Staunton, Sept. 27 – The Ukrainian council of ministers has confirmed the use of the Latin script for Crimean Tatar and directed that it will completely replace the Cyrillic-based alphabet Moscow imposed on that language earlier and continues to insist be used in Russian-occupied Crimea (odnarodyna.org/article/krymskikh-tatar-kalechat-latinicey).
This move will put additional pressure on Ukraine to shift from Cyrillic to Latin script and lead to a further rapprochement between the Crimean Tatars and Turkey, both developments that will anger Moscow which sees the defense of the Cyrillic script as part and parcel of its maintenance of its Russian world.
The Ukrainian-approved shift will affect only Crimean Tatars and their publications on Ukrainian controlled territory. It will not change the use of the Cyrillic script in Russian-occupied Crimea, but undoubtedly many Crimean Tatars there will begin using the Latin script, something that will make Moscow’s absorption of that Ukrainian territory more difficult.
Crimean Tatar leaders in Ukraine like Lenur Islyamov are enthusiastic about the planned change, and Ukrainian officials like reintegration minister Aleksey Reznikov say that the shift will bring the Crimean Tatars into “greater harmony with other Turkic languages which after 1991 shifted to the Latin script or are now doing so.”
And Reznikov adds that Ukrainians who are exposed to the letters of the Latinized Crimean Tatar language “will feel more confident during travels to Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Kazakhstan,” precisely the kind of mission creep that Russian commentators fear even as they seek to dismiss.
Not surprisingly, Russian officials have trotted out Crimean Tatar leaders under Moscow’s control to denounce the move and to say that there is no chance that they will ever make such a shift. That may be true, but when they are replaced by Crimean Tatar leaders who reflect the will of that nation rather than of the Kremlin that will likely change.
For the moment, the Cyrillic alphabet is likely to remain dominant as there are more than 200,000 Crimean Tatars in Russian controlled areas and fewer than 20,000 living in Ukrainian controlled ones. But many of the 200,000 don’t want to be under Russian control, and they may see using the Latin script as an effective protest against their current plight.