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Introducing Gagauzia

Subordinate to Moldova constitutionally and for foreign relations and defence, Gagauzia (Gagauz Yeri) is an autonomous region covering 1832 sq km of noncontiguous land in southern Moldova. Unlike Transdniestr, the region eventually found its niche within Moldova through judicious mediation, but there’s still simmering unrest between the two entities over language and economic issues. On a national level, Gagauzia is represented by the assembly’s elected başkan (head, governor), a member of the Gagauz Halki political party who holds a safe seat in the Moldovan Parliament. Since 1995, this has been George Tabunshik.

Gagauzia comprises three towns and 27 villages dotted throughout three broken-up districts; Comrat, Ceadăr-Linga and Vulcăneşti. Wedged between these last two is the predominantly Bulgarian-populated district of Taraclia, which is not part of Gagauzia. Gagauz is further Swiss-cheesed by three Bulgarian villages in Ceadăr-Linga and a predominantly Moldovan village in Comrat district. Needless to say, there are no border controls at these atolls of territory.

The population of Gagauzia is 171, 500, 78% of whom are Gagauz nationals; an additional 25, 000 Gagauz live in other areas of Moldova, 20, 000 more live in Greece and Bulgaria, and 32, 000 in Ukraine. The Gagauz are a Turkic-speaking, Christian ethnic minority whose Muslim antecedents fled the Russo-Turkish wars in the 18th century. They were allowed to settle in the region in exchange for their conversion to Christianity. Their language is a dialect of Turkish, with its vocabulary influenced by Russian Orthodoxy as opposed to the Islamic influences inherent in Turkish. Gagauz look to Turkey for cultural inspiration and heritage.

The republic has its own flag (blue, white and red stripes with three white stars in the upper left corner), its own police force, its own newspapers (Sabaa Ildyzy, Gagauz Vesti and Guneshhik), and its own university. The official languages here are Gagauzi, Moldovan and Russian, though Russian is used almost everywhere, including the university. Gagauzi is taught in 37 schools throughout Moldova.

Gagauz autonomy was officially recognised by the Moldovan government on 23 December 1994; that day is now celebrated annually as Independence Day. Unlike the more militant separatists in Transdniestr, the Gagauz forfeited independence for large-scale autonomy. Theirs is a predominantly agricultural region with little industry to sustain an independent economy. There are 12 vineyards on their territory producing fine wines, the profits for which Gagauzia accuses Chişinău of reaping.