Bessarabia and its history

24 iunie 2010
Bessarabia (Romanian: Basarabia; Ukrainian: Бесарабія, Bulgarian: Бесарабия, Besarabiya; Russian: Бессарабия; Bessarabiya Besarabiya; Turkish: Besarabya; German: Bessarabien; Yiddish: בעסאַראַביע) is a historical term for the geographic entity in Eastern Europe bounded by the Dniester River on the east and the Prut River on the west. This was the name by which Imperial Russia designated the eastern part of the Principality of Moldavia, ceded by the Ottoman Empire (to which Moldavia was a vassal) to Russia at the Peace of Bucharest in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812. The remaining western part of Moldavia united with Wallachia in 1859 in what would become the Kingdom of Romania. (For a short period between 1856 and 1878, two of the nine traditional counties of Bessarabia were also part of Moldavia and then Romania.)
In 1918, slightly before the end of World War I, Bessarabia declared its independence from Russia as the Moldavian Democratic Republic, and after three months united with the Kingdom of Romania. In 1940, Bessarabia was occupied by the USSR. Romania, at the time one of the Axis Powers, recaptured it between 1941 and 1944. In 1947, the Soviet border set along the Prut River was internationally recognised by the Paris Treaty that ended World War II. The core part of Bessarabia was reorganised by the Soviets as the Moldavian SSR, to which parts of the previous Moldavian ASSR (Transnistria) were added. At the same time, smaller parts of Bessarabia, in the south (two traditional counties; Budjak) and north (half of one county), were transferred to the Ukrainian SSR. During the process of dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Moldavian SSR declared itself sovereign (23 June 1990), was renamed the Republic of Moldova, and on 27 August, 1991, the latter declared independence from the USSR. The areas allotted to the Ukrainian SSR in 1940 are part of newly independent Ukraine since 1991, while the area roughly corresponding to Transnistria became the self-proclaimed Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic and is not controlled by the government of Moldova.
The region is bounded by the Dniester River to the north and east, the Prut to the west and the lower River Danube and the Black Sea to the south. It has approximately 17,600 sq mi (45,600 km²). The area is mostly hilly plains with flat steppes. It is very fertile for agriculture, and it also has some lignite deposits and stone quarries. People living in the area grow sugar beets, sunflowers, wheat, maize, tobacco, wine grapes and fruit. They also raise sheep and cattle. Currently, the main industry in the region is agricultural processing.
The region's main cities are Chişinău, the capital of Moldova, Izmail, Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi (historically called Cetatea Albă / Akkerman). Other towns of administrative or historical importance include: Khotyn, Lipcani, Briceni, Soroca, Bălţi, Orhei, Ungheni, Bender/Tighina, Cahul, Reni and Kilia.
The name Bessarabia (Basarabia in Romanian) derives from the Wallachian Basarab dynasty, who allegedly ruled over the southern part of the area in the 14th century. According to Dimitrie Cantemir, the name originally applied only to the part of the territory south of the Upper Trajan Wall, somewhat bigger than current Budjak. The Ottomans were the first to call it "Besarabya", when they established a military presence in the area in 1484 and 1538.
In late 14th century, the newly established Principality of Moldavia encompassed what later became known as Bessarabia. Afterwards, this territory was directly or indirectly, partly or wholly controlled by: the Ottoman Empire (as suzerain of Moldavia, with direct rule only in Budjak and Khotin), Russian Empire, Romania, the USSR. Since 1991, most of the territory forms the core of Moldova, with smaller parts in Ukraine.
Prehistory and antiquity
The territory of Bessarabia has been inhabited by people for thousands of years. Cucuteni-Trypillian culture florished between the 6th and 3rd milleniums BC. The Indo-European culture spread in the region around 2000 BC. In Antiquity the region was inhabited by Thracians, as well as for various shorter periods Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, and Celts, specifically by tribes such as Costoboci, Carpi, Britogali, Tyragetae, and Bastarnae. In the 6th century BC, Greek settlers established the colony of Tyras, along the Black Sea coast and traded with the locals. Also, Celts settled in the southern parts of Bessarabia, their main city being Aliobrix.
The first polity that is believed to have included the whole of Bessarabia was the Dacian polity of Burebista in the 1st century BC. After his death, the polity was divided into smaller pieces, and the central parts were unified in the Dacian kingdom of Decebalus in the 1st century AD. This kingdom was defeated by the Roman Empire in 106. Southern Bessarabia was included in the empire even before that, in 57 A.D., as part of the Roman province Moesia Inferior, but it was secured only when the Dacian Kingdom was defeated in 106. The Romans built defensive earthen walls in Southern Bessarabia (e.g. Lower Trajan Wall) to defend the Scythia Minor province against invasions. Except for the Black Sea shore in the south, Bessarabia remained outside direct Roman control; the myriad of tribes there are called by modern historians Free Dacians. The 2nd to the 5th centuries also saw the development of the Chernyakhov culture.
In 270, the Roman authorities began to withdraw their forces south of the Danube, especially from the Roman Dacia, due to the invading Goths and Carpi. The Goths, a Germanic tribe, poured into the Roman Empire from the lower Dniepr River, through the southern part of Bessarabia (Budjak steppe), which due to its geographic position and characteristics (mainly steppe), was swept by various nomadic tribes for many centuries. In 378, the area was overrun by the Huns.
From the 3rd century until the 11th century, the region was invaded numerous times in turn by different tribes: Goths, Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Slavs (South, i.e. Bulgarian, and Eastern), Magyars, Pechenegs, Cumans and Mongols. The territory of Bessarabia was encompassed in dozens of ephemeral kingdoms which were disbanded when another wave of migrants arrived. Those centuries were characterized by a terrible state of insecurity and mass movement of these tribes. The period was later known as the "Dark Ages" of Europe, or Age of migrations. The Byzantine Empire allegedly maintained partial control of several cities and forts in southern Bessarabia until the 7th century. In particular, the fortress city of Tyras was plundered by the Huns in 375, but was rebuilt by the Byzantines in 545 as Turris. It served as a trading post with Daco-Romans to the north-west, and Antes and Jassic people to the north-east.[citation needed]
In 561, the Avars captured Bessarabia and executed the local ruler Mesamer. Following Avars, Slavs started to arrive in the region and establish settlements. Then, in 582, Onogur Bulgars settled in southeastern Bessarabia and northern Dobruja, from which they moved to Moesia Inferior (allegedly under pressure from the Khazars), and formed the nascent region of Bulgaria. With the rise of the Khazars' state in the east, the invasions began to diminish and it was possible to create larger states. According to some opinions, the southern part of Bessarabia remained under the influence of the First Bulgarian Empire until to the end of the 9th century.
Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the southern part of Bessarabia was inhabited by people from Balkan-Dunabian culture (the culture of the First Bulgarian Empire). Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Bessarabia is mentioned in Slav chronicles as part of Bolohoveni (north) and Brodnici (south) voivodeships, believed by some authors to be Vlach principalities of the early Middle Ages.
The last large scale invasions were those of the Mongols of 1241, 1290, and 1343. Sehr al-Jedid (near Orhei), an important settlement of the Golden Horde, dates from this period. They led to a retreat of a big part of the population to the mountainous areas in Eastern Carpathians and to Transylvania. Especially low became the population east of the Prut River at the time of the Tatar invasions.
In the Late Middle Age, chronicles mention a Tigheci "republic", predating the establishment of the Principality of Moldavia, situated near the modern town of Cahul in the southwest of Bessarabia, preserving its autonomy even during the later Principality even into the 18th century. Genovese merchants rebuilt or established a number of forts along the Dniester (Moncastro, at Tighina, at the Old Orhei, at Soroca/Olhionia) and Danube (including Kyliya/Chilia-Licostomo).
After the 1360s the region was gradually included in the principality of Moldavia, which by 1392 established control over the fortresses of Cetatea Albă and Chilia, its eastern border becoming the River Dniester.

