Gagauz Turks

Written by TR Dergisi

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There is more than one opinion regarding the name and identity of Gagauz Turks descending from Oghuz Turks who adopted Orthodoxy. Opinions suggested on the etymology of the name Gagauz can be lis-ted as follows: Gaga Uz “A clan of Uz”, Hak Oghuz “Oguz loyal to Lord/ Justice” Kaka Uz, Aga Uğuz,

“Great Oghuz”, Ganga / Kanga Uz “A Turkic people living around Balkhash Lake , Kalauz “border guard”,

Gök Oghuz / KaKara Oghuz, “an Oghuz clan characterized as Gokturk or Karapapak, Kara kal pak”, Kaykaus “the name of Seljuk Sultan Izzeddin Keyka-vus”. All these opinions about the name and identity of Gagauz Turks are from different sources, and pose different explanations.


The formation of Gagauz identity is interpreted as a mineral ore consisting of three laminating layers. The oldest layer is Khun, Bulgarian, Khazar, Kipchak, Oghuz and Pecheneg Turks who migrated from north of Black Sea to the Balkans. A significant number of them adopted Christianity, and settled in Anatolia and the Balkans. The second layer consists of Muslim Turks who migrated to the Balkans with Kaykaus and Sarı Saltuk during Seljuk period and adopted Chris-tianity under influence of political and social condi-tions that later emerged. The third layer is the Ch-ristian Turks living in Anatolia and the Balkans, who integrated with other populations under Ottoman rule and shaped the current Gagauz ethnic identity.


Christian Turks who concentrated in the Balkans th-roughout these historical developments, established a state named Uzi province in Dobruja in 1365. This state became a part of Ottoman lands in 1393 during the period of Bayezid I (Yıldırım). Ottoman State paid close attention to Turkish-speaking Christians. They were even exempt from taxation for a while. The Gagauz, who lived with Muslim Turks for a long time under Ottoman rule, were torn between the Bulgarian, Greek and Russian churches after the Ottoman dominance in the Balkans weakened.

The Gagauz began to migrate from North-eastern Bulgaria into Bucak region, both because of the developments that occurred and unrest emerged due to resistance movements. They initially established Çadır and Orak villages in 1770. Following the Bucharest Treaty in 1812, the Gagauz settled in Bucak, and established Dezgince, Kazayak, Baurçi, Tartar-Kipchak, Valkanesh in those years; later Beşalma, Bolboka, Taşpunar in 1814; Kiriet, Yeniköy in 1818; Avdarma, Caltay, Tomay in 1820; Satılık-Ha-dji (Aleksandrovka), Dimitrovka in 1821; Başköy and Bolgarlika in 1830, and rapidly expanded the settle-ment areas.

The examination of population records show that 1600 Gagauz families settled in Bucak between years 1765-1812. Gagauz who arrived with Bulgarian and Moldovan immigrants and ranged in 63 villages, were registered as Bulgarian, Serb, Moldovan or Greek in line with population density of the region they were located in. İn 1818, the Gagauz were registered on Trans-Danube immigration lists issued by Russians with their own names and surnames.

Gagauz who lived in peace for some time under Rus-sian rule, rebelled against Russianization policies of Tsardom in Comrat on January 6th, 1906. Between 1917 and 1920, another attempt was made following Romanıa’s occupation of Basarabia. However neit-her yielded a result, and due to these events, some Gagauz people were forced to migrate to Northern Caucasus, Torgay region of Kazakhstan and near Uzbekistans Tashkent city. İn 1940s, the Gagauz re-mained in a tight situation when the Russian annexed Moldova once more, and they remained one of the Turkish minorities in the Soviet Union until the 1990s.


When Moldova declared its independence on June 23rd, 1990 as the Soviet Union entered the disin-tegration process, the Russians demanded autonomy of the Dniester in northern Moldova on January 28, 1990. On the south, the Gagauz declared their independence on August 19th, 1990 and founded a state with Comrat as capital. This led to indignation among the Moldovans, and Moldova committed acts of for-ce in the Gagauz region. At the end of negotiations initiated by Russia and Turkey, the autonomy of Gagauz Land (formally known as the Autonomous Terri-torial Unit of Gagauzia) was accepted on December 23rd, 1994 with article 113 included in the Moldovan Constitution. According to this, the Gagauz are en-titled to introduce laws in culture, education, emp-loyment, housing, local budgets, finance areas which do not contradict Moldovan constitution. Moreover, the authority to operate all resources under and abo-ve ground of Gagauz Land is granted to Gagauz Land Society.

In 1940s, the Gagauz remained in a tight situation when the Russian annexed Moldova once more, and they remained one of the Turkish minorities in the Soviet Union until the 1990s.

The referendum held on March 5th, 1995 determi-ned the settlements to join Gagauz Land. According to this, Gagauz Land comprises of 30 settlements including Çadır, Comrat (capital), Valkanesh cities, and Alekseevka, Avdarma, Başköy, Baurçu, Beşal-ma, Beşgöz, Bucak, Caltay, Çeşmeköy, Çokmey-dan, Dezginci, Duduleşti, Ferapontevka, Gaydar, Kazayak, Kipchak, Kırbaali, Kırlannar, Kiriet, Kongaz, Kongazcık, Kotovko, Köseli Rus, Taşlık, Tomay, Tülüköy and Yeni Tülüköy villages. The area of Gagauz Land is 1,800 square kilometres and has a population of 170 thousand. According to the 1989 census, 153 thousand of 197 thousand of 164 Gagauz Turks living in CIS countries, are located in Moldova, and cons-titute 3.5 percent of country’s population. 134 thou-sand Gagauz in Moldova live in Gagauz Land and constitute nearly 80 percent of regions population.

The remaining Gagauz Land population is distribu-ted as follows: 11,800 Russians, 8,300 Moldovans, 7,800 Bulgarians, 7,800 Ukrainians. Outside Ga-gauz Land, 12 thousand Gagauz, most civil servants, students and intellectuals live in Moldova’s capital Chisinau. As of today, the total population of Gaga-uz in Commonwealth of Independent State countries is 220 thousand, and the population of the Gagauz living in Gagauz Land is 170 thousand.

* Erciyes University Department of Turkish Language and Literature

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