Gagauzia is an autonomous region of Moldova since 1994. It is inhabited by about 160,000 people, the majority of them ethnic Gagauz.
Gagauz people are part of an ethnic group which once lived in Ottoman Bulgaria. After converting from Islam to Orthodox Christianity, they migrated to the Southern Bessarabia region of the Russian Empire during the nineteenth century, currently Southern Moldova. They speak a Turkic language which shares many similarities with modern Turkish. Russian is a lingua franca in the region, especially amongst the younger generations, since teaching in public schools is mostly conducted in Russian.
A sense of pride for Gagauzia's unique culture and language is strong though, especially in the villages. Because of the recent steps taken by the Moldovan central government towards closer ties with the European Union, people in Gagauzia, traditionally Russophile, have often expressed their political disagreement.
In February 2014, local authorities held a referendum, deemed illegal by Chisinau, asking about the possibility of integrating Gagauzia to the Customs Union, the common economic space project sponsored by the Russian Federation. Voters declared en masse their favourable opinion to the idea. At the November 2014 Moldovan general elections, locals voted again in large numbers for parties, such as the Socialists, favouring a kinder approach towards Russia.
Despite this, Gagauzia remains a peaceful rural area, where inhabitants experience similar conditions to the rest of Moldova: poor economic growth and a massive migration rate.