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Bessarabia

BESSARABIA

The region of Bessarabia lies between the Prut and Dniester Rivers and constitutes the rump of what is today the Republic of Moldavia. Although the historical region of Bessarabia stretched to the coast of the Black Sea, southeastern Bessarabia is presently incorporated in Ukraine.

The region formed part of the broader Principality of Moldavia, which first emerged as a distinct area of rule in the fourteenth century. This territory was brought into the Ottoman sphere of influence in 1538, following conquests led by Süleyman the Magnificent. The region was allowed a measure of self-government until 1711, when Constantinople appointed Greek-speaking phanariots to govern the region more directly.

The first clear, political separation between Bessarabia and western Moldavia (now incorporated into Romania) came with the Russian occupation of Bessarabia in 1806. This move precipitated a six-year war, after which the victorious Russian Tsar Alexander I was able to formally annex the land between the Prut and Dniester Rivers from the Ottoman Empire.

After a short period of relative autonomy from Moscow, Bessarabia underwent a process of Russification, and the use of the Romanian language was barred from official use. The 1871 shift in Bessarabia's status from that of imperial oblast to Russian rayon saw further restrictions on cultural and political autonomy in the region.

Due to significant immigration following the annexation of 1812, Bessarabia had become culturally cosmopolitan by the end of the nineteenth century. However, the region was an economic backwater; literacy remained very low and, despite the presence of some small-scale industry in the region's capitalChis¸inauthe area remained largely agricultural.

The collapse of tsarist rule during World War I enabled elites drawn from the Bessarabian military to act on growing nationalist sentiments by declaring full autonomy for the region in November 1917. Romanian forces capitalized further on the confused state of rule in Bessarabia and moved in to occupy the territories lost to Russia in 1812. A vote by the newly formed Bessarabian National Council saw the region formally unite with Romania on March 27, 1918.

During the interwar period, Bessarabia formed the eastern flank of Greater Romania. This period was characterized by an acceleration of public works, which combined with agricultural reform to stabilize the region's economy. However, the significant minority populations (Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Turks) suffered under Romanian rule and were denied basic cultural rights, such as education in their native tongues.

The clandestine carve-up of Europe planned under the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939 implied that Germany had no interest in Bessarabia. This afforded the Soviet Union an opportunity to retake the region. In June 1940 the Soviet government issued an ultimatum to Romanian King Carol II, demanding that Bessarabia and northern Bukovina be brought under Soviet control. Although Carol II acquiesced in this demand, Romania's alliance with Germany during World War II saw the land return to Romanian hands. Control was again returned to the Soviet Union following the collapse of the Axis. The six counties of Bessarabia were then merged with the Transnistrian region, east of the Dniester, to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Although Bessarabia dominated Soviet Moldavia geographically and demographically, communist elites from the Transnistrian region enjoyed the majority of political weight in the republic, due to their membership in the Soviet community since 1917 and the presence of a significant pro-Russian, Slavic minority. With Soviet industrial development concentrated in Transnistria, a growing socioeconomic divide emerged between this region and Bessarabia.

The collapse of Soviet rule and declaration of Moldavian independence in 1991 was followed shortly thereafter by a declaration of Transnistrian independence from the Republic of Moldavia. Although unrecognized, Transnistria remains tacitly independent in the early twenty-first century, leaving Bessarabia as the sole region under the control of the government of the Republic of Moldavia.

See also: moldova and moldovans; ukraine and ukrainians

bibliography

King, Charles. (2000). The Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

John Gledhill

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Bessarabia

Bessarabia (bĕsərā´bēə), historic region, c.17,600 sq mi (45,600 sq km), largely in Moldova and Ukraine. It is bounded by the Dniester River on the north and east, the Prut on the west, and the Danube and the Black Sea on the south. Consisting mainly of a hilly plain with flat steppes, it is an extremely fertile agricultural area, especially for wine grapes, fruits, corn, wheat, tobacco, sugar beets, and sunflowers. Dairy cattle and sheep raising are also important. Agricultural processing is the chief industry. There are some stone quarries and lignite deposits. Bessarabia's leading cities are Chişinău and Tiraspol in Moldova and Izmayil and Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyy in Ukraine. The population consists of Moldovans (about two thirds), Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, and Bulgarians. As the gateway from Russia into the Danube valley, Bessarabia has been an invasion route from Asia to Europe. Greek colonies were planted on the Black Sea coast of Bessarabia as early as the 7th cent. BC The region was later part of Roman Dacia, but after the 4th cent. AD it was subject to incursions by Goths, Huns, Avars, and Magyars. Slavs first settled in Bessarabia in the 7th cent. in the midst of these incursions. From the 9th to the 11th cent., the area was part of Kievan Rus, and in the 12th cent. it belonged to the duchy of Halych-Volhynia. Cumans and later Mongols overran Bessarabia; after the latter withdrew it was included (1367) in the newly established principality of Moldavia. The region probably derives its name from the Walachian princely family of Bassarab, which once ruled S Bessarabia. In 1513 the Turks and their vassals, the khans of the Crimean Tatars, conquered Bessarabia. After the Russo-Turkish wars, the region was ceded to Russia by the Treaty of Bucharest (1812). The Crimean War resulted (1856) in Russia's cession of S Bessarabia to Moldavia; but the Congress of Berlin (1878) returned the district to Russia. After the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) the anti-Soviet national council of Bessarabia proclaimed the region an autonomous republic; however, in 1918, Bessarabia renounced all ties with Soviet Russia and declared itself an independent Moldovan republic, later voting for union with Romania. Although the Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union, Russia never accepted it. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia to the USSR; the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed Bessarabia as part of the USSR. The larger part of the region was merged with the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to form the Moldavian SSR (now Moldova); the southern and northern sections, with a predominantly Ukrainian-speaking population, were incorporated into Ukraine.

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"Bessarabia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 29 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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