Groans and clacks now ricochet by the lake in the name of progress. Comrat, a town of many ethnicities and varied allegiances, has recently begun constructing a hotel with the financial aid of bosom-friend Turkey. The first Turkish-sponsored project, which halted and stuttered under resistance from pro-Russian factions, was a water purification scheme.1 Comrat’s metal-heavy waters were a late-Soviet era catalyst for health problems, and it wasn’t until 1999 that the program finally got off the ground.2 But the area has since managed support from many donors, and is leveraging well. This April, the town began preparing for the Turkish delegation and the Moldovan diplomats who met to sweep in the future.
Late April, Early May
In late April, a bustle of activity disrupted cracked sidewalks and roadside hollows; broken ceramics and the entrails of old projects filled lost pavement where potholes once overwhelmed.
The projects began approximately a month in advance, then gained pace, and we foreigners pondered the fast work. My French friend pointed out a bus stop, its carapace now standing, protective, where only a skeleton stood long before. It transformed in maybe a day.
One evening, walking through the streets with my Romanian friend, I recalled an image from earlier – it turned out that both of us had been taken by the glimmering halo, a rainbow, refracting from a newly painted crosswalk.
After 9 months in Comrat with little movement, I couldn’t help but marvel – where was the money coming from?
Friday, May 5
The day after the halo, I left my host mother’s house for a quick run to the local lake. On the way back, I looked up into the eyes of a woman in a smooth dark uniform, cobalt hard, walking towards me. Her gaze slithered left, she frumped past. I considered the uniform I hadn’t seen before – maybe she’s from the post office? But then, as I left for the office after a quick shower, another uniformed figure stood at the same corner in the same cobalt. He was a medium thin man with – I kid you not – a perambulator and infant. He stood there and, soft momentum, glided the child’s carriage back and away.
On the way to the office, smooth men in dark suits congregated on the roadside next to their large, waxed black machines. People were hawking Gagauz crafts in front of the House of Culture, and a small band practiced under the shade of a Chestnut.
Later, as I walked back past the square with my partners, we encountered a more solemn affair. People were quieter, engaging in low conversation. The vendors seemed to be having little luck. The entrance to the House of Culture was flanked by two large screens, shimmering with speechmakers – who they were, I only assumed. Connected to the incoming delegation?
I turned to my partner – the night before, I had a conversation with my Romanian friend as we walked home from dinner, and I retold his tale as we brisked past the House of Culture. My friend grew up during the Romanian dictatorship, and recalled a week when the community barreled out in full force to celebrate the visiting despot – even painting the tree fruit to celebrate his arrival, much like Alice painted the roses red.
After work, I asked my host mother about the strangers in suits. Apparently, there was no connection to the Turkish delegation; it was the Gagauz Congress. The uniformed duo on our road was, according to my бабушка, present to keep any cars from passing our way.
Saturday, May 6
I cracked my weeping eyes at about 9:45 and hustled to the Comrat Museum front where my English student had told me he would join the waiting crowd. He spotted me, I think, as I spotted him, and crossed the roadway, traffic-less and blocked at some distant end. He told me that all his peers had assembled – but no directions, yet. Wishing him luck, I continued in search of a good frame.
Another youth spotted me later and explained – all Comrat schools were present for the Prime Minister’s arrival, jiggling their flags as the sun beat. And so we waited.
There was a space of time that has ricocheted back, bending as though the steps of my street-wandering nullified the minutes. And I came to, finally, as a woman – a бабушка who had stopped by my host mother’s house one day, delivering a “Woman’s Day” basket from the local Primeria – shocked me back to awareness. “Девушка, всё хорошо?”
I was sitting on a whitewashed curb caddy-corner to the House of Culture, blocked by knowing police. Ten more minutes, they would say; and then another ten more minutes, they would say…
I chatted with the woman briefly about the event. The Prime Minister had arrived to meet with local officials, and would hold a conference in the House of Culture. She wasn’t sure where the money to fix up the town had come from – certainly not Turkey, she thought. Perhaps it was a latent local coffer, but it was the Primeria’s job, a sign of respect for the incoming diplomats.
And the moment came with a dull whistle – a lit black car, then another, whirred up in front of the Turkish caravan. Pass, pass, then abrupt halt – they began swarming into the streets a block down from the house of culture.
I followed the men who “looked important” (and grit my teeth, damn my neglect, I didn’t research the Prime Minister’s face before attending)… but, there, a man with white hair – captured.
So what’s going on?
The day of the promenade, and the conclusion of the Gagauz Congress, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip and Moldovan President Igor Dodon joined Gagauzian Bashkan Irina Vlah to celebrate a new partnership. The leaders spoke economy, calling for bolstered infrastructure per international support. Turkey plans to continue funding Gagauzian kindergartens as well as local health clinics, and develop industrial parks in Comrat and Ceadir-Lunga.3
«Строительство нового отеля в столице Гагаузии представляет собой новый пример экономических связей между Турцией и Молдовой»
Turkish support will also include an investment of over two million dollars, which will fund Comrat’s newest tourist attraction. “Chateau Komrat” will be a multi-faceted hotel complex, sanatorium included. The project represents both “new economic ties between Turkey and Moldova,” as well as the impetus to spur new tourism to the country.4
Alliances, money, and progress…
1Neukirch, Claus. “National Minorities in the Republic of Moldova – Some Lessons Learned, Some not?” SEER: Journal for Labour and Social Affairs in Eastern Europe (October 1999), pp. 45-63. Published by: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft nmH. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43292082 Accessed: 27-03-2017
“Efforts to attract foreign investment to the region, especially from Turkey, have been made, but the pro-Russian and post-Soviet character of the current leadership has sometimes hindered these efforts. Thus, it took nearly five years until a Turkish-financed 35 million dollar water supply project was finally started in January 1999. Given the chronic lack of drinking water in the dry region, it can be considered as one of the most important development projects currently being carried out in Moldova.” (57-58)
2King, Charles. “The Moldovans: Romania, Russia and the Politics of Culture.” Publisher: Hoover Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2013). Kindle Edition (Amazon Digital Services LLC)
“Water reserves, always problematic in the Bugeac’s arid climate, were normally three to seven times lower than the republican average, and even potable water had extremely high mineral content. By 1990, these problems had led to a serious health crisis: over 50 percent of children in Comrat district had functional health disorders, while 45 percent of final-year pupils in the raion’s schools had serious kidney, respiratory, and digestive ailments.”
3“Премьер-министр Турции на конгрессе: «Мы были, есть и будем рядом с Гагаузией»” (http://gagauzinfo.md/index.php?newsid=32857) 6.05.2017
4“В столице Гагаузии начато строительство отеля Chateu Komrat: турецкие инвестиции составят 2 млн долларов” (http://gagauzinfo.md/index.php?newsid=32860 ) 6.05.2017