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Bessarabia or Bessarabiya (Basarabia in Romanian, Besarabya in Turkish) was the name used by Russia to designate the eastern part of the territory known as Moldova (Moldavia in English), which was occupied by Russia in 1812. Bessarabia united with Romania in 1918 at the end of World War I.



Bessarabia was in the Russian Empire administrative system a region of Central 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, corn, 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 (Kisinev in Russian), the capital of Moldova, Ismail (Izmayil or Izmail in Russian), Tiraspol, Cetatea Alba (Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi in Ukrainian, Belgorod-Dnestrovsky in Russian). Other towns of administrative or historical importance include: Hotin, Lipcani (Lipkany in Russian), Briceni, Soroca (Soroki in Russian), Balti, Orhei, Ungheni , Tighina (Bender in Turkish, Bendery in Russian),Cahul, Reni and Chilia .


The name Bessarabia (Basarabia in Romanian) probably derives from the Wallachian family of Basarab, once rulers over the southern part of the area. The name originally applied only to the southern part of the territory.

From the 15th to the 20th centuries, the region passed successively to: Moldavia, the Ottoman Empire (the Budjak region), Russia, Romania, the Soviet Union, and 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 people who settled in this area would later become the Dacians, a Thracian tribe. In the 7th century BC, Greek settlers established colonies in the region, mostly along the Black Sea coast and traded with the locals.

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 conquerers. 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 the local people adopted the Latin language and customs. 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.

In 270, the Roman authorities began to withdraw their forces from Dacia, due to the invading Goths and Carps, but left behind the Romanians, who were primarily shepherds and farmers and lived mainly in the areas inaccesible to the mounted warriors (mountains, forests). The Roman influence did not die out until 567.

The Age of the 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 Dobrogea, 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. It is noteworthy that most of these peoples had small, but well organized and efficient armies of mounted warriors and did not leave notable traces after they were driven out by the following invasion.

After the invasions began to diminish, 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 Tatars 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. Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) ruled between 1457 and 1504, a period of nearly 50 years during which he won 32 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 sancaks (districts) of the Ottoman Empire. In 1538. Bessarabia, as part of the principality of Moldavia was formally a vassal of the Ottoman Empire.

Between 1711 and 1812, Russia occupied the region five times during wars between Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Austria. Between 1820 and 1846, the Gagauz tribes migrated to Russia 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.

Russian occupation

By the Treaty of Bucharest of May 28, 1812 Russia annexed the Eastern half of the Principality of Moldavia. That region was then called Bessarabia. Prior to this year, the name was used only for approximately its southern one quarter.

In 1814, the First German settlers arrive and mainly settled in the southern parts.

At the end of the Crimean War, in 1856, by the Treaty of Paris, two districts of southern Bessarabia were returned to Moldova, Russia lost access to the Danube river. Many localities, including Chişinău (Kishinev in Russian), now fell in the border area.

In 1859, Moldavia and Wallachia united as the Kingdom of Romania in 1866, including the Southern part of Bessarabia.

The Romanian War of Independence was fought in 1877-1878, with the help of the Russian allies. Although the treaty of alliance between Romania and Russia specified that Russia 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 in February, 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 shore of the river Dnister, inhabited by ethnic Moldavians/Romanians).

On January 14, 1918, during the unorderly retreat of two Russian divisions from the Romanian front, Chişinău is sacked, tens (by some sources hundreds) of people are killed or raped. The Front Committee of "Rumcherod" (Central Executive Committee of Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors Deputations of Romanian Front, Black Sea Navy and Odessa Region) proclaimed itself the supreme power in Bessarabia. The Sfatul Ţării, unable to call up any armed forces, calls upon the Romanian government for help. On 16 January a Romanian division clears Chişinău, and the following day Tighina on the shore of the river Dnister. The three-day Soviet power in Bessarabia ends.

Ten days later, on January 24, 1918, Sfatul Ţării declared Bessarabia's independence as the Moldavian Democratic Republic.

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

A Provisional Workers' & Peasants' Government of Bessarabia was founded on May 5, 1919, in exile at Odessa, by the Bolsheviks.

On May 11, 1919, the Bessarabian Socialist Soviet Republic was proclaimed at Tiraspol as an autonomous part of Russian S.F.S.R., but was abolished by the White Russian military forces, in September 1919. However, after the victory of the Communists, in 1924, a strip of Ukrainian land on the left bank of the Dnister river was declared as the "Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic " by the Ukrainian SSR.

At the Paris Peace Conference of 1920, the union with Romania was officially recognized by the United States, France, the United Kingdom and other Western countries. The USSR did not accept the union.

World War II

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed on August 23, 1939. By Article 4 of the secret Annex to the Treaty, Bessarabia fell within the Soviet interest zone.

On June 26, 1940, The USSR demanded that Romania cede Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, and evacuate in four days. The Romanian government complied. The two ceded 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, on June 28, 1940, as a consequence of the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Romania ceded the region to the Soviet Union. Soviet troops entered Bessarabia and incorporated it into the USSR, which divided it 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 Moldavians/Romanians were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan.

On August 2, 1940, a Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was established on the teritorries not given to Ukrainian SSR.

The Germans of Bessarabia are offered resettlement to Germany, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in September 1940. Fearing Soviet oppression, almost all Germans (93,000) agree. Most of them, among them the parents of the current German President Horst Köhler are resettled to the newly annexed Polish territories.

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 Scialist 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 are held in Chişinău. At first pro-Perestroika, they soon turn anti-government, and demand an official status for the Moldavian (Romanian) language instead of the Russian language.

On August 31, 1989, following a 600,000-strong demonstration in Chisinau 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.

The Republic of Moldova became independent in 1991 and its boundaries (those established on August 2, 1940) remained unchanged.

In 2004, the Romanians in the Republic of Moldova belonging to the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia, having resisted Russification for 192 years (after the annexation of Bessarabia by the Czarist Empire in 1812), are 2 million strong in 2004.


The population before World War II consisted of Moldavians(Romanians), Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Germans, Gagauz, Ruthenians and Jews. Over two-thirds of the population were Moldavians/Romanians.

  • 1889:1,628,867.
  • 1897:1,936,392.
  • 1970: 69% of Moldavia's population were Romanians and 98% of them declared Moldavian (Romanian) as their native language.
  • 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.


  • 1911: There were 165 loan societies, 117 savings Banks, 43 professional savings and loan societies, and 8 Zemstvo loan offices; all these had total assets of about 10,000,000 rubles. There were also 89 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 100 fit for use. There were 290 passenger coaches and 33 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 10 bridges: Cuzlau , Tzutzora , Lipcani, Sherpenitza , Shtefaneshti-Branishte , Cahul-Oancea , Badarai-Moara Domneasea , Sarata , Bumbala-Leova , Badragi and Falciu (Falciu is an locality from Romania. The corespondent in Basarabia is Cantemir). Of these, only four were finished: Cuzlau, Falciu, Lipcani and Sarata.

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