Learn more about Bessarabia
Bessarabia or Bessarabiya (Basarabia in Romanian, Besarabya in Turkish, Бесарабія in Ukrainian) 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 Russia in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812. The remaining Moldavia united with Wallachia in 1859 in what would become the Kingdom of Romania. In 1918, Bessarabia declared its independence from Russia and at the end of World War I, it united with the Kingdom of Romania. USSR annexed Bessarabia in the beginning of World War II (see Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and again at the end of World War II, and reorganised it as Moldavian SSR, by adding the Moldavian ASSR and transferring its southern and northern parts to Ukrainian SSR. In 1991 the Moldavian SSR declared independence from USSR as Republic of Moldova.
In the administrative system of the Russian Empire Bessarabia was a region of Eastern Europe comprising most of current-day Moldova and additional districts that are now in Ukraine. It was bounded by the Dniester river to the north and east, the Prut to the west and the lower Danube river and the Black Sea to the south. It had approximately 17,600 sq mi (45,600 km²). The area has 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 fruits. They also raise sheep and cattle. Currently, the main industry in the region is agricultural processing.
The region's main cities are Chişinău (Russian name Kishinev), the capital of Moldova, Izmail, Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi (historically Cetatea Albă and Akkerman). Other towns of administrative or historical importance include: Hotin, Lipcani, Briceni, Soroca, Bălţi, Orhei, Ungheni, Tighina (historical name Bender), Cahul, Reni and Kilia (historical name Chilia).
The name Bessarabia (Basarabia in Romanian) derives from the Wallachian family of Basarab, who once ruled over the southern part of the area. The name originally applied only to the southern part of the territory, which corresponds in size to the modern day Budjak. The Turks were the first to call it "Besarabya", which they began doing when they gained control of the area in 1484.
From the 15th to the 20th centuries, the region passed in part or whole under the control of: Moldavia, the Ottoman Empire (only the Budjak region), Russia, Romania, the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Moldova.
 Ancient times
The territory of Bessarabia was inhabited by people for thousands of years. The Indo-European invasion occurred around the year 2000 BC. The original inhabitants were Cimmerians, and after them came Scythians. The people who settled in this area would later become the Dacians/Getae, Thyrsagetae these being Thracian tribes. In the 7th century BC, Greek settlers established colonies in the region, mostly 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 state that included the whole of Bessarabia was the Dacian kingdom of Burebista, a contemporary of Julius Caesar, in the 1st century BC. After his death, the state was divided into smaller pieces and was only unified in the Dacian kingdom of Decebalus in the 1st century AD. Although this kingdom was defeated by the Roman Empire in 106, Bessarabia was never part of it and the Free Dacians resisted the Roman conquerors. The Romans built defensive earthen walls in Southern Bessarabia to defend the Scythia Minor province against invasions.
The Roman Empire romanized parts of Dacia (via colonization and cultural influence) and some of the local tribes adopted the Latin language and customs. According to the theory of the Daco-Roman continuity the Latin culture and the Romance language (Romanian) would later spread to encompass the cultural area of the ancient Dacians, including the region of Bessarabia. Some historians deny this and the continuity of Latin-speaking people north of the Danube. For more, see Origin of Romanians.
In 270, the Roman authorities began to withdraw their forces from Dacia, due to the invading Goths and Carps. The Goths, a Germanic tribe, poured into the Roman Empire through the southern part of Bessarabia (Budjak), which due to its geographic position and characteristic (mainly steppe), was sweped by various nomadic tribes. From the 5th century it was overrun by the Huns, the Avars, the Bulgars. The Roman (East Roman) influence did not die out until 567.
 The Age of migrations
From the 3rd century until the 11th century, the region was frequently invaded by Goths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, Magyars, Pechenegs, Cumans and Mongols. The territory of Bessarabia was encompased in dozens of ephemeral kingdoms which were disbanded when another wave of migrants came. Those centuries were characterized by a terrible state of insecurity and mass movement of people. The period was later known as the "Dark Ages" of Europe.
In 561, the Avars captured Bessarabia and executed the local ruler Mesamer. Then, in 582, Kuturgur Hun Bulgars settled in southern Bessarabia and northern Dobruja, from which they moved to Moesia under pressure from the Magyars and formed the nascent region of Bulgaria. By the 6th Century, Slavs started to come to the region and establish settlements. These peoples came mostly as small, strong armies of mounted warriors, and did not leave notable traces. In the 7th century, followed the Bessians, a Thracian tribe.
