Gagauz people: Wikis


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Gagauz People
Total population
approx. 240,000
Regions with significant populations
 Moldova 147,500 [1]
 Ukraine 31,900 [2]
 Greece 30,000 [3]
 Turkey 15,000 [4]
 Russia 12,200 [5]
 Bulgaria 540 [6]
 Romania 3,000 [6]
 Kazakhstan 700



Eastern Orthodox

The Gagauz people are a small Turkic ethnic group living mostly in southern Moldova (Gagauzia), southwestern Ukraine (Budjak) and north-eastern Bulgaria (Dobruja)[7]. Unlike most other Turkic peoples, the Gagauz are predominantly Orthodox Christians. There is a related ethnic group also called Gagavuz (or Gajal) living in the European part of northwestern Turkey.


Geographic distribution

Today Gagauz people outside Moldova live mainly in the Ukrainian regions of Odessa and Zaporizhia, as well as in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Romania and the Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria. There are also nearly 20,000 descendants of Gagauzes living in the Balkan countries of Bulgaria and Greece, as well as upwards of 2000 living in the United States of America (USA) Brazil and Canada. Most of Gagauz immigrants in the USA are Evangelical Christians, who left their homeland in Moldova as refugees. They were persecuted by the Communist Government of the Soviet Union. Gagauz immigrants live in Sacramento California, Salem Oregon, Seatle Washington, Broken Arrow Oklahoma, Tacoma Washington, Charlotte North Carolina, Philadelphia Pennsylvania and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. However the official figures in the latter group of countries cited in this article are much lower due to the loss of Gagauz identity during the last century.


The Gagauz language belongs to the Oghuz branch of the Turkic languages, which also includes the Azeri, 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 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 (Tartar 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). It is also important to mention that the Gagauzes are Orthodox Christians, whereas most of the Turkic groups mentioned above are Muslims[8].


The origin of the Gagauzes is obscure. In the beginning of the 20th century the Bulgarian historian M.Dimitrov counts 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 or a clan of Seljuk Turks or as linguistically Turkified Bulgarians. The fact that their confession is East Orthodox Christianity suggest that their ancestors already lived in the Balkans prior the Ottoman conquest in the late 14th century.[citation needed]


Seljuk (Anatolian) hypothesis

According to the Seljuk theory, supported by the Polish orientalist T. Kowalski the Gagauz descended from the Seljuk Turks who in the 13th century followed the Anatolian Seljuk Sultan Kaykaus II (1236-1276) and supposedly settled in the Dobruja region of the medieval Bulgarian kingdom. There they presumably mixed with other Turkic peoples such as Pechenegs, Uz (Oghuz) and Cuman (Kipchak) who came from the Russian steppe at about the same time. After settling in the eastern Balkans (Bulgaria) this Seljuks are thought to have converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity in the 13th century and later became known as "Gagauz".

In fact Kaykaus is known to have finally settled in Crimea. The supporters of the Seljuk theory claim that the term Gagauz came from the name of Sultan Kaykaus II and therefore it is an ancient tribal name, confirming that the Gagauz were originally Turkic people and not linguistically Turkified Bulgarians. Another explanation is that the ethnonym means strait-nosed (from gaga - nose and uz - strait). Therefore Gagauz means strait-nosed Christian Turks in opposition to the curved-nosed Ottoman Muslim Turks. Some interpret Gagauz as derivative of Gök Oğuz - "Heavenly Oghuz" (from Turkish Gök - sky, heaven and Oğuz - branch of Turkic people).

Steppe hypothesis

The ‘‘Steppe’’ hypothesis suggestes that the Gagauzes may be descendants of the Turkic nomadic tribes (Bulgars and Cumans) from the Eurasian steppes. In 19th century, prior to their migration to Bessarabia, the Gagauzes from the Bulgarian lands (then in Ottoman Turkey) considered themselves Bulgarians. Ethnological research suggest that "Gagauz" was a linguistical distinction and not ethnic. Gagauzes at 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 but claimed descend from early Bulgars who in the 7th century established the Bulgarian state on Danube [9]. Now many Gagauz in Moldova claim Seljuk-Turkish descend. The Gagauz in Bulgaria do not support that view.

The 1897 Russian Census 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 Bessarabian Governorate[10]


In population comparisons, the Gagauzes were found to be more closely related genetically to neighboring southeastern European groups than to linguistically-related Anatolian populations[11]. More considerable distinctions in the distribution of Y chromosome components appeared between the Gagauzes and other Turkic peoples. [12].

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. Thus, the ongoing intensive reciprocal gene flow was accompanied by the gradual dissolution of the Asian genetic component. Another possibility is language shift in accordance with the elite dominance model, i.e. Turkification[13]

Nevertheless, Gagauz people were found to have a higher proportion of Near Eastern DNA lineages. This fact agrees with the historically documented information on the migration of the Gagauzes to the Southern Bessarabia from the territory of the Balkan Peninsula. Genetic findings testifies to the emergence of the Near Eastern lineages in the Gagauz at the entry of the Seljuk Turks into the Balkans.

After a genetic comparison with populations of Balkans, Anatolia, and Central Asia, results showed that Gagauz are part of the Balkan genetic group[14].


Early history

It is historically documented that the Gagauzes migrated to Bessarabia from northeastern Bulgaria (Dobruja) in the beginning of the 19th century fleeing from political and religious oppression by the Ottoman Turks. However, very little is known about their previous history. Turkic-speaking tribes of the Nogai Horde inhabited the Budjak region of southern Bessarabia from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Before 1807, a portion of these tribes were forced to abandon the Budjak by the Tsarist government of Russia, resettling in Crimea, Azov and Stavropol. Soon after they were replaced by other Turkic-speaking people which later came to be known as the Gagauz. Most if not all Gagauz people who now live in Moldova, came to Bessarabia from Bulgaria (then in the Ottoman Empire) after the Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812). This fact is well documented in the Russian tsarist archives. They settled alongside Slavic-speaking Bulgarian who emigrated at the same time and often married them.

