Saturday, July 22, 2017

Gagauzia's Geographic Challenge

Map of Gagauzia AU
Gagauzia is a territory belonging to Moldova which received a special status in 1995, receiving the right to establish its own local institutions and body of representatives. The main aim of this resolution was that of easing the tensions between the Gagauzians, a group made up of speakers of a Turcik language, closely related to Turkish, that practice Orthodox Christianity. The Gagauzian Autonomous Unit displays a series of interesting characteristic, mainly related to its odd shape and border anomalies, along with a few demographic characteristics that set it apart from the other regions of Moldova. This paper aims at analyzing the impact that the geography of the territory has on its current state of economic and social development, and how much can certain geographical features inhibit future development. The analysis will take into consideration various factors, ranging from land forms, border anomalies, agricultural land and infrastructure to aspects that are more deeply correlated to the territory’s demography: ethnic diversity, language use and religious groups. Judging from a purely geographical perspective, Gagauzia is hugely disadvantaged by its discontinuous landmass, which is can represent a huge obstacle when it comes to uniformly implementing development policies, it also creates problems when it comes to transiting between the northern and southern districts. The lack of a seafront, lack of access to the Danube and the lack of any nearby major urban centers or important land routes adds up to general lack of socio-economic development that plagues this region.

Gagauzia can be easily labeled as one of the oddest odd territorial entities that you can find in Europe, this comes not only from the numerous border anomalies that this territory has, but also from an unfortunate combination of geographical factors that greatly impact its development. It is situated in the southern part of Moldova, in what is known as “Regiunea de dezolvatare Sud” (Southern Development Region), bordering the rayons of Cimișlia (north), Leova (north-west), Cantemir (west), Cahul (south-west), Taraclia (south and east), Republic of Ukraine (east) and Basarabeasca (north-east). A rayon is the equivalent of a district, it is an administrative unit that is inherited from the Soviet Union. The core of Gagauzia is made up of the districts of Comrat and Ceadîr-Lunga, which are situated to the north, the third district, Vulcănești, is situated in the south, not very far away from the point in which Moldova reaches its extremely narrow riverside to the Danube through the port of Giurgiulești.

Map of Vulcănești district and the port of Giurgiulești
Most of the unit’s major settlements are situated are situates in the proximity of the Ialpug and Lunga rivers, this being the case of Comrat, the capital, being situated on the right bank of the Ialpug, When the Gagazians and Bulgarians were colonized in the region which constitutes today the southern part of Moldova and the southern half of Ukraine’s Odessa Oblast, all of the settlements were built in the valley of the Ialpug. The Gagauzians which today inhabit much of Gagauzia’s territory today, along with the Bulgarians which make up the ethnic majority in the district of Taraclia, were colonized at the beginning of the XIX century at the initiative of the Russian imperial authorities, in order to populate the lands that were deserted by the Nagoy Tatars. The Gagauzians and Bulgarians were perfect for this job, as both groups were traditionally involved with agriculture and herding, bothactivities being ideal for the low plains of southern Moldova. Most the people that were the early colonists came from Dobrudja, now in Romania, and north-east and central Bulgaria. Their faith is Eastern Orthodox, making them ideal for the newly annexed territories, making their assimilation within the Russian society way easier, than, for say that of the Volga and Pontic Germans.
Going back to our analysis of the territory, besides the two districts that make up the unit’s core (Comrat and Ceadîr-Lunga) and the southern district of Vulcănești, there are other three land masses that are disconnected from the “mainland”, but all of them are assimilated to one of the three districts. Between the “northern core” and the southern district of Vulcănești, we find an insular mass of land which hosts two settlements: Copeac and Chirilovca. This land has an almost perfectly rectangular shape, being bordered by the district of Taraclia to the south, west and north, and by the Republic of Ukraine to the east.

The other two lands that are disconnected from the “mainland” are situated a little bit to the north, one of them is sandwiched between the territories of the districts of Taraclia and Cahul, and the last one is situated on the western bank of the Taraclia lake and it hosts the village of Sarmuza.

Ceadîr-Lunga district and the Ukrainian border. 
There is a slight difference when it comes down the physical features of the “northern core” and that of district of Vulcănești, the north tends to be a little hillier with more prominent river valleys, being
The territory of the district of Vulcănești is flatter, having a south-oriented sloap that gradually decreases in altitude towards the banks of the Danude. Budjak, or what we know today as the southern half of the Odessa Oblast, that streches from the Dnister lagoon to the Danube Delta, is generally characterized by a vegetation made up of small and grassy plants, the climate is to a certain extent more similar to what we find in Dobrudja (Romania) – hot summer that are frequently subjected to drought, short transitional seasons, harsh winters. Gagauzia is situated at the point in which Moldova’s typical continental climate transitions to  a climate that is still continental but is more prone to aridity and significant temperature imbalances. Compared to the rest of Moldova’s territory, Gagauzia, along with the other districts that make up the southern region, receive the biggest quantity of sunlight, the highest percent is scored by the Danubian port of Giurgiulești, which is also Moldova’s southernmost point. This constitutes a huge advantage for the long-term development of agriculture in the region.

