Moldovans - History and Cultural Relations

The Bessarabian area, like the rest of Romania originally occupied by the Indo-European Dacians, was colonized by Greeks as early as the seventh century B.C. Trajan occupied the area in 102-104 and made it a Roman province; the Latin-speaking Roman colonists formed the core population that prevailed despite seizure by the Goths (250-270) and invasions and conquests by Huns, Avars, and Magyars. During these centuries Slavs also entered the region; from the ninth to the eleventh centuries it was part of Kievan Russia. Bessarabia was conquered by the Mongols in 1242 (under Batu during his eastward retreat). It contributed to Moldavia's emancipation from Hungarian suzerainty in 1359, but accepted the rule of the Polish king Wladislaw I Jagiello in 1387; a rivalry between Poland and Lithuania over Bessarabia ensued. Subjected to frequent raids by the Tatars of Crimea and Buzhak and attacks by the Ottoman Turks, the principality of Moldavia (which had been formed in 1367) finally accepted peace in 1479, but was again conquered by the Turks and Crimean Tatars in 1513. Many attempts to shake off the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire were mounted with the active assistance of Poland, Hungary, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, and czarist Russia. Some rulers of Moldavia and their families fled to escape Turkish persecution and took up residence in Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, and Transylvania. The principality of Moldavia (including Bessarabia and Bukovina) at this time extended between the Carpathian Mountains and the Dniester River and from Poland to the Danubian Delta and the Black Sea. Bessarabia was occupied by Russia during the First Turkish War (1768-1774) and, after another war (1806-1812), obtained from Turkey by the Treaty of Bucharest. Romania gained the southern part (Belgorod, Kagul, Izmail) from Turkey after the Crimean War by means of the the Treaty of Paris (1856) but, after yet another war, this region was restored to Russia at the Congress of Berlin (1878), following the San Stefano Treaty. Moldavian and Bessarabian volunteers often served in the Russian army during its wars with Ottoman Turkey.

Under Russian rule the Moldavian boyars were integrated into the Russian nobility and regained their ancestral estates that had been lost to the Turks, and some of them played important roles in the politics of the empire: one, who had been elected to the imperial Duma, became involved in the assassination of Rasputin and was also one of the founders of the Russian radical nationalist movement known as the Black Hundreds, which organized the pogroms in Kishinyov; another founded the nationalist radical party known as the Iron Guard. Thus, Moldavians were often conspicuous in the extreme right during the czarist period.

During the civil war and the subsequent struggles many Moldavians, including Moldavian Jews, were active in the Marxist and Communist movements. The anti-Soviet "Council of the Country" in Kishinyov, on the other hand, decided in 1918 to unite the Moldavian Democratic Republic (essentially Bessarabia) with the Kingdom of Romania. In response, the Soviet Union created the Moldavian Autonomous Republic (1924-1940) in a strip of border area along the east bank of the Dniester, with Tiraspol as its capital. On 26 June 1940 the Soviet Union, capitalizing on its agreement with Nazi Germany, sent an ultimatum to the royal government of Romania and obtained Bessarabia and part of Bukovina-Hertza; the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was instituted and hundreds of thousands of Romanian Moldavians died or were deported to Siberia and elsewhere. But in 1941 these territories and also Transnistria (between the Dniester and Bug rivers) were reincorporated into the Romanian kingdom and as such became actively allied with Nazi Germany; many ethnic groups (e.g., Jews, Gypsies, German Mennonites) were almost eliminated and many thousands of Romanian Moldavians perished on the eastern front. The Red Army reconquered all of the Moldavian territories in question in 1944. Wholesale liquidation (execution and deportation) of right-wing and fascist elements followed, especially at the hand of the special branch of the NKVD known as "Smersh" (death to spies).

Under the peace treaty signed in Paris in 1947 Moldavia was again fragmented. Transnistria and Bukovina-Hertz were joined to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and only a few strips of territory along the Dniester were included in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The former capital, Jassy, and the adjacent territory from the Prut River to the Carpathian Mountains remained with the Romanian Republic. Quite a few Moldavian patriots who opposed this were silently removed (at times all the way to Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk), and some skilled technicians and engineers were sent deep into the USSR to improve industrial production.

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