Sunday, February 3, 2019

Shift from Cyrillic to Latin Script Affected Azerbaijanis’ Sense of Who They Are, Inandzh Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 2 – It is often argued that the script in which people write their language does not affect how those who use it see themselves, but Gulnara Inandzh, the head of Baku’s Ethnoglobus Center, says the shift from Cyrillic to Latin script had a profound impact on the identities of Azerbaijanis.

            “Azerbaijan,” she writes, “shifted from Cyrillic to Latin script immediately after the declaration of independence. The transition process in those years took place spontaneously and was connected with heightened national feeling and the slogans of unity with the Turkic world” (азербайджан-был-первооткрывателем-на-пути-к-переходу-с-кириллицы-на-латинскую-графику).

                It also led the Azerbaijanis to give up any Soviet “consciousness,” although it has not prevented a certain nostalgia for the past, Inandzh says.  Russian language and culture receded in importance at least in comparison with Turkish.  The downside was that it provoked separatism in the northern and southern regions of Azerbaijan.

            Turkishness was the dominant theme of the first years of independence, but “with the coming to power of Heydar Aliyev,” the Constitution specified that the state language was Azerbaijani and citizenship was Azerbaijani, not Turkish and Turkish. It took approximately ten years to make the transition in the script used in school textbooks.

            Today, Inandzh says, “all the problems are behind” Azerbaijan. And there are even computer programs which “automatically translate texts in Azerbaijani from Cyrillic to Latin script.”  Not only has the shift increased interest in Turkish but it has also increased the number of Azerbaijanis studying and learning Western languages.

            At the same time, Azerbaijanis can study Russian as a foreign language and there are Russian sectors in middle and higher schools and the media. “There are not even any obstacles to scholarly work at the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences being conducted in Russia,” the close observer of ethnic developments in that country says.

            Thus, what some countries in Central Asia are going through now, Azerbaijan has already experienced and passed through. But because Azerbaijan moved so quickly and on a popular basis to Latin script, there is no possibility of a return to the Cyrillic at any point in the future.

            “Had there been a more liberal policy relative to the Latin script in the 1990s,” Inandzh says, “we might up to now still be deciding whether to use or not use the Latin script.”

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