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The Gagauzes or Gagauzians (Gagauz: Gagauzlar) are a Turkic people living mostly in southern Moldova (Gagauzia, Taraclia District, Basarabeasca District) and southwestern Ukraine (Budjak). Most Gagauzes are Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The Encyclopedia of World Cultures lists the ethnonym of the Gagauz as "Turkish" and "Turkish speaking Bulgars".
Older ethnographic works such as Pees (1894) and Jireček (1891)—both covering the Gagauz in Bulgaria—mention that only their neighbors used the ethnonym Gagauz, partly as an insult. The Gagauz themselves did not use this self-designation; indeed, they considered it offensive. Both Pees and Jireček mention that the Gagauz in Bulgaria tended to register either as Greek because of their religion (clearly an outcome of the Ottoman millet-system) or as Bulgarian because of the newly emerging concept of nationalism. According to Pees informants from Moldova, the Gagauz there called themselves Hıristiyan-Bulgar (Christian Bulgars), and Gagauz was used only as a nickname (Pees 1894, p. 90). The etymology of the ethnonym Gagauz is as unclear as their history. As noted above, they are not mentioned—at least not under that name—in any historical sources before their immigration into Bessarabia. Therefore, we have no older versions of this ethnonym. This, combined with the report that the Gagauz felt offended when called by this name, makes the etymology somewhat dubious.
Outside Moldova, a majority of Gagauz people live in the Ukrainian regions of Odessa and Zaporizhzhia. They are also in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Brazil, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Turkey, and the Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria.
The Gagauz language belongs to the Oghuz branch of the Turkic languages, which also includes the Azerbaijani, Turkish, and Turkmen languages. The Gagauz language is particularly close to the Balkan Turkish dialects spoken in Greece, northeastern Bulgaria, and in the Kumanovo and Bitola areas of North Macedonia. The Balkan Turkic languages, including Gagauz, are a typologically interesting case, because they are closely related to Turkish and at the same time contain a North-Turkic (Tatar or Kypchak) element besides the main South-Turkic (Oghuz) element (Pokrovskaya, 1964). The modern Gagauz language has two dialects: central (or "Bulgar") and southern (or maritime) (Pokrovskaya, 1964; Gordon, 2005).
The traditional economy centered on animal husbandry (particularly sheep raising) and agriculture that combined grain and market gardening with viticulture. Even in the recent past, despite the cultural similarity of the Gagauz to the Bulgarians of Bessarabia, there were important differences between them: the Bulgarians were peasant farmers; although the Gagauz also farmed, they were essentially pastoralist in outlook.
The favorite dish was a layered pie stuffed with sheep's milk cheese and soaked with sour cream before baking. Other delicacies were pies with crumbled pumpkin and sweet pies made with the first milk of a cow that had just calved. The traditional ritual dish called kurban combined bulgar wheat porridge with a slaughtered (or sacrificed) ram and is further evidence of the origins of the Gagauz in both the Balkan world and the steppe-pastoral complex. Peppered meat sauces are especially important: one combines onion and finely granulated porridge, while another is tomato-based. A red house wine is served with dinner and supper. Head cheese is an indispensable component of holiday meals.
Toward the end of the 19th century, in good weather, a Gagauz woman's costume consisted of a canvas shirt, a sleeveless dress, a smock, and a large black kerchief. In winter, they donned a dress with sleeves, a cloth jacket, and a sleeveless fur coat. Required features of female dress were earrings, bracelets, beads, and, among wealthy Gagauz, a necklace of gold coins. "So many of their decorations are hung about," wrote a pre-Revolutionary researcher, "that they cover the entire breast down to the waist."
Traditional male clothing included a shirt, cloth pants, a wide red sash or belt, and a hat. The winter cap was made of Karakul sheep wool. The shepherd's costume was the usual shirt combined with sheepskin pants with the fleece turned in, a sleeveless fur coat, and a short sheepskin jacket, the latter sometimes decorated with red-on-green stitching.
In DNA comparisons, the Gagauzes were found to be more closely related genetically to neighboring southeastern European groups than to linguistically related Anatolian populations. More considerable distinctions in the distribution of Y chromosome components appeared between the Gagauzes and other Turkic peoples.
