When Russia annexed Crimea by severing it from Ukraine, the word was that Moldova was next and a similar scenario would be played out there as well. This speculation was based on reports that the Transdniester region and, especially, the Gagauzia Autonomous Republic want to separate from the central government and even declare their independence.
At the moment, there is no open indication of such a development. But if the government of Moldova in the capital, Chisinau, concludes negotiations with the EU and signs a partnership agreement with it, the Gagauzia Autonomous Republic leadership, which vehemently objects to it, will declare independence. This would mean a division of Moldova and the Gagauzia region would become even closer to Russia.
Why are the Gagauz adopting such a position? Why, and counting on what, are they risking to split off from Moldova? The Turkish public knows the Gagauz as Turks. But we don’t really know what their situation is and what it is they want.
They are Orthodox Christians. Ethnically, they are Turks. There are Turkish-speaking people. They have big affection for Turkey.
Gagauz won a wide autonomy after Moldova broke off from the USSR and became independent in 1994. The president, Mihail Formuzal, who has been leading the Gagauzia Autonomous Republic for 7½ years, is also a member of the central government.
We had a chance to talk with him yesterday [June 2] at a dinner given in his honor in Istanbul by the Marmara Foundation. We asked about their points of contention with the Moldovan central government and why they were seriously thinking of independence. He replied:
"In fact, we want to stay within Moldova’s borders with our current autonomous status. But the central government has adopted a course that could divide the country. They want Moldova to join NATO and the EU. We and the people of Transdniester are against it. If Moldova signs a partnership agreement with EU and implements it, our economy will collapse. Our population is 160,000. Of this, 33,000 work abroad, 25,000 of them in Russia. The wine we make and our agricultural products are all sold to Russia. We cannot sell them to the EU. If Russia stops supporting us, we will be ruined. This is why, should the Moldovan government reach an agreement with EU, we will secede and declare our independence."
According to Formuzal, in a referendum held in February, a vast majority of Gagauz approved the independence option, but no action has been taken toward it. That will come if Chisinau makes a deal with the EU. Russia will definitely recognize their independence. Formuzal said he is in close contact with many countries on this issue, from Azerbaijan to Belarus.
We asked the Gagauzian leader his expectations from Turkey. His biggest wish is the lifting of the visa restrictions. (Some 2,000-3,000 Gagauz work in Turkey.) Another expectation is Ankara’s political support. As he said: "When we are in trouble, we want to hear the voice of Turkey."