Gagauzia on the map of Moldova in Russian

Gagauz is a mysterious people worshipping a wolf

Gagauzians are one of the most mysterious peoples of the world, because the question of their origin is still open. The culture of the Gagauz combined Christian and pagan beliefs. The cult of wolf worship, which dates back to ancient times, is still preserved to this day: a wolf’s head is depicted on the flag of Gagauzia in 1990 as a symbol of independence, its own way and spiritual link with ancestors.


There are a number of versions explaining the origin of the name of the people. The reliability of this or that variant cannot be established precisely, as each of them is related to the history of origin of the people, which remains a mystery up till now.

  1. According to a popular Gagauz version, the ethnonym was formed from the merger of the words “gaga” – beak or nose, and “uz” – straight. The explanation of the name says that no matter how much a beak is bent, it remains straight, and so the Gagauzians are going their own way.
  2. The second widespread assumption of the origin of the name is connected to the version of the origin of the Gagauz from the Oghuz tribe. According to this theory, the ethnonym came from the Turkic expression “gök-oguz”, which means “blue, heavenly Oguzes”.

Where do they live

The first reliable evidence proves the settlement of the Gagauzians on the territory of the Balkan Peninsula, on the territory of modern Romania and Bulgaria, in the historical region Dobrudzha. At the end of the 18th century – the first half of the 19th century the process of Gagauz migration began, due to the incessant war between the Ottoman and Russian empires on the Balkan territory, as well as the anarchy reigning on the Balkan Peninsula.

During this period, the Russian authorities offered the inhabitants of the region to move to the uninhabited territories of Bessarabia: the historical area between the rivers Danube, Dniester, Prut and the Black Sea, located in the south-east of Europe. Today the territories are divided between the two states:

  1. In Moldova, the city of Bender and the surrounding area.
  2. In Ukraine – Chernivtsi, Odessa region.

The historical territory of Gagauz living in the Balkan Peninsula is divided between Romania and Bulgaria. The representatives of the population remaining in the region assimilated rather quickly, having lost the national identity for the most part.


The number of the Gagauzians in the world is about 250 000 people. The largest part, according to the information of 2004, lives in Moldova – 147,500 people. Among them:

  • Gagauzia – 127,800 people;
  • Chisinau – 6,400 people;
  • Transnistria – 4,100 people;
  • Cahul district – 3,600 people;
  • Taraclia rayon – 3,500 people;
  • Bessarabia rayon – 2,200 people.

A considerable number of Gagauzians live on the territories of other states:

  • Ukraine – 31,900 people, according to 2001 census information (27,600 of them in Odessa region);
  • Russia – 13,700, according to the 2010 census (Tyumen oblast, Khanty-Mansiysk, YNAO, Moscow oblast, Moscow);
  • Turkey – 5,000-15,000 people;
  • Greece – 3,000;
  • Bulgaria – 540, according to the 2001 census, unofficially up to 10,000;
  • Romania – 1,200-3,000; Kazakhstan – 1,000;
  • Kazakhstan – 1,000;

Small diasporas and individual members of the people live in Canada, Brazil, USA, Georgia, Estonia, Turkmenistan, Latvia, Belarus, and Uzbekistan.

The Gagauz language belongs to the Turkic group, and is ranked among the Oghuz group. Gagauz language is similar to Turkish language, and has similarities with Crimean-Tatar. Semantics, grammar, and vocabulary have significant differences. The fact of borrowing in Gagauzian of some elements of other Turkic-speaking peoples is important. A striking example of rapprochement with Tuvinian is the use of double vowel instead of typical Turkish sound ğ.


