Nation profile

Gagauzia
Gagauz Yeri

General information
Population
134,535 inhabitants (2014 est.)
Area
1,832 km²
Institutions
Executive Committee and People's Assembly
Major cities
Comrat, Ceadir-Lunga, Vulcanesti
State administration
Republic of Moldova
Territorial languages
Gagauz, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian
Official languages
Gagauz, Romanian, Russian
Major religion
Orthodox Christianity
National day
23 December (Autonomy Day)

Presentation

Gagauzia is a country in Eastern Europe, located near the Black Sea coast, 5 kilometres north to the mouth of the Danube River. It has autonomy within the Republic of Moldova, consisting of four territorially separated enclaves, three of which bordering Ukraine. It is inhabited mostly by the Gagauz, a Turkic-speaking, Christian Orthodox people.

The Gagauz are descendants of Turkic peoples who settled in the Balkans during the Middle Ages. In the first half of the 19th century, the Russian Empire settled them in their current territory, around the city of Comrat, which is still their capital today. In 1906, the Gagauz supported the establishment of an ephemeral autonomous republic in Comrat. From 1918 to 1944 Gagauzia was under the power of Romania, and from 1944 to 1991, of the USSR, within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova.

In the last years of the Soviet era, the Gagauz Halky Movement demanded linguistic and cultural rights for the Gagauz people and the autonomy of Gagauzia. Faced with Moldovan moves to declare independence from the USSR and move closer to Romania, Gagauz MPs and local authorities proclaimed Gagauzia a Soviet republic in 1990, separate from Moldova. Gagauzia maintained a political conflict with Moldova until 1994, when the Moldovan parliament agreed to grant it autonomy.

Language

Gagauz is a language of the Turkic family, within which it is close to Turkish and Azeri. It is spoken by 106,800 people in Gagauzia, 7,700 in the rest of Moldova (2014 census) and 33,000 in other countries, mainly in Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey (Ethnologue 2020). In Gagauzia, speakers of Russian, Romanian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian are also found.

Gagauz, Romanian (officially designated “Moldovan”) and Russian are the three official languages of Gagauzia. Russian is the dominant language in administration and school.

Gagauz suffers from a situation of minoritisation that has not been reversed since the acquisition of autonomy. According to a 2012 study by Moldova State University researchers Olesea Bodean-Vozian and Angela Soltan, 48% of ethnic Gagauz speak Russian as a family language, compared to 44% who speak Gagauz. 94% of ethnic Gagauz say Russian is their language of schooling.

National identity

In the 2014 population census, 83.5% of Gagauzia’s population declared themselves Gagauz, followed by 4.9% who declared themselves Bulgarian, 4.7% Moldovan, 3.2% Russian and 2.5 Ukrainian.

Politics and government

Gagauzia has an autonomous government system within Moldova through the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, made up of the president or Başkan, the parliament or People’s Assembly (Halk Topluşu in Gagauz), and the government or Executive Committee. The president and parliament are elected by universal suffrage every 4 years.

Autonomy is governed by the Gagauzia Special Status Act of 1994. Gagauzia has jurisdiction over science, culture, education, housing, urban planning, health, sports, economics, environment, labor relations, and social security. The law also provides for Gagauzia's right to independence in the event of a “change in Moldova's status as an independent state” —essentially, if Moldova joins Romania.

Since gaining autonomy, the Gagauz government has been controlled by politicians who support strengthening relations with Russia, although they have also been open to economic and cultural cooperation with the European Union and Turkey.

President: Irina Vlah (independent with the support of the Socialist Party), since 2015
Composition of the People’s Assembly (35 members). 2016 elections:
Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM, economic left/social right, pro-Russia) - 5
Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM, centre, pro-EU) - 1
Independents - 28
 
(Last update November 2020.)