With the rise of the Khazars' state in the east, the invasions began to diminish and it was possible to create larger states. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Bessarabia was part of the Bolohoveni (north) and Brodnici (south) voevodates, which were Vlach (Romanian) early middle-age formations. A specific group, which did not retreat to mountain regions at the time of the Tatar invasions, was called in some late middle-age chronicles the Tigheci "republic". It was situated near the modern town of Cahul in the southwest of Bessarabia.
The last great scale invasions were those of the Mongols and Tartars of 1241, 1290 and 1343, a small group of whom settled around the present day town of Orhei until they were pushed out in the 1390s.
 Principality of Moldavia
After the 1343 and the defeat of Mongols, the region was 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 Dnister (Nistru in Romanian).
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 Walachia 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. Ştefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) ruled between 1457 and 1504, a period of nearly 50 years during which he won 32 battles defending his country against the Ottomans and Tatars, 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, churches, as well as old fortresses are situated in Bessarabia.
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, as part of the principality of Moldavia was formally a vassal of the Ottoman Empire.
Between 1711 and 1812, the Russian Empire occupied the region five times during wars between Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Austria. Between 1820 and 1846, the Gagauz tribes migrated to the Russian Empire via the Danube, after living many oppressive years under Ottoman rule, and settled in southern Bessarabia. Turkic-speaking tribes of the Nogai Horde also inhabited the Budjak Region of southern Bessarabia from the 16th to 18th centuries, but were totally driven out prior to 1812.
 Annexation by the Russian Empire
By the Treaty of Bucharest of May 28, 1812 — concluding the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812 — the Ottoman Empire ceded the Eastern half of the Principality of Moldavia to the Russian Empire. That region was then called Bessarabia. Prior to this year, the name was used only for approximately its southern one quarter, which as stated before was already under direct Ottoman control ever since 1484.
The Romanian War of Independence was fought in 1877-1878, with the help of the Russian Empire as an ally. Although the treaty of alliance between Romania and the Russian Empire specified that the Russian Empire would respect the territorial integrity of Romania and not claim any part of Romania at the end of the war , by the Treaty of Berlin, the Southern part of Bessarabia was again annexed by Russia.
Incited by the authorities, the Kishinev pogrom took place in Bessarabia on April 6, 1903. It was the first state-inspired action against Jews in the 20th century; 47 or 49 Jews were killed, 92 severely wounded and 700 houses destroyed.
After the Russian Revolution, a Romanian nationalist movement started to develop in Bessarabia. In the chaos brought by the Russian revolution of October 1917, a National Council (Sfatul Ţării) was established in Bessarabia, with 120 members elected from Bessarabia and 10 elected from Transnistria (the left bank of the Dniester River, inhabited by ethnic Moldavians/Romanians).
On January 14, 1918, during the disorderly retreat of two Russian divisions from the Romanian front, Chişinău was sacked. The Rumcherod Committee (Central Executive Committee of Soviet (council)s of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors Deputies of Romanian Front, Black Sea Fleet and Odessa Region) proclaimed itself the supreme power in Bessarabia. The Sfatul Ţării, unable to call up any armed forces, called upon the Romanian government for help. On 16 January a Romanian division cleared Chişinău, and the following day Tighina on the shore of the river Dnister. The three-day Soviet rule in Bessarabia ended.
On April 9, 1918 (old style March 27, 1918): the Bessarabian legislature (Sfatul Ţării) voted in favor of unification with Romania with 86 votes in favor, 3 against and 36 abstentions. The union was confirmed by Romania's Western allies in the Treaty of Paris (1920).
 Part of Romania
On May 11, 1919, the Bessarabian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed as an autonomous part of Russian SFSR, but was abolished by the military forces of Poland and France in September 1919 (see Polish-Soviet War). After the victory of Bolshevist Russia in Russian Civil War, the Ukrainian SSR was created in 1922, and in 1924, a strip of Ukrainian land on the left bank of the Dniester River was declared to be the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the union with Romania was officially recognized by the United States, France, the United Kingdom and other Western countries. Soviet Russia (and later, USSR) did not accept the union.
