Part of the Spring 2019 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series
Gulnara Omarbekova, Associate Professor of the Department of Kazakh Language and Turkic Studies, Nazarbayev University
Omarbekova discusses Kazakhstan’s preparation practices for shifting to the Latin alphabet and compare them with other Turkic speaking countries. In October 2017, the Kazakhstani government signed a decree on a new Latin-based alphabet. However, this decree caused serious discussion in Kazakhstani society. The discussions incorporated many different segments of the population: scientists, teachers, students, engineers, economists, and others. Wide spread discussion led it to be one of the most democratic events in Kazakhstan’s history.
The Soviet Legacy is visible in the use of Russian amongst Kazakh elites and the use of Cyrillic for the Kazakh language. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, many former Soviet republics hastened to abandon the Cyrillic script immediately. For example, Azerbaijan successfully implemented its own transition in the early 1990s. Turkmenistan followed with a less fortunate attempt and introduced