The similarity to neighboring populations may be due to the lack of social barriers between the local and the Turkic-Orthodox populations of the Balkan Peninsula. Another possibility is language shift in accordance with the dominant minority model, i.e. Turkification.
Gagauz belong to Y-DNA haplogroups I2a (23.6%), R1a (19.1%), G (13.5%), R1b (12.4%), E1b1b1a1 (11.1%), J2 (5.6%) and Haplogroup N (2.2%). Finally, the phylogenetic analysis of Y-DNA situates Gagauzes most proximal to Bulgarians, Macedonians, Romanians, Serbs and other Balkan populations, resulting in a high genetic distance from the Turkish people and other Turkic peoples. The analyses showed that Gagauzes belong to the Balkan populations, suggesting that the Gagauz language represents a case of language replacement in southeastern Europe. According to a more detailed autosomal analysis of thousands of SNPs, not just of the sex chromosome, Gagauzes are most proximal to ethnic Macedonians, followed by Greek Macedonians apart from Thessaloniki, and others such as Bulgarians, Romanians and Montenegrins.
The origin of the Gagauzes is obscure. In the beginning of the 20th century, a Bulgarian historian counted 19 different theories about their origin. A few decades later the Gagauz ethnologist M. N. Guboglo increases the number to 21. In some of those theories the Gagauz people are presented as descendants of the Bulgars, the Cumans-Kipchaks or a clan of Seljuk Turks or as linguistically Turkified Bulgarians. The fact that their confession is Eastern Orthodox Christianity may suggest that their ancestors already lived in the Balkans prior to the Ottoman conquest in the late 14th century.
- Seljuk (Anatolian) hypothesis
According to the 15th-century Oghuzname narrative, in 1261 Turkoman dervish Sari Saltuk accompanied a group of Turkomans into Dobruja, where they were settled by the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII to protect the northern frontier of the empire. However, Dobruja was occupied by Tatars in the same period. The same source places him in Crimea after 1265, along the Turkomans transferred there by Tatar khan Berke, and after 1280 mentions him leading the nomads back to Dobruja. After the death of Sari Saltik, part of the Turkomans returned to Anatolia, while other remained and became Christians, becoming the ancestors of the Gagauz people. They maintained their political independence from Second Bulgarian Empire. Their small principality of Dobruja lived until the Ottoman conquest in 1417. The name Gagauz may be a reminiscence of the name Kaykaus II.
- Steppe hypothesis
The Steppe hypothesis suggests that the Gagauzes may be descendants of other Turkic nomadic tribes than Seljuks: such as Bulgars and Cumans-Kipchaks from the Eurasian steppes. In the 19th century, before their migration to Bessarabia, the Gagauzes from the Bulgarian territories of the Ottoman Empire considered themselves Bulgarians. Ethnological research suggest that "Gagauz" was a linguistic distinction and not ethnic. Gagauzes to that time called themselves "Hasli Bulgar" (True Bulgars) or "Eski Bulgar" (Old Bulgars) and considered the term Gagauz, applied to them by the Slavic-speaking Bulgarians (who they called toukan), demeaning. The Gagauzes called their language Turkish and accordingly claimed descent from early Turkic Bulgars who in the 7th century established the First Bulgarian Empire on the Danube. Indeed, one modern Gagauz surname is Qipcakli.
The Russian Empire Census of 1897 did not distinguish the Gagauz as a specific group, but it reported the existence of 55,790 native speakers of a "Turkish language" (presumably the Gagauz language) in the Bessarabia Governorate.
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 Bassarabian Bulgarians, mainly in Avdarma, Comrat (or Komrat), Congaz (Kongaz), Tomai, Cișmichioi and other former Nogai villages located in the central Budjak region. Originally, the Gagauz also settled in several villages belonging to boyars throughout southern Bessarabia and the Principality of Moldavia, but soon moved to join their kin in the Bugeac. Until 1869, the Gagauz in Bessarabia were described as Bulgarians. During the Romanian rule of southernmost Bessarabia (1856–1878), they supported Bulgarian schools in their settlements and participated in the Bulgarian national movement. Therefore, some ethnologists (Karel Škorpil, Gavril Zanetov, Benyo Tsonev) claim Bulgarian origin for the Gagauz.
