Staunton, November 24 – Those of us old enough to remember the battles to stop Americans from referring to Ukraine as “The Ukraine” and from spelling Kyiv as “Kiev” know how important it is for non-Russians in the former Soviet space to have locations in their countries come from their own language rather than via the Russian.
The author of these lines still recalls that at a conference at the University of Illinois in the mid-1980s, he was approached after his presentation and told by an elderly Ukrainian that he was a good friend of Ukraine because he had referred to the man’s homeland 85 times and 84 times had avoided putting “the” in front of it.
Now, with the changes that have arisen from the recent fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the impact of the November 10 joint declaration, Baku has decided to enter the toponymic wars (politobzor.net/225408-v-akademii-nauk-azerbaydzhana-pisat-po-angliyski-nagorno-karabakh-nepravilno-tak-kak-eto-russkaya-transkripciya.html).
Academician Baba Maggeramli, deputy head of the Institute of Linguistics of the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences, says that it is time for English speakers to recognize that it is “incorrect” to use the words “Nagorno-Karabakh” to designate a region in the western portion of his country. They shouldn’t be using a term that comes to them via the Russian.
Instead, the linguistics expert says, they should use the term Azerbaijanis use in the Azerbaijani language and call it either Daghlig Garabagh or perhaps Yukhari Garabagh. Maggeramli says the Azerbaijani council of ministers is already considering a decree making this point, something perhaps especially important now that there are Russian peacekeepers there.
Azerbaijan is hardly limiting itself to this request. It is also restoring the Azerbaijani names for places Armenian forces had occupied and imposed Armenian names on. Thus, along with many other place names in the region, Shusha is again Shusha and not Shushi as the Armenians had it (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83772/posts/46039).
What the Azerbaijanis are asking for a simple show of respect. Habit may make it hard for some to make the changes they call for; but failure to make them like the Russian insistence that Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is Talin with only one l, is the kind of insult that should not be tolerated.
The author of these lines by convention has referred to the disputed territory as Nagorno-Karabakh. Now that Azerbaijani scholars have called that out, he pledges to try to remember that it is in fact Qarabagh – and perhaps with as high a percentage as he achieved by not putting a “the” in front of Ukraine so long ago.