On our drive south from Chisinau, we see a Soviet-style monument marking the border with the Gagauzia region. We are on our way to Comrat, the capital of this autonomous region of Moldova. When you start reading about Gagauzia, it doesn't take long before you realise you want to see this curiosity. It starts with the fact that no one knows for sure where the Gagauz people originate. There are no less than 21 theories, none of them conclusive. Facts are, they speak a language similar to Turkish, they are Orthodox, and have a strong sense of autonomy. They declared independence in 1991, but eventually the Moldovan government gave them a high level of autonomy, thus keeping Gagauzia within the Moldovan state. However, the region is oriented towards Russia. The independence issue might flare up when Moldova applies for EU membership: a large majority of Gagauz people would then prefer independence, according to a referendum in 2014.
We park our car on the main street, walk back and come across a small monument in memory of the Afghanistan war. We then notice that the entrance of the Regional History Museum of Gagauzia is right next to it: we hadn't noticed it because of the scaffolding. We pay our entrance fee, and one of the ladies follows us on our walk through the museum. She leads the way, often pointing out objects and documents on display. Unfortunately, we don't have any language in common. Moreover, all the signs are either in Russian or Gagauzian (a Turkic language). Our visit is therefore reduced to seeing a wide variety of items on display, often without a full understanding of what we see. Yet, we love the museum. The walls of the rooms and corridors are full of documents, traditional dresses, pictures and many other items, while the rooms have objects like old pottery, uniforms, musical instruments, a Turkish flag, agricultural tools, and many more items.
We see exhibits about the Afghanistan War, about the Second World War, but also about local agriculture, music and customs. We even come across a corner with pictures of the governor of Gagauzia, Irina Vlah. We see her meeting up dignitaries, among which Vladimir Putin - it reminds us of her closeness to Russia. When the woman accompanying us looks at her governor, we see a smile on her face, and she gives us a thumbs up while pointing at the lady. Oh, how we wish we could read the captions for all the items and documents we see, just to make some more sense of it all! We could spend hours more here, in this quirky museum, if only we would be able to understand more of what we are seeing. On our way down, we take another staircase, and then, we don't need any caption at all. We see a buste of Lenin, stashed away on a dead-end of the stairway, in between another buste and more items for which there is no more room in the exhibition halls of this museum.
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