The mystery of Gagauz origin up to now continues to excite researchers all over the world. To date, there are more than twenty versions. The most popular are the following:

  1. The Gagauz are an indigenous population of the Balkans, separated as a result of the adoption of Christianity and borrowing of the Turkic language from an unknown nomadic tribe that assimilated it in ancient times.
  2. The Gagauz descended from the Turkic-speaking Bulgars, who migrated to the Balkans from the Volga River in the seventh century and converted to Christianity three centuries later.
  3. The people stood out as a result of the Turkification of the Bulgarians.
  4. The history of the people goes back to the XIII century, when the Seljuk Turks moved to Dobruja and founded the Oguz power together with the Polovtsi.
  5. Gagauzs are descendants of ancient Turkic-speaking peoples, presumably Oguzes, who lived in the steppes of Mongolia and Central Asia before the 11th century.
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The first reliable references to the nationality date back to the XIX century, when at the suggestion of the Russian Empire, the Gagauzians resettled to Bessarabia. The migration processes took place during the century, from 1812 till 1917. Due to the revolutionary movements in Russia, in 1906 the people proclaimed the independent Comrat Republic. The center was in the city of Comrat, the current capital of the autonomous territorial association within Moldova, Gagauzia, or Gagauz Yeri. The uprising was quickly suppressed by the tsarist authorities: the union lasted 5 days. After the revolution Bessarabia was united with Romania. In 1940-1941, the historical region again falls to the USSR on the basis of the famous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Then was formed the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. On August 19, 1990 the independent Republic of Gagauzia was proclaimed as the part of USSR. The Moldovan authorities sent militia and volunteers to the region in order to suppress the initiative. The population was saved from a civil war by the appearance of the Soviet army, and during the next four years the Republic of Gagauzia was in the status of an unrecognized state. In 1994-1995, through negotiations with the Moldovan authorities, an agreement on integration of the territory into Moldavia was achieved: the region gained the status of an autonomous unit.

Appearance .

Externally Gagauzians are similar to the neighbouring peoples: Bulgarians, Moldavians, Romanians, globally belonging to the Europoid race. The analysis of the peculiarities of the appearance shows that the Gagauzians occupy a middle position among these peoples, absorbing a number of distinctive features of each of them. There are different types of appearance among the Gagauzians, which bring the representatives of the ethnos closer to the Turkic or Balkan peoples. Genetically Gagauzians are most similar to Bulgarians, Turks, Macedonians and Serbs. The distinctive features of Gagauz appearance include:

  • Average height, above average;
  • broad face of medium height;
  • flattened upper face;
  • gray, light brown eyes;
  • dark blond hair;
  • strong growth of hair on the body and face;
  • nasal profile – straight or convex;
  • medium height, high bridge of the nose.


The traditional everyday costume of a woman was a long-flared spacious shirt. A sleeveless dress was worn over it in summer and with sleeves in winter. The outfit was completed with an apron and a red belt tied around the waist. Her head was covered with a white headscarf and over it was placed a larger black kerchief. In winter they wore a dress with sleeves, with a blouse made of cloth and a sheepskin sleeveless jacket on top. An obligatory element of any attire was an elevator, a breast ornament made of gold coins. The richer a woman’s family was, the more elevators she wore. The everyday attire for men was spacious pants and a shirt belted with a red sash. A short cloth hat was used as a headdress in summer and a fur cap in winter. For warmth during cattle grazing they wore sheepskin pants with fur inside, a shortened jacket decorated with black or red stitching.

Family structure

The Gagauzians lived in a patriarchal family where the head was unconditionally a man. Women were in a dependent position, men had the decisive word not only in public affairs, but also in domestic ones. Women had to walk a few steps behind their husbands and give way in the streets to men over seven years old. During feasts, men and women sat separately, women were forbidden to interfere in the general conversation, to give advice to her husband in private and in front of guests. A peculiar deference of the husband to his wife consisted in the fact that in front of her he was forbidden to use foul language, to make scurrilous remarks. Physical violence was not only not forbidden, but also encouraged, if there was no reason – the beating was for order. Wives and children were beaten, but the order compelled to do it so that outsiders did not see the consequences. To complain against her husband was considered a great sin and a sign of disrespect for him. The head of the family was the eldest man – the grandfather, and if he died, the eldest son was put in charge. The mother-in-law had authority over her daughters-in-law. The grandmother played a decisive role in choosing brides for her grandchildren: her word was more important than the parent’s. The youngest son stayed in his parents’ house, inheriting it after their death. Other sons built their own houses or stayed with their large family in the ancestral home. Girls could not inherit from their parents, but after the death of their husbands they received one fourth of their property. All female children received the same share, and the rest of the inheritance was distributed among the sons. A widow married had more rights in the house than a girl married for the first time. This was due to the fact that the widow had property after the death of her first husband. Divorce from the first husband was strictly condemned, and a wife could leave her second husband of her own free will.

