Staunton, Nov. 7 – Moscow has repeatedly used the Turkic Gagauz nation against the Moldovan government, but it is growing increasingly concerned that Turkey is stealing a march on it especially among the small but active Muslim minority among the predominantly Russian Orthodox nation.
Until recently, the Russian authorities viewed the Gagauz as an entirely reliable tool given their religion and the widespread use of Russian among them; but such feelings have begun to change (jamestown.org/program/moscow-worried-about-growing-turkish-influence-among-gagauz/ and jamestown.org/program/moscow-seeks-to-put-gagauz-in-play-against-pro-western-moldovan-president/).
And now a specialist on Turkic peoples, Alim Kakhsutov, has pointed to one of the reasons why Turkey may be gaining the upper hand among the Gagauz – the existence among them of a small but vociferous Muslim minority that feels vastly more in common with Islamic Turkey than with Orthodox Russia (trtrussian.com/mnenie/gagauzy-mezhdu-dvumya-mirami-7086922).
The Gagauz who live in Moldova are overwhelmingly Orthodox in religion, but there are some Muslims among them – the Gagauz converted to Islam en masse and then converted back to Orthodoxy several centuries ago. In addition, there are significant Muslim Gagauz populations.
These call themselves and are called by Turks, the Gacallar. Many of those among whom these people live call them Turks, but the Gacallar consider themselves distinct and closely tied to the Orthodox Gagauz even though the two groups have different religions. That gives Turkey a way in, Kakhsutov suggests.
And this influence is likely to grow because the most expansive estimates of the number of Gagauz other than Gacallars amount to only 250,000 of whom half live in southeastern Moldova, while the number of Muslim Gagauz throughout the larger region numbers perhaps as many as 300,000.
Kakhsutov is one of the first to raise this issue in the Russian media; but he certainly won’t be the last, especially as Ankara expands its efforts to form a Turkic world.