Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Making Russian an Official Language in Qarabagh Less Radical than It Appears

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – Last week, several deputies in the Armenian-controlled portion of Qarabagh proposed making Russian an official language there because of the presence of Russian peacekeepers, but discussions with them shows this means less than meets the eye and with others that it has less than universal support even among Armenians.

            When the proposal was made, some felt that making Russian a second official language would promote the integration of the remaining portion of Qarabagh under Armenian control into Russia by linking the population more closely to the Russian peacekeeping contingent there (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/02/unrecognized-armenian-regime-in.html).

            Those concerns persist, but interviews by the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency both with the advocates of this step and with others in Stepanakert suggest that those pushing for the idea have no such sweeping goal and that others in the region are less supportive of the change than Moscow might hope (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/360044/).

            The deputies behind the proposal point out that “In the Constitution of the Artsakh Republic, the state language is literary Armenian. In our proposal, this remains unchanged.” What it does allow for is the use of Russian “only in the case of need,” as when a Russian speaker applies to officials who will then be free to respond in Russian. Absent such a need, only Armenian will be used.

            Another of the co-authors of the plan insists that “no one intends to make Armenian and Russian equal in status” in the republic. Armenia will remain “the only official and state language.” Russia thus would become “a second official but not a state language” at least for the time while Russian peacekeepers are present.

            Moreover, the authors say, the adoption of their proposal will not lead to an increase in the number of hours pupils study Russian in Armenian-language schools or an increase in the number of schools in which Russian is the language of instruction. At present, there is only one such school, in Stepanakert.

            Some Artsakh officials believe that the proposed change would lead to a strengthening of ties with the Armenian community in the Russian Federation, but others, like Labor Minister Mane Tandilyan oppose it, saying that people should use the languages of their interlocutors but need not formalize this in law.

            “I speak Russian with Russians and English with citizens of other countries,” he says; and I would like to know other languages as well.” There is no need to make Russian an official language to allow for that.

            What is worth noting, Kavkaz-Uzel says, is that some of those calling for Russian to be official don’t know that language while others who oppose it speak it fluently. One group that is especially interested in seeing Russian be given official status includes Armenians who have moved from other parts of Azerbaijan to Qarabagh.

            Many of them do not know Armenian but do know Russian. That has created problems for them, but they acknowledge that their children, who are going to Armenian-language schools in the region, know Armenian and can function perfectly well in that language. One says that these young people retain Russian only so they can speak with their parents.

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