Gagauzy [гагаузи]. An ethnic group native to southern Bessarabia, which now constitutes parts of Odesa oblast in Ukraine and various regions of the Republic of Moldova. Origins of the Gagauzy are uncertain. Their ancestors were either Turkic Oghuz or Cumans who settled in Dobrudja in the Middle Ages, or perhaps Bulgarians who were forcibly Turkified from the 14th century onward. Although they speak Turkic, they are Orthodox, not Moslem, and are culturally close to Bulgarians, with whom they migrated to Bessarabia in the first half of the 19th century during the Russo-Turkish wars. A part of the Gagauzy resettled in the 1860s from Bessarabia to the vicinity of Berdiansk on the Sea of Azov coast, and in 1908–14 to Central Asia. In 1970, 156,600 Gagauzy lived in the USSR, 26,400 of them in the Ukrainian SSR and 125,000 in the Moldavian SSR. In 1979, 173,200 Gagauzy lived in the USSR. The majority were rural (82 percent in Ukraine in 1970) and have retained Gagauz as their mother tongue (89 percent in 1979). Today approximately 31,000 Gagauzy reside in Ukraine.
[This article was updated in 2014.]