Gagauz people

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Gagauz People
Total population
approx. 240,000
Regions with significant populations
 Moldova ( Gagauzia) 147,500[1]
 Ukraine 31,900[2]
 Turkey 15,000[3]
 Russia 13,700[4]
 Romania 45[5]
 Bulgaria 540[6]
 Kazakhstan 700[7]
Majority Orthodox Christianity
Minority Islam
Related ethnic groups
Turkic peoples, Gajal

The Gagauz people are a Turkic-speaking[8] group living mostly in southern Moldova (Gagauzia), southwestern Ukraine (Budjak), south-eastern Romania (Dobruja),[9] northeastern Bulgaria, Greece, Brazil, United States and Canada. The Gagauz are Orthodox Christians. There is a related ethnic group also called Gagavuz (or Gajal) living in the European part of northwestern Turkey.

Genetic origins

The Gagauzes, although speaking Turkish, belong genetically to the Balkan populations and the Gagauz language represents a case of language replacement. Gagauz belong to Y-DNA haplogroups I2a (23.6%), R1a (19.1%), G (13.5%), R1b (12.4%), E1b1b1a1 (11.1%). Haplogroups J2 (5.6%) and Haplogroup N (2.2%) are represented among Gagauzes at a usual frequency for many European and Balkan peoples. Finally, the phylogenetic analysis of Y-DNA situates Gagauzes most proximal to Macedonians, Serbs and other Balkan populations, resulting in a high genetic distance from the Turkish people and other Turkic peoples.[10] According to a more detailed autosomal analysis of thousands of SNPs, not just of the sex chromosome, Gagauzes are most proximal to Macedonians, followed by Greek Macedonians apart from Thessaloniki, and others such as Bulgarians, Romanians and Montenegrins.[11]

Geographical distribution

Today Gagauz people outside Moldova live mainly in the Ukrainian regions of Odessa and Zaporizhia, as well as in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Brazil, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Turkey,[12] and the Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria.

There are nearly 20,000 descendants of Gagauzians living in the Balkan country of Bulgaria, as well as upwards of 3,000 living in the United States of America, Brazil and Canada.


The Encyclopedia of World Cultures lists the ethnonym of the Gagauz as "Turkish speaking Bulgars".[13] Astrid Menz writes this about the etymology:

"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."


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 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 vast majority of Gagauz are Orthodox Christians.[14]



The traditional economy centered on animal husbandry (particularly sheep raising) and agriculture that combined grain and truck farming with viticulture. Even in the recent past, despite the cultural similarity of the Gagauz to the Bulgars of Bessarabia, there were important differences between them: the Bulgars were peasant farmers; although the Gagauz also farmed, they were essentially pastoralist in outlook.[13]


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The staple food is grain, in many varieties. A series of family holidays and rituals was connected with the baking of wheat bread, both leavened loaves (e.g., kalaches) and unleavened flatcakes.

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.


The origin of the Gagauzes is obscure. In the beginning of the 20th century, 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, the Cumans-Kipchaks (there is a modern Gagauz family name Qipcaqli) [15] or a clan of Seljuk Turks or as linguistically Turkified Bulgarians. The fact that their confession is Eastern Orthodox Christianity suggest that their ancestors already lived in the Balkans prior to the Ottoman conquest in the late 14th century.[8]

Seljuk (Anatolian) hypothesis

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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 Cumans (Kipchaks) who came from the Russian steppe at about the same time. After settling in the eastern Balkans, these Seljuks are thought to have converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity in the 13th century, and later became known as "Gagauz". Seljuk theory advocates claim the name derives from "Kaykaus", which would make Gagauz an ancient tribal name.

In fact Kaykaus is known to have finally settled in Crimea.

Steppe hypothesis

The Steppe hypothesis suggests that the Gagauzes may be descendants of the Turkic nomadic tribes (Bulgars and Cumans) from the Eurasian steppes. In the 19th century, before their migration to Bessarabia, the Gagauzes from the Bulgarian lands (then in Ottoman Turkey) 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 Bulgarian state on Danube.[16] Now many Gagauz in Moldova claim Seljuk-Turkish descent. 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 Bessarabia Governorate.[17]


In population comparisons, the Gagauzes were found to be more closely related genetically to neighboring southeastern European groups than to linguistically related Anatolian populations.[18] More considerable distinctions in the distribution of Y chromosome components appeared between the Gagauzes and other Turkic peoples.[9]

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.[19]

After a genetic comparison between the populations of the Balkans, Anatolia, and Central Asia, the results showed that the Gagauz are part of the Balkan genetic group.[20][21]


Late 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 Bulgarians who emigrated at the same time and often married them.[citation needed]

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.

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 Tarhkent District retain that designation to this day.[13]

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: 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.[22] The minorities of southern Moldova – Gagauz, Bulgarians, 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[citation needed].

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 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. 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 – Gagauz, Russian 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.

"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".[13]

See also


  1. Moldovan Census[citation needed]
  2. Ukrainian Census 2001
  4. 2002 Russian census
  5. Romanian Census 2002
  6. Bulgarian Census 2001
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Searching for the Origin of Gagauzes: Inferences from Y-Chromosome Analysis
  10. Varazari 2006[1]
  11. Genetic Heritage of the Balto-Slavic Speaking Populations: A Synthesis of Autosomal, Mitochondrial and Y-Chromosomal Data, Alena Kushniarevich et al. September 2, 2015; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0135820
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Encyclopedia of World Cultures | 1996 | Gouboglu, Mikhail; Friedrich, Paul
  14. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  15. Bulgarian Folk Customs, Mercia MacDermott, pg 27
  16. "The Gagauzes - yet another view" V.Mateeva, 2006 Sofia
  17. 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).
  18. The Gagauz, a Linguistic Enclave, are not a Genetic Isolate
  19. Population History of the Dniester-Carpathians: Evidence from Alu Insertion and Y-Chromosome Polymorphisms Dissertation, p.86
  20. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  22. 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

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  • 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 Kraków, "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