Historical overview

The Gagauz are Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians who are culturally and physiognomically akin to the other peoples found in the Balkans. The first historical references locate them in the northeastern Balkans, on the territory of Dobruja, mainly in the area between the towns of Varna, Constantsa, Kavarna and Silistra.

In this same area in ancient times up until the first centuries AD, according to the references of ancient Greek and Roman chroniclers and geographers (Herodotus, Strabo, Pliny, Ovid, Ptolemy etc.), there lived an indigenous Balkan Thracian tribe named the Kattauzi (or Krovuzi). Both peoples have common characteristics, which, paradoxically, have been ignored. Firstly, there is the similarity of their ethnonym, a fact which can be considered as evidence of a common ancestry of these two peoples. Secondly, they have both been associated with the same area for hundreds of years, despite the frequent raids and movements of tribes and peoples. Thus, it is possible to assume that the Gagauz are a continuation of the ancient Thracian tribe of Kattauzi (or Krovuzi).

Moreover, the three major administrative and political changes that took place on their territory, the Roman, the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires, do not seem to have essentially affected their continuous presence there. They remained, adapting each time to the new political and economic conditions. This was due mainly to the structure of their society, which was primarily agricultural. Along with this, their sustained loyalty to their leaders and military commanders played an important role, as they consisted the main corps of the troops who guarded the broader region.

An important fact was also their early Christianization, during the apostolic period, and their sustained faithfulness to the Greek-Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the Byzantine period, they remained loyal to each successive Byzantine emperor and Patriarch of Constantinople, being under direct ecclesiastical and civil administration from the Patriarchate and the imperial court, which appointed their leaders. In the difficult Ottoman years, living among a compact Turkish Muslim population, which settled at this time in their territory, they managed to preserve their Orthodox Christian faith but their spoken idiom became very similar to the Turkish language. An important reason for this linguistic shift was their isolation from the Christian population centers and their pragmatic need to survive, living as a small minority among a compact mass of Turkish Muslims.

From the beginning of the Ottoman conquest until the 19th century the Gagauz were actively involved in the local self-government of the Greek-Orthodox communities of the northeastern Balkans and thus they suffered persecution, from both the Ottoman Empire and later the emerging Bulgarian state. Due to the frequent Russian-Turkish wars, they were forced to move to safer territories, such as Bessarabia, where the majority migrated during the first decades of the 19th century. A smaller portion fled southwards to Eastern Thrace and in particular to villages near the town of Adrianople (Edirne), where they lived until 1923. A similarly small number remained in their ancestral lands, in Dobruja, where they still live today. Finally, it should be mentioned that there is another smaller group of Gagauz, which has a historical presence in the Greek Macedonia, in the area around the town of Nea Zichni, where they continue to live until the present time.

The presence of the Gagauz in Eastern Thrace

Until 1923 the Gagauz lived in Eastern Thrace in 26 villages, mainly in the area east of the river Evros (Maritsa, Merich) and north of the river Erginis (Ergene), between the towns of Adrianople (Edirne), Saranda Ekklisies (Kirklareli), Artiskos (Babaeski) and Makra Gefira (Uzunkiopru). The only significant difference between the Gagauz and the rest of the Greek-Orthodox population of Thrace was their peculiar idiom, which, although similar to the Turkish language, has many words of Greek origin.

In 1923, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the definitive establishment of the Greek-Turkish border, the western part of Thrace remained within the boundaries of Greece, while the eastern part, including the above mentioned 26 villages of the Gagauz, was ceded to the then newly created Turkish Republic. Immediately after, when the population exchange between Greece and Turkey took place in accord with the Peace Treaty of Lausanne, the Gagauz of Eastern Thrace, having Greek national consciousness, was included in the Greek population that the Turkish side considered exchangeable, and thus they moved to Greece. They settled mainly in Western Thrace, near the Greek-Turkish border, and their lost homeland.

The Gagauz of the suburb Ano Inoi of the town Nea Orestiada

One of the 26 lost villages of the Gagauz in Eastern Thrace was named Sharaplar, also called Sherbettar or Krasochori. After the exchange of population in 1923, arriving in Greece, the Gagauz refugees of the village of Sharaplar settled in the outskirts of the town of Nea Orestiada, where they founded the new village of Inoi. Soon the village was divided into two settlements, Kato (lower) Inoi and Ano (upper) Inoi, which now constitutes two out of the seven adjacent suburbs of the town of Nea Orestiada. The name Inoi is the ancient Greek version for the names Sharaplar and Krasochori, the old names of the village the Gagauz refugees had left behind, which mean “wine village”.

The town of Nea Orestiada was also founded at 1923, by Gagauz and other Greek refugees from Eastern Thrace. The town is located in the northeastern edge of the prefecture of Evros in Western Thrace, in the valley and not far from the bed of the homonymous river, and is the administrative and economic center of one of the most important plains in Greece. It is a growing town, and together with its seven suburbs has a total population of about 20,000 people, a large proportion of whom are Gagauz.

The Folkloric & Cultural Society “Krasochori”

In 1991, the Gagauz of the settlement of Ano Inoi created the Folkloric & Cultural Society “Krasochori”, which was named after and in memory of their old village in Eastern Thrace. The activities of the society are multifarious and pertain mainly to the protection, promotion and propagation of the rich cultural heritage of Ano Inoi, presenting the customs, the mores and the musical and dancing traditions of the Gagauz. The society has dance groups for children and adults that participate in various festivals, dancing and singing folk dances and songs of Ano Inoi, dressed in authentic Thracian Gagauz folk costumes.

The society has established annually, on 27th of August on the occasion of the feast of the chapel of Saint Fanourios in Ano Inoi, cultural events dedicated to the village Sharaplar (Krasochori), the unforgettable motherland of the Gagauz in Eastern Thrace. It also organizes annual cultural events during the feast of the central church of Ano Inoi, which is dedicated to Saint Demetrius.

The aims of the society includes efforts to mobilize the inhabitants of Ano Inoi to work for the culture, the welfare and the protection of the natural environment of their community, as well as for the collection and the promotion of its rich folklore. In this context, the society invites those who embrace the same vision, to support these efforts to ensure a better future for the generations to follow.

Address : Cultural center of Aghios Phanourios Ano Inoi .P.O 68200 Nea Orestiada , Greece