muslims, but one would be wrong: they are predominately Eastern Orthodox.

From whence, you ask, did these people come? Well, you're not the only one asking. One Bulgarian scholar complied a list of 19 different theories on the origins of the Gagauz. The theories fall into two general schools, one claiming that the Gagauz are ethnically Turkic, descended from a tribe which emerged from the Central Asian steppe, the other school arguing that the Gagauz are in fact Balkan in origin, having simply adopted a Turkic language at some point (and intermarrying with the occasional Turk). I leave that debate to the ethnologists.

The Gagauz (whose unofficial flag is seen on the right) show up on the radar of history in the 19th century, when they fled religious persecution in then-Turkish Bulgaria for their present location in then-Russian Moldova. In the winter of 1906 they declared independence for five days, but Gagauz nationalism has been relatively mild. When the Soviet Union was coming apart at the seams, some in Gagauzia pushed for independence, at much the same time that Transnistria was declaring it. Gagauzia declared independence from the Soviet Union on 19 August 1991 - the day of the hardliners' coup attempt in Moscow - but nothing much seems to have come of it. A few days later Moldova declared independence and in 1994 Gagauzia's status as a "national-territorial autonomous unit" of that country was recognized.

Today Gagauzia (whose official flag is seen left) has a population of about 156,000 people, spread out over 707 square miles. Of those, most are Gagauz, though there are groups of Bulgarians, Russians, Moldovans and Ukranians, each making up between 3% and 5% of the population. There are approximately 100,000 Gagauz living outside Moldova, many of them in Ukraine, Greece and Turkey. Gagauzia's economy is primarily agricultural, with a strong emphasis on viticulture. Why is it that every small ethnic group around the Black Sea seems to make wine?

Many thanks go out to the Rogues, Rascals and Rapscallions, whose many Challenges - which are definitely worth perusing! - have helped fire my love of esoterica over the years.
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