In the 1860s some Gagauzes resettled to the vicinity of Berdiansk on the Sea of Azov coast, and in 1908–1914 to Central Asia.
With the exception of a six-day independence in the winter of 1906, when a peasant uprising declared the autonomous Comrat Republic, the Gagauz people have mainly been ruled by the Russian Empire, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Moldova.
The wave of Stolypin agrarian policies carried some Gagauz to Kazakhstan between 1912 and 1914, and later yet another group settled in Uzbekistan during the very troubled years of initial collectivization. So as not to lose their civil rights, they called themselves "Bulgars" in the 1930s; The Gagauz of the village of Mayslerge in the Tashkent District retain that designation to this day.
In 1970 the total population of the Gagauzes reached 156,600 in the USSR (26,400 of them lived in the Ukrainian SSR and 125,000 in the Moldavian SSR). In 1979, about 173,000 Gagauzes lived in the USSR.
Gagauz nationalism remained an intellectual movement during the 1980s but strengthened by the end of the decade as both elites and opposition groups in the Soviet Union began to embrace nationalist ideals. In 1988, activists from the local intelligentsia aligned with other ethnic minorities to create the movement known as the "Gagauz People" (Gagauz: Gagauz halkı). 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 Moldovan (Romanian) was accepted as the official language of the Republic of Moldova in August 1989.
Gagauz nationalism and Republic of Moldova
In August 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. Support for the Soviet Union remained high, with a local referendum in March 1991 yielding an almost unanimous "yes" vote to stay in the USSR; Moldovans in Gagauzia, however, 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, six of the twelve Gagauz deputies voted in favor.
Gagauzia declared itself independent as the Gagauz Republic on 19 August 1991—the day of the Moscow coup attempt—followed by Transnistria in September. In February 1994, President Mircea Snegur, opposed to Gagauz independence, promised a Gagauz autonomous region. Snegur also opposed the suggestion that Moldova become a federal state made up of three "republics": Moldova, Gagauzia, and Transnistria. In 1994, the Moldovan parliament awarded "the people of Gagauzia" the right of "external self-determination" should the status of the country change. This means that in the event that Moldova decided to join another country (by all accounts this referred to Romania), the Gagauzians' would be entitled to decide whether to remain or not a part of the new state by means of a self-determination referendum.
As a result of a referendum to determine Gagauzia's borders, thirty settlements (three towns and twenty-seven villages) expressed their desire to be included in the Gagauz Autonomous Territorial Unit. 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.
- "The prospects for the survival of the Gagauz national culture and the existence of the Gagauz as an independent people are tenuous. They have the lowest ratio of persons with a higher education in Moldova, a virtual absence of an artistic intelligentsia, a very weak scientific intelligentsia, and an acute lack of intellectuals in general. In 1989 less than half as many Gagauz were admitted to the state university and the polytechnical institute as in 1918. Accordingly, the Gagauz are weakly represented in administration, the professions, and the service industries. There is an acute shortage of building materials, and the environment is in a state of crisis. Analysis of this situation led to the Gagauz movement for national regeneration. On 12 November 1989 an extraordinary session of representatives to the Moldavian Supreme Soviet adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a Gagauz ASSR within the Moldavian SSR. Three days later, however, the presidium of the Moldavian Supreme Soviet failed to confirm this decision, thus trampling on the principle of national self-determination of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the Moldavian press opened a campaign of anti-Gagauz propaganda. Despite a series of declarations about a renaissance of the Gagauz, the absence of the necessary conditions, including national-territorial autonomy, will make their realization difficult, and the people appear doomed to assimilation".
Since 1991, the Gagauz nation became a transborder nation located in Budjak and divided between Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. In Ukraine, Gagauz people mainly live near the Bessarabian Bulgarians community around the city of Bolhrad. According to a recent Ukrainian Census, the Gagauz population accounts for 31,923 people with 27,617 (86.5%) of them living in Odessa Oblast (Budjak area).
- Gagauz language
- Gagauz Halkı
- Transnistria War
- Gagauz people in Moldova
- Gagauzian World Congress
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