The territory of Gagauzia is also drained by the waters or rivers like Salcia Mică, Salcia Mare and Kagul, the last one traverses the territory of the district of Vulcănești from north to south, discharging in the Cahul Lake.  The autonomous unit has access to two lakes – Taraclia (shared with the district of Taraclia) and Cahul (shared with Ukraine), there is no lake which has its entire surface on the territory of Gagauzia.


Border anomalies
The fact that the territory of Gagauzia is so fragmented poses a huge obstacle when it comes to the efficiency of the territory’s success when it comes to self-governing, but also when it comes to implementing development policies in a balanced and fair manner throughout the entire unit. An advantage is constituted by the fact that both the northern core and the southern territory share a relative similar physical terrain which makes the needs of the people from both sides relatively similar but the key factors that could generate local development differ to a certain degree on the north-south axis.
Vulcănești district is advantaged by its proximity to the Danubian port of Giurgiulești (Moldova) and Galați (Romania). Galați can act in the future as a major engine for the development of southern Moldova and Gagauzia as it can supply this microregion with goods and services that can be in the price range of its consumers, taking in consideration that the people from this region live way below the poverty line, a supplier of cheap goods and services is welcomed. Also, Galați can satisfy the Romanian market anymore due to the regulations and high standards that are put in place through EU laws and international regulations. On the other hand, Galați cannot import a very important element – good practices, as the city is ranked very poorly when it comes to administrative efficiency. This comes as a big problem for a relatively poor region, a well developed and highly productive urban center can accelerate rapid development in the region. The disadvantage is that the southern district is situated too far away from any influential urban center – regardless if it is from Moldova, Ukraine or Romania. The Danube also acts as a natural border, making the access to Romania more difficult, thus greatly inhibiting commercial and cultural exchanges between the two sides.
The northern core deals with a similar problem, its internal lack of well developed urban centers, that is topped with the big distance between the unit’s territory and other major urban centers from Moldova or Ukraine, the closest major urban settlement being Tighina.
Gagauzia’s border anomalies also pose a big issue when it comes to the development of infrastructure, this simply comes as a direct consequence of the fact that the roads and railroads that transit Gagauzia from the north to the south do not equal a full segment on its territory. As an effect, roads need to pass through a few other districts in order to connect various settlements of Gagauzia. Giving the small size of the unit, it would be hard to develop an exclusively internal network of roads and railroads, but the border anomalies cause problems when it comes to perfecting the quality of the roads as a means to accelerate economic development. It is almost useless if the roads from the northern districts are in a good shape if the ones from the south are in a deep state of decay. Also, it is also useless if the national roads are in a good shape on the territories of the Gagauzian districts and are in a terrible shape in nearby Taraclia and Cahul districts, this has the potential of inhibit the overall development potential of the region,

Territory size and urban centers
The small size of the autonomous unit can represent a huge advantage, this can surprise some people. If we take a look at the world’s richest nations, we are looking mainly at micro-states. The tinnier, the easier is to govern a territory. Also, the small size can be a big disadvantage when it comes to overcrowding, but this is not the case of Gagauzia, as the population here has a tendency to shrink rather than growing at an alarming pace. The small size of the region can represent an advantage when shipping good from one place to the other, this is also coupled with the relatively flat terrain which makes transportation and the building of roads relative easy.
The territory of Gagauzia never hosted any significant urban centers, especially ones that would incorporate heavy industry. Comrat, the capital, and Ceadîr-Lunga, were centers for the “light industry” or small industry, hosting industrial activities that were at a little scale, did not necessitate the construction of working-class neighborhoods, employed a smaller number of workers than the heavy industry. Also, the urban landscape of the cities from here make their development into modern urban centers very difficult, this mainly stands from the fact that they have a very poor infrastructure, a badly design network of streets, lack of downtown spaces for new commercial and business centers and a lack of plumbing.

The lack of a seaside. The lack of access to the Danube
Even though the territory is not extremely far away from the Black Sea coast, it was not blessed with a seafront, this represents a huge obstacle in the way of its development. Also, it does not even have access to the tiny Danube riverfront, which is situated on the territory of Cahul district and is served by the port of Giurgiulești. Waterways can make a huge difference in economic development, especially commerce.
Not even the internal rivers that flow through Gagauzia don’t discharge into the Danube, but in the fluvial lagoons. Even so, their small depth makes navigation impossible.

Traditionally a borderland

If we take a look at the territory which constitutes modern-day Gagauzia, we will notice that it was a borderland for most of its history, when it was part of the Principality of Moldova, Romania or the Russian Empire. This had a huge impact on the overall development of the region, as empires tend to invest less in the infrastructure of border provinces as they are subjected to raids and invasions more often. Also, cultural institutions are always weaker here or nonexistent in many cases. 

Gagauzia's geographic challenge is that balancing out development across its fragmented territory and finding vital links, and engaging in productive collaborations with both the Romanian and Russian-speaking neighboring districts, so that is can facilitate its access to the needed key-strategic development points. 

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