Thursday, June 22, 2017

Moscow’s Call for Cyrillic in CIS Countries Outrages Armenians and Undermines Russian and Russia in Former Soviet Space

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 –Russian education minister Olga Vasiliyeva’s call for all CIS countries to use the Cyrillic alphabet ( has sparked outrage in Armenia, which has its own ancient script and further undermined the position of Russian and Russia there and elsewhere.

             Regnum journalist IIrina Dzhobenadze summarizes the almost universally negative comments Armenian parliamentarians and activists gave to the Armenian-language journal Aravot and then discusses the way in which Moscow’s overreach on the alphabet is proving counter-productive in the former Soviet space (

            Armenian parliamentarian Naira Zograbyan called Vasiliyeva’s proposal “completely absurd,” noting that she could respond by suggesting that the CIS countries go over to the Armenian alphabet. Her colleague Khosrov Arutyunyan sad that Armenia would never change its alphabet because it is “our greatest achievement and no one can take it from us.”

            Vardan Bostandzhyan, chairman of the Armenian parliament’s education and culture commission, said that Vasilyeva’s suggestion casts doubts on her psychological well-being because her notion represents “a trampling on the national identities” of others. The Armenian alphabet will live as long as there are Armenians, he said.

            Another Armenian, Armen Ovanisyan, a member of the We are Against Opening Foreign Language Schools movement, adopted a more charitable view: he said that he didn’t think Vasilyeva’s words were directed against Armenia but rather against Kazakhstan which is now in the process of shifting away from Cyrillic to a Latin script.

            But at the same time, he declared that her idea was “a manifestation of extreme chauvinism and of imperialist strivings toward neighboring peoples.” Ovanisyan said he was worried that Moscow will now demand that all CIS countries make Russian an official language, something few of them are inclined to do.

            The anger Vasiliyeva’s words sparked in Armenia has been so great that the republic’s education ministry has been forced to “swear” that no proposals from Moscow about shifting to Cyrillic have reached Yerevan and none are expected or will be accepted.

            Incautious language by Russian officials, Regnum’s Dzhobenadze says, have energized those in Armenian society who want the Russian base at Gumri closed and who complain about Russia’s purchases of key infrastructure in Armenia and Moscow’s efforts to block Armenian contacts with Europe.

            Pro-Moscow commentators in Yerevan and elsewhere say that it would be a good thing if everyone in the non-Russian republics would learn Russian (as well as English and their own native languages) but even they acknowledge that talk about doing away with the ancient scripts of Armenia and Georgia is counterproductive and generates anti-Russian attitudes.

            The Regnum author adds that while it is entirely understandable that Moscow should seek to preserve Russian “where it is still alive,” Moscow should recognize that pushing for the use of Russian or the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet is quite capable of “inflicting the greatest damage on that language which ever fewer people are speaking.”

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