Cetatea Alba (now situated in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine) was one of the many important castles in Bessarabia.
In the latter part of the 14th century, the southern part of the region was for several decades part of Wallachia. The main dynasty of Wallachia was called Basarab, from which the current name of the region originated.
In the 15th century, the entire region was a part of the principality of Moldavia. Stephen the Great ruled between 1457 and 1504, a period of nearly 50 years during which he won 32 battles defending his country against virtually all his neighbours (mainly the Ottomans and the Tatars, but also the Hungarians and the Poles), while losing only two. During this period, after each victory, he raised a monastery or a church close to the battlefield honoring Christianity. Many of these battlefields and churches, as well as old fortresses, are situated in Bessarabia (mainly along the Dniester River).
In 1484, the Turks invaded and captured Chilia and Cetatea Albă (Akkerman in Turkish), and annexed the shoreline southern part of Bessarabia, which was then divided into two sanjaks (districts) of the Ottoman Empire. In 1538, the Ottomans annexed more Bessarabian land in the south as far as Tighina, while the central and northern parts of Bessarabia were already formally a vassal of the Ottoman Empire as part of the principality of Moldavia.
Between 1711 and 1812, the Russian Empire occupied the region five times during its wars against Ottoman and Austrian Empires. Between 1812 and 1846, the Bulgarian and Gagauz population migrated to the Russian Empire via the River Danube, after living many years under oppressive Ottoman rule, and settled in southern Bessarabia. Turkic-speaking tribes of the Nogai horde also inhabited the Budjak Region (in Turkish Bucak) of southern Bessarabia from the 16th to 18th centuries, but were totally driven out prior to 1812.
The population before World War II consisted of Romanians (including Moldovans), Ukrainians (including Ruthenians), Russians, Bulgarians, Gagauz, Germans, and Jews. According to the census data of the Russian Empire, during the 19th century the ethnic Romanians decreased from 86% (1817) to 47.6% (1897).
Russian Census, 1817 (Total: 96,526 families, 482,630 inhabitants):[11]
83,848 Romanian families (86%)
6,000 Ruthenian families (6,5%)
3,826 Jewish families (1,5%)
1,200 Lipovan families (1,5%)
640 Greek families (0,7%)
530 Armenian families (0,6%)
482 Bulgarian and Gagauz families (0,5%)
Russian Census, 1856 (Total: 990,274 inhabitants)[11]
736,000 Romanians (74%)
119,000 Ukrainians (12%)
79,000 Jews (8%)
47,000 Bulgarians and Gagauz (5%)
24,000 Germans (2.4%)
11,000 Gypsies (1.1%)
6,000 Russians (0.6%)
Russian data, 1889 (Total: 1,628,867 inhabitants)
Russian Census, 1897 (Total 1,935,412 inhabitants).[12] By language:
920,919 Moldavians and Romanians (47.6%)
379,698 Ukrainians (19.6%)
228,168 Jews (11.8%)
155,774 Russians (8%)
103,225 Bulgarians (5.3%)
60,026 Germans (3.1%)
55,790 Turks (Gagauzes) (2.9%)

Ethnic map of Bessarabia in 1930

Some scholars, however, believed in regard to the 1897 census that "[...] the census enumerator generally has instructions to count everyone who understands the state language as being of that nationality, no matter what his everyday speech may be.", thus a number of Moldavians (Romanians) might have been registered as Russians.

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