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Pregnancy and childbirth were perceived as unclean processes. For forty days after childbirth, a woman was forbidden to set foot on the ground in bare feet so as not to defile it. At the end of forty days after childbirth, the young mother was allowed to leave the room, immediately immersed in the usual activities. Due to the fact that mothers had to combine childcare with household chores and field work, there was a high rate of infant mortality. A woman who married and had an affair with her husband was also perceived as unclean. For example, it was forbidden to go to the spring for water until she visited the church for the first time after marriage. Children were brought up in strictness from childhood, and displays of affection by parents in public were forbidden. In this regard, the closest people for the little ones were grandparents, who were allowed to show affection. With the onset of adolescence, children were free to communicate with their mother and ask her advice. The father did not communicate heart-to-heart with the children until they started their own family. If the child needed to discuss any issue with the father, the mother acted as an intermediary. As the children grew up, the daughter-in-law’s status in the home changed. Immediately after her husband came into the family, the girl lost her own name and was called “gelin”, which meant “come”. The daughter-in-law was in full subordination to her husband’s relatives, performed the most difficult household chores, worked in the fields. The older the children got, the more respected their mother became.


Gagauzians profess Christianity, mixed in the consciousness of people with ancient pagan beliefs. St. Nicholas Day was considered a man’s holiday: the Gagauz used to gather for birthday parties and hold a noisy feast. On this day, fish dishes were obligatory on the table: stuffing and wheat porridge with fish, which was considered a kind of sacrifice to the saint. On the eve, men dressed up in women’s clothes, smeared themselves with soot, and went door-to-door. The visits were received favorably: they were believed to bring good luck. On the eve of St. Andrew’s Day, houses were guarded against devils and evil forces, by smearing garlic on joints, rubbing the fragrant spice on hands and face.

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The cult of the wolf, probably once a totem animal of the Gagauz ancestors, still occupies a special meaning. The head of the animal is represented on the first flag of independent Gagauzia. Formerly, an amulet of wolf teeth was considered a protective talisman, and today many representatives of the nationality wear pendants with the image of the sacred animal.

Wolf feast, which lasted for a whole week and fell at the end of fall – beginning of winter, was connected with the cult of wolf. It is connected with the hunting peculiarities of life of people: in this period, sheep were led away from pastures and driven into the stables, which attracted wolves closer to the villages. To protect themselves from predators, special rituals were performed during the week:

  • They baked cakes smeared with honey, which were pierced with forks imitating the marks of wolf teeth;
  • It was forbidden to sew or knit clothes made of wool. It was believed that if one went out in this clothing even after the holiday had ended, a wolf would smell it and attack;
  • The use of knives and other sharp objects was prohibited;
  • In some villages women covered the stove flap with clay: it was read that this way they covered wolf’s ears, eyes and mouth, and it means he will not attack the house.

It is interesting that over time, the wolf feast joined the Christian calendar: it was supposed to fall 3 days before the Christmas Lent, and 3 days after it began.


The Gagauz had the following options for getting married:

  1. Conspiracy.
  2. Escape.
  3. Kidnapping.

Running away and abduction were condemned by society. There were variations of the rituals: abduction with the consent of the girl and fictitious abduction, of which the relatives of the newlyweds on both sides were aware. Despite society’s disapproval of such methods of marriage, they saved money on the cost of the wedding reception. The traditional way of creating a family was through collusion between parents. Young people looked for brides at public festivals and youth gatherings. The future groom would inform his relatives about his choice, after which they would conduct an “investigation” about the family’s well-being and the health of the intended bride. If the older generation approved of the choice, matchmakers, played by eloquent men and women, were sent to the bride’s parents. The matchmaking usually took place late in the evening or early in the morning to avoid embarrassment in case of refusal. The matchmaking question was discussed obliquely, by talking about selling a turkey calf or other domestic animal. They seldom received an answer the first time, but if the answer was affirmative, the bride price and the size of her dowry were discussed. The matchmakers were given the girl’s dress as a confirmation of their intentions: the husband’s side made the wedding dress according to his measurements. The matchmakers were also delicately refused: they were told that the dowry had not been collected yet, or the bride had not reached the proper age.

