Kazakhstan is in the process of preparing for the transition of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin script, which if kept, would have put into effect a Latin-script alphabet with 32 letters including six characters with French-style accents instead of apostrophes to convey specific sounds.
It is, in essence, the beginning of the third linguistic reform in less than a century. Arabic script had been used on the Kazakh Steppes since the middle of the 8th century, until 1929 when the then-existing Kazakh Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic (Kazakh ASSR) within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR) briefly switched to Latin letters. In 1940, they were replaced by Cyrillic ones. By that time, Kazakhstan had already become a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. In 1936, it was elevated to the status of a Union-level republic, Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. By 1940, the proportion of Kazakhs in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic had shrunk to 37.8 percent, making Kazakhs a minority group in their own country.
From then onwards, Kazakhstan has been using the Cyrillic-based alphabet, which includes 42 characters. Much has changed in the meantime. Three out of five Central Asian countries still have the Cyrillic script; Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan. As to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, they returned to a Latin script as their official written language following independence.
But now apparently we can talk about the start of a new alphabet switchover in Kazakhstan. The linguistic reform initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev led to heated debate before it really got started, both in Kazakhstan and abroad, mainly in the Russian Federation. Some observers in Moscow perceive it as move to weaken the historical ties to Russia.
Rusk.ru, in an article entitled “Россия намерена защищать русский язык в странах СНГ” – “Russia is determined to protect the Russian language in the CIS countries”, said: “One of the main news of the past week in the post-Soviet space was a statement by the head of the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia, Olga Vasilyeva, about her agency’s intention to step up its actions to protect the Russian language in the CIS countries.
Such a reaction on the part of the Russian politicians followed Kazakhstan’s recent statement of intent to change the current Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin.
Previously, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan undertook such action.
In this regard, the head of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation Olga Vasilieva proposed to return to a single writing system in the CIS space, thereby supporting Russian-speaking people living outside Russia.
“Over the past 10 years, there has been a great topic: romanization and arabization of alphabet. Now we have to return to a single writing system in the CIS space – this is a Cyrillic script, because, as the polls show, our population, in Russia’s near abroad, still talks about the affection and necessity of the Cyrillic script”, Vasilieva said”.
Regions.ru, in an article entitled “Все потянутся к России, если она станет более сильной: Парламентарии об отношениях с Казахстаном” – “Everyone would follow Russia had it become stronger: Parliamentarians on relations with Kazakhstan”, said: “Kazakhstani military, who together with their counterparts from the Russian Federation and other CIS countries constitute the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), took part in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. Yet Kazakhstan unlike Russia, Turkey and Iran categorically refuse to be a part of similar mission in Syria. That is of course their right, but given the allied relations of Moscow and Astana, it turns out that such a position is in obvious contradictions with the position of the Russian Federation…
Many experts and politicians claim that there are American military facilities on the territory of Kazakhstan that can pose a potential threat to the Russian Federation and other CIS countries.
Minister of defense Sergei Shoigu, speaking before the House of Federation (the second chamber of the federal parliament), has promised to figure this situation out. But so far the Ministry of defense has not issued any official reports on this matter.
In that regard Sergey Tsekov, a member of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, expressed the following view: “Kazakhstan’s stance in all this is certainly embarrassing. Despite numerous right words addressed to Russia, the Kazakh leadership’s actions raise questions, and not only in connection with their obvious cooperation with NATO. The decision on switch of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin is also a step against Russia. Have they wanted to get closer to Europe, join the European Union? This is a rather short-sighted policy approach.
Maybe for the time being, it is in demand, but in the long term, it has no prospects.
Also there is nothing positive to expect from cooperation between Kazakhstan and America. It seems to me that Kazakhstan at least should have coordinated its actions with Russia. This way, the results are mixed – first, we are left with an unpleasant feeling; second, we are left with the impression that their friendliness is superficial”.
To what extent is it possible for us in Kazakhstan to gauge the truthfulness of this perception?! It’s a quite difficult question to answer. I think that’s why it would just be better if we take notice of a third party opinion.
Business-gazeta.ru, in an article by Rimzil Valeyev, a well-known Tatar journalist and public figure, entitled “Пусть казахи говорят и пишут как хотят” – “Let the Kazakhs speak and write however they want”, said: “I was surprised at the hostile and aggressive reaction from a large part of the Russian-speaking intelligentsia to the carefully balanced activities being carried out in Kazakhstan aimed at putting their language into the context of globalization. Reviewing the experts’ opinions is a tough job. And it is truly depressing.
Why all the panic? Twenty-six years after gaining independence, Kazakhstan, a country that has a robust economy and weighted political authority, a country that is a member of the United Nations and maintains direct diplomatic relations with large and small countries, and participates in international meetings and forums, can deal with such questions routinely.
Nursultan Nazarbayev seems to realize this reform might not go down well with those inclined to imperial thinking. But Kazakhs aren’t defying anyone. They only do what they think is best. The man (and the people) just go his (and their) own ways, he (they) do as he (they) will. That’s nobody’s business, but just their own. You can write and speak Russian, nobody is restricting you. Do you want to know what Kazakhs are talking about to each other? Then you should learn their language. Here is the situation.
Nazarbayev really is a phenomenon of patience and consistency. He does not want to lose friends and supporters, while defending the interests of his country. And Kazakhstan and its leader keep acting responsibly. I do not understand what could be wrong with the national self-identification of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, who now constitute 71 percent of the country’s population. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to preserve the self-identification of Russians or Tatars, residing in Kazakhstan or the Baltic republics. Why should Kazakhs be denounced for the same type of behavior?!”.
You can’t argue with that kind of logic. Here is another viewpoint expressed on the subject.
Zakon.kz, in a report entitled “Франция поддерживает внедрение латиницы в Казахстане – Посол Франции в РК” – “France supports the introduction of Latin alphabet in Kazakhstan – French Ambassador to Kazakhstan”, quoted Ambassador of France to Kazakhstan Francis Etienne as saying: “The fact that Kazakhstan is going to switch the Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet would assist greatly in understanding the national identity through the works of Abai and other Kazakh writers. For the time being, maybe we are very slow in translating your authors”.
For reference: The Republic of Tatarstan or simply Tatarstan, is a federal subject (a republic) of the Russian Federation, located in the Volga Federal District. Tatar language is quite similar to Kazakh.