Monday, November 7, 2016

Fight over Kazakhstan or Qazaqstan (in English Transliteration) Heating Up

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – Few nations are obsessed about how the name of their country is spelled or even what it is when transcribed in another language, but the post-Soviet states and especially the Turkic ones are exceptions because the transliterated name points either to their orientation toward Moscow or to a new direction beyond the borders of the former USSR.

            In a commentary on the Fergana News portal, journalist Anatoly Ivanov-Vaiskopf says that Kazakhs are arguing again about this issue, with “one part of the population thinking that it should be Qazaqstan and another equally certain there is no reason to reject the name Kazakhstan” (

                The fight over the letter Q as the debate is known began in July 2004 after Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with former head of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaymiyev and said that Kazakhstan must shift the Kazakh language from a Cyrillic-based script to a Latin one like those used in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

            Those backing this idea argued and argue that a knowledge of the Latin script makes learning English and using the Internet easier and that it will assist Astana in maintaining contact with the large Kazakh diaspora, which now exists in 48 countries around the world. Opponents then and now pointed to certain problems with the sounds of Kazakh and also to the expense of making any change.

            However, after a few months, the debate over making the shift to Latin script petered out, and nothing more was heard of it until recently. But one thing did keep the idea alive: Many were upset that foreign governments wanted Astana to use Kazakhstan as the name of the country rather than Kazakstan as the nation had decided in 1991.

            That issue appeared to have been resolved in 2009 when Kazakhstan begin to use biometric passports. But the “q” question continued to appear in the names of banks and companies even though it did not rise to the level of a debate over government policy, the Fergana journalist says.

            “New passions about the issue of the Latin letter ‘Q’ broke out at the end of October 2016 when the largest bank of the country decided to rename itself …under the name Qazkom and devoted a great deal of money to advertise its new name.”  And that prompted politicians to get into the act.
            On November 2, the chairman of the upper house of the Kazakhstan parliament Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev indicated that he favored the use of the “Q” spelling for the name of the country in English transliteration.  Others quickly came out in support, but almost as many have said there is no reason to make the change now, especially given economic problems and costs.

            It is unclear, the journalist says, whether the issue will be resolved soon or pushed off again; but it seems certain that now that a major bank has taken this step, others will follow and the momentum first to change the transliteration of the name of the country and then to change alphabets more generally is about to take off.

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