On the wedding day the relatives gathered at the houses of the newlyweds, celebrating the occasion separately. A wedding train with the groom, his friends and relatives would come to pick up the bride by lunchtime. Obligatory elements of this stage were the ritual songs of farewell to the house by the bride, as well as the groom’s redemption of the dowry. After the “cortege” went to the groom’s house, which included a cart with the dowry. A wedding feast was held at the groom’s house, where the newlyweds were also present. It was believed to be the last feast the bride could enjoy from the heart. The second day began with a humiliating rite for the young wife. A relative from the husband’s side came into the young couple’s room to make sure of the innocence of the bride. The groom’s uncle stood at the door with a rifle and a lash. If innocence was confirmed, a shot rang out in the neighborhood. If the bride had premarital relations, the whip was passed to the husband, who used it to beat a confession out of the wife, who was involved in her disgrace. In the case where the pre-marital affair was with the present groom, both were harnessed to a wagon instead of horses, forcing them to take a lap of shame through the village. The girls who proved their innocence were led out into the courtyard, where the festivities and feasting continued. The girl was dressed in a red dress and the guests were served vodka dyed red. The shirt testifying to the girl’s honesty was placed over a sieve and displayed for all to see. Today, the humiliating rites are a thing of the past, but the custom of serving red vodka at weddings has survived. Usually it is poured into glasses at the end of the ceremony and sold to those who want it for money – to the family treasury of the newlyweds.

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The basis of the Gagauz diet consisted of dairy, flour and meat dishes. The traditional dish is a flatbread called gezleme, baked on a saj pan, which is widespread in Turkey. The peculiarity of the flatbread is the filling, which necessarily includes cheese, usually bryndza. A common variant is gezleme with nuur, sheep’s milk curd. If desired, other ingredients are added: herbs, spinach, eggs, minced meat, potatoes. A similar dish is puff pastry with curd kyvyrma. Because cattle breeding was the main occupation of the Gagauzians, dishes based on milk are especially diverse. Worth noting is yuurt – an authentic sour-milk product which resembles natural yogurt without any additives. To make it, milk was boiled, then a spoonful of sour cream was added, allowed to sour, and then taken out into the cold. In order to disinfect it, a silver coin was always thrown into the jug with the milk.

Pro-Russian Gagauzia or Why Moldovans quarrel with “Bessarabian Chechens

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During the Ottoman era, the Turks called the Gagauz stubborn. Unwilling to accept Islam, the people had kept their Orthodox traditions and distinctive culture for centuries. Even today, the Gagauz of Moldova, where they settled two centuries ago, demonstrate firm conservative positions. Seeing their spiritual kinship with Russians, Turkic descendants openly declare pro-Russian positions. Gagauzia, being an autonomy within the modern Moldavia, voted for the Customs Union and elevated the Russian language to the rank of the official one.

How Gagauzians have got in Moldova

Gagauzians of Bessarabia. /Photo:

A single version of the origin of the Gagauz in the historians does not exist. A number of researchers name the ancestors of this nationality the medieval nomads of the Northern Black Sea Coast, who moved to the Balkans. According to another version, the Gagauz are Seljuk Turks, who, together with Cumans, created the Oguz power. They also call the Gagauzians the Turecheni Bulgarians, and this is only a part of the existing versions. Genetically proven only that the people are of Turkic origin. In the context of ethnic community, the Gagauz began its formation in Bulgaria. The famous Moldovan educator Chakir wrote about the existence of the Gagauz state of Dobrudja in northeastern Bulgaria in the 14th century.