 World War II
On June 26, 1940, as a consequence of the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the USSR issued an ultimatum note that required Romania to cede Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, and evacuate in four days (otherwise war would ensue). The two provinces had an area of 20,000 square miles (51,000 km²) and they were inhabited by about 3.75 million people, mostly Romanians. Two days later, the Romanian administration started to retreat from the provinces. During the retreat some local Communists, mainly Jews and Ukrainians, began attacking the retreating forces and the remaining Romanians.<ref>Goma, Paul (2006). Săptămâna Roşie.</ref><ref>Nagy-Talavera, Nicolas M. (1970). Green Shirts and Others: a History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania.</ref> The retreat took from June 28 to July 3, Romanian Army was attacked both by civilian Communists and by the Soviet Army who entered Bessarabia before Romanian administration finished the retreat. Romanian Army casualties during those seven days were 356 officers and 42,876 soldiers dead or disappeared.<ref>Goma, Paul (2006). Săptămâna Roşie.</ref> After Soviet troops entered Bessarabia and incorporated it into the USSR, Bessarabia was divided between the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Ukrainian SSR. Bessarabia's northern and southern districts (largely inhabited by Romanians and some Ukrainians and Germans) were exchanged with parts of Transnistria (the districts on the left or eastern bank of the Dniestr, largely inhabited today by Ukrainians and Russians). Following the Soviet takeover, many Bessarabians were executed or deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan.
The Germans of Bessarabia were offered resettlement to Germany, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in September 1940. Fearing Soviet oppression, almost all Germans (93,000) agreed. Most of them, among them the parents of the current German President Horst Köhler were resettled to the newly annexed Polish territories. Those who did not leave were often slaughtered while fleeing west in their wagons from the Red Army.
On June 22nd 1941 the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union commenced with Operation Barbarossa, accompanied by Romanian troops. The Soviets employed the scorched earth tactic during their forced retreat from Bessarabia and transported all movable goods to Russia by railway. At the end of July, after a year of Soviet occupation, the region was once again under Romanian control.
Even as the military operation was still in progress, Romanian troops with participation of the local populace started pogroms against Jews of Bessarabia, resulting in thousands dead. One apparent cause for the hatred towards Jews was created by blaming them with siding with the Soviets, whom they regarded as liberators during 1940, because of Hitler's anti-Semitic eradication policy. At the same time the notorious SS Einsatzgruppen (Einsatzgruppen-D in this case) was committing executions of Jews under the pretext that they were spies, saboteurs, communists. The political solution of the "Jewish Question" was apparently seen by the Romanian dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu more in expulsion rather than extermination. The Jewish population (ca. 200.000) was initially moved to ghettos or concentration camps, in order to be deported 1941/42 in death marches into the Romania-occupied Transnistria, which, unlike Greater Romania, was partially controlled by the SS. After three years of relative peace, the German-Soviet front returned 1944 to the land border on the Dniester. On August 20 1944 the ca. 900,000 men strong Red Army began a major summer offensive codenamed Operation Iassy-Kishinev. The Soviets overran Bessarabia in a two-pronged offensive within five days. In pocket battles at Chişinău and Sarata the German 6th Army of ca. 650.000, newly reformed after the Battle of Stalingrad, was obliterated. Simultaneously with the success of the Russian attack, Romania broke the military alliance with Hitler and switched fronts. On August 23 1944 the marshal Ion Antonescu was deposed and King Michael I reinstated in power.
 Part of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union reannexed the region in 1944 and the Soviet military occupied Romania until 1958 and imposed a communist government in Bucharest by 1947, which was friendly and obedient towards Moscow. The Romanian communist regime did not raise the matter of Bessarabia and Bukovina (which was also occupied by the Soviet Union) in its diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
Between 1969 and 1971, a clandestine National Patriotic Front was established by several young intellectuals in Chişinău, totalling over 100 members, vowing to fight for the establishment of a Moldavian Democratic Republic, its scision from the Soviet Union and union with Romania.