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 Bulgarians, mainly in Avdarma, Comrat (or Komrat), Congaz (Kongaz), Tomai, Cismichioi 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.

With the exception of a five-day independence in the winter of 1906, when a peasant uprising declared the autonomous Republic of Komrat, the Gagauzian people have mainly been ruled by the Russian Empire, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Moldova.

Soviet Union and Republic of Moldova

Gagauz nationalism remained an intellectual movement during the 1980s but strengthened by the end of the decade as the Soviet Union began to embrace liberal ideals. In 1988, activists from the local intelligentsia aligned with other ethnic minorities to create the movement known as the "Gagauz People" (Gagauz Turkish: Gagavz halki). 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.[15] The minorities of southern Moldova – Gagauz, Bulgars, and Russians – looked on this decision with concern, precipitating a lack of confidence in the central government located in Chişinău.[citation needed] The Moldavian population regarded Gagauz demands with suspicion, convinced they were acting as puppets of forces that wanted to preserve the Soviet Union.[citation needed]

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.

Unofficial Gagauz flag.

Gagauzia declared itself independent on 19 August 1991 – the day of the Moscow coup attempt – followed by Transnistria in September. Some believe that these moves prompted the nationalist Moldovan Popular Front to tone down its pro-Romanian line and speak up for the rights of minorities.[citation needed] In February 1994, President Mircea Snegur, opposed to Gaugauz independence, promised a Gaugauz autonomous region. Snegur also opposed the suggestion that Moldova become a federal state made up of three "republics": Moldova, Gagauzia, and Transnistria. This was the plan promoted by those wishing to rehabilitate the former Soviet Union.[citation needed] In 1994, the Moldovan parliament awarded "the people of Gagauzia" the right of "external self-determination" should the status of the country change.[citation needed] This means that in the event -and only in that event- that Moldova decided to join another country (by all accounts this is 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

On December 23, 1994, the Moldovan parliament produced a peaceful resolution to the dispute by passing the "Law on the Special Legal Status of Gagauzia" (Gagauz Yeri). Gagauzia became a "national-territorial autonomous unit" with three official languages – Russian, Gagauz and Moldovan/Romanian – and the date is now a Gagauzian holiday. Many European human-rights organizations recognize Gagauzia as a successful model for resolving ethnic conflict.[citation needed]

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.

See also


  1. ^ Moldovan Census[citation needed]
  2. ^ Ukrainian Census 2001
  3. ^ Ethnic groups worldwide, David Levinson
  4. ^
  5. ^ 2002 Russian census
  6. ^ a b Bulgarian Census 2001
  7. ^ Searching for the Origin of Gagauzes: Inferences from Y-Chromosome Analysis
  8. ^ Searching for the Origin of Gagauzes: Inferences from Y-Chromosome Analysis
  9. ^ "The Gagauzes - yet another view" V.Mateeva, 2006 Sofia
  10. ^ Russian 1897 Census data - breakdown by region and language. Besides "Turkish", the only other Turkic languages reported by the Census of 1897 as spoken in Bessarabia were the "Tatar" (777 native speakers), Turkmen (405), and Chuvash (73).
  11. ^ The Gagauz, a Linguistic Enclave, are not a Genetic Isolate
  12. ^ Searching for the Origin of Gagauzes: Inferences from Y-Chromosome Analysis
  13. ^ Population History of the Dniester-Carpathians: Evidence from Alu Insertion and Y-Chromosome Polymorphisms Dissertation, p.86
  14. ^
  15. ^ Legea cu privire la functionarea limbilor vorbite pe teritoriul RSS Moldovenesti Nr.3465-XI din 01.09.89 Vestile nr.9/217, 1989 (Law regarding the usage of languages spoken on the territory of the Republic of Moldova): "Moldavian RSS supports the desire of the Moldovans that live across the borders of the Republic, and considering the really existing linguistical Moldo-Romanian identity - of the Romanians that live on the territory of the USSR, of doing their studies and satisfying their cultural needs in their maternal language."

External links




  • Vanya Mateeva, 2006 Sofia, "Гагаузите - още един поглед" [" The Gagauzes - yet another view"]
  • Shabashov A.V., 2002, Odessa, Astroprint, "Gagauzes: terms of kinship system and origin of the people", (Шабашов А.В., "Гагаузы: система терминов родства и происхождение народа")
  • Guboglo, M.N., 1967, "Этническая принадлежност гагаузов". Советская этнография, Nо 3 [Ethnic identity of the Gagauz. Soviet ethnography journal, Issue No 3.]
  • Dmitriev N.K., 1962, Moskow, Science, "Structure of Türkic languages", articles "About lexicon of Gagauz language", "Gagauz etudes", "Phonetics of Gagauz language", (Дмитриев Н.К., "Структура Тюткских Языков", статьи "К вопросу о словарном составе гагаузского языка", "Гагаузские этюды", "Фонетика гагаузского языка")
  • Mihail Çakır, 1934, Basarabyalı Gagavuzların İstoryası ["History of the Gagauz people of Bessarabia"]
  • Kowalski, T., 1933 Krakow , "Les Turcs et la langue turque de la Bulgarie du Nord-Est". ["The Turks and the turkic language of North-Eastern Bulgaria"]
  • Škorpil, K. and H., 1933 Praha , "Материали към въпроса за съдбата на прабългарите и на северите и към въпроса за произхода на съвременните гагаузи". Byzantinoslavica, T.5


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