Long-lasting ties with Russia

Gagauzian cowsmiths. /Photo:

At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Gagauz migrated to Bessarabia in the light of the intensified repressions of the Ottoman authorities because of the Russian-Turkish wars. The region of Bujak, which was beloved by the foreigners arriving, was part of the Russian Empire. Russia at that time, compacting its territories and strengthening its borders, guaranteed the immigrants all sorts of benefits and large tracts of land. In addition to land, the volunteers were exempt from taxes and military service, and received a cash loan for the first time. Thus, the Gagauzians arriving in Russia gradually transformed into prosperous farmers, gardeners and winegrowers, as the first colonists in the south of Bessarabia. The Bessarabian period is considered a “golden age” in the history of the Gagauz. Since that happy time, a stable positive historical memory about Russia and the Russian people has formed in the consciousness of the ethnos.

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Internal conflicts

The rally in support of the Gagauz Republic. /Photo:

In 1906, with the first revolutionary promptings in Russia, the Gagauz proclaimed a separate independent Comrat Republic with its center in Comrat. Today, this city is the capital of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia within Moldova. Then the decisive rebellion was suppressed by the central authorities in 5 days. After the Bolshevik revolution, Bessarabia was united with Romania, and the Gagauz confined themselves to their villages. During the Great Patriotic War, after the historical region passed to the USSR, the Moldavian Soviet republic was formed. The issue of national rights of a separate ethnos within Moldova was raised and teaching of the Gagauz language was introduced.

During the heyday of the Soviet Union, the Gagauz were active in local administration, bravely claiming their identity. The Gagauz had very few representatives in power structures, compared with the Moldovan ones. Such harassment exacerbated the internal conflict of the 80-90s. National social movements were formed, rallies and congresses of Gagauz deputies erupted. The most important was the November 1989 gathering, when the Gagauzians declared the creation of the autonomy within Moldova. But Chisinau didn’t approve the separatist ambitions and Moscow didn’t react either. An important landmark at that time was the expert conclusion on the independence of the Gagauz with a sufficient number and economic profitability. The bold protests began in the southern Moldova, where the Gagauzians live compactly. People began speaking aloud about the creation of a separate state. In October 1990, Moldovan nationalist volunteers came to present-day Gagauzia to tame the separatists. The 50,000 determined patriots were led by the first prime minister, Mircea Druk, accompanied by units of Moldovan police. When the inhabitants of Gagauz villages heard about the approaching threat, they resolutely armed themselves with axes, hammers, sticks and armature, preparing for street battles. Soviet soldiers who arrived in the conflict zone succeeded in stopping the civil clashes.

The Moldovan officials took a clear course on rapprochement with the Romanians and abolished the Russian language in the country. Gagauzians close to Russia declared their rejection of such prospects and proclaimed the Gagauz Republic. Moldova did not recognize such steps as legal, and the resources of Gagauzia were insufficient for a separate existence. The efforts paid off several years later, by the end of 1994. The law on special status of Gagauzia within Moldova became the reasonable consensus.

Assertion of the identity and the course towards Russia

The modern Gagauzians in national costumes. /Photo:

Gagauzians are sometimes informally called Bessarabian Chechens. The fact that after the collapse of the USSR, they tried to create their own separate state persistently but unsuccessfully. The non-acceptance of oppression of everything Russian and attempts to impose the Moldavian language and culture on the national minorities have raised all previous internal conflicts to the surface.

The mutual distrust and misunderstanding between Chisinau and Comrat have only temporarily ceased to exist during all the years of the Gagauz autonomy. One of the most controversial issues is the geopolitical vector of Moldova and its relations with Russia. When in 2013 the Moldovans signed an association agreement with the European Union, Gagauzia initiated a referendum on the future of the autonomy. The voters almost unanimously voted for their own right to self-determination with intentions to join the Customs Union. Chisinau considered this plebiscite completely illegal. And in 2017, when the Moldovan authorities decided to fight foreign propaganda, they banned the broadcasting of Russian news, political and military programs in the country. Comrat refused to comply with such instructions.

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