In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Bessarabia is Number 51 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. At the time this study was written, Bessarabia (in present-day Moldova and Ukraine) was part of the Russian Empire. The historical section of the study traces the centuries of rivalry between the Russian and Turkish Empires for control of the territory, which finally passed to Russia in the 19th century. It notes the great ethnic and linguistic diversity of the province, whose population included Romanians, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Germans, Bulgarians, Gagauz (a Turkic people), Poles, Greeks, Gypsies (Roma), Albanians, and Armenians. A table, based on the 1897 Russian census, gives the numbers and percentages of the main groups by district. The economic section stresses the agricultural character of the province, noting that “Bessarabia is one of the most fertile provinces of Russia, the surface consisting to a very great extent of black soil.” Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Bessarabia declared its independence from Russia and voted to join Romania. Russia never recognized the union with Romania, however, and in 1940 the Soviet government pressured Romania to cede Bessarabia and the northern portion of Bukovina to the Soviet Union, which controlled the territory until the breakup of the Soviet state in 1991.

Last updated: July 21, 2014