In December 1971, following an informative note from Ion Stănescu, the President of the Council of State Security of the Romanian Socialist Republic, to Yuri Andropov, the chief of KGB, three of the leaders of the National Patriotic Front, Alexandru Usatiuc-Bulgar, Gheorghe Ghimpu and Valeriu Graur, as well as a forth person, Alexandru Soltoianu, the leader of a similar clandestine movement in northern Bukovina (Bucovina), were arrested and later sentenced to long prison terms.
 Rise of the Independent Moldova
With the weakening of the Soviet Union, on February 1988, the first non-sanctioned demonstrations were held in Chişinău. At first pro-Perestroika, they soon turned anti-government and demanded official status for the Moldavian (Romanian) language instead of the Russian language.
On August 31, 1989, following a 600,000-strong demonstration in Chişinău four days earlier, Moldavian (Romanian) became the official language of Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. This was not implemented for many years.
In 1990, the first free elections were held for the Parliament, with the opposition Frontul Popular (People's Front) all but winning them. A government led by Mircea Druc, one of the leaders of Frontul Popular, was formed. The Moldavian SSR becomes SSR Moldova, and later the Republic of Moldova.
- 1970: 69% of Bessarabia's population were Romanians and 98% of them declared Moldovan language (Romanian language) as their native language.
- 1989: There were 88,419 Bessarabian Bulgarians according to official data from Republic of Moldova
- 1992: 4,305 immigrants to Israel from the Republic of Moldova constituted 7.1 percent of all the immigrants to Israel from the former U.S.S.R. in this year.
- 2004: There were 65,072 Bessarabian Bulgarians according to the census not including Bulgarians in Transnistria.
Russian Census 1817, (total 482,000 inhabitants)
- 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%)
- 241 Bulgarian families (0,25%)
- 241 Gagauz families (0,25%)
Russian Census 1856, (total 990,000 inhabitants)
- 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 Census 1897, (total 1,935,412 inhabitants)
- 1.092.000 Romanians (56%)
- 373.000 Russians and Ukrainians (18,9%)
- 229.000 Jews (11,7%)
- 259.000 Other (13,4%) - Germans, Bulgarians, Gagauz, etc.
Romanians Census 1930, (total 2,800,000 inhabitants)
- 57 % Romanians
- 12 % Russians
- 11 % Ukrainians
- 7 % Jews
- 6 % Bulgarians
- 3 % Germans
- 1 % Other(Gagauz, Roma, Greeks, Armenians)
- 1911: There were 165 loan societies, 117 savings Banks, forty three professional savings and loan societies, and eight Zemstvo loan offices; all these had total assets of about 10,000,000 rubles. There were also eighty nine government savings banks, with deposits of about 9,000,000 rubles.
- 1918: Railway mileage was only 657 miles, the main lines converged on Russia and were broad gauge. Rolling stock and right of way were in bad shape. There were about 400 locomotives, with only about one hundred fit for use. There were 290 passenger coaches and thirty three more out for repair. Finally, out of 4530 freight cars and 187 tank cars, only 1389 and 103 were usable. The Romanians reduced the gauge to a standard 4ft 8-1/2in, so that cars could be run to the rest of Europe. Also, there were only a few inefficient bridges of boats. Romanian highway engineers decided to build ten bridges: Cuzlău, Ţuţora, Lipcani, Şerpeniţa, Ştefăneşti-Brănişte, Cahul-Oancea, Bădărăi-Moara Domnească, Sărata, Bumbala-Leova, Badragi and Fălciu (Fălciu is a locality in Romania. Its correspondent in Bessarabia is Cantemir). Of these, only four were ever finished: Cuzlău, Fălciu, Lipcani and Sărata.
 See also
- History of Moldova
- History of Moldavia
- Odessa Oblast
- Chernivtsi Oblast
- History of the Jews in Bessarabia
- Bessarabian Bulgarians
- Moldavian wine
 External links
- Charles Upson Clark. 1927. "Bessarabia: Russia and Roumania on the Black Sea". (An electronic version of the book).
- Bessarabia Germans from Russia Web Site
- Camps, Ghettos and Massacre sites in Romania-Bessarabia 1941-1942
- Jews in Bessarabia on the eve of WWII
- Massacres, deportations & death marches from Bessarabia, from July 1941
- Scholtoi - a village in the North of Bessarabia
- Hannowka - a German village in Bessarabia 1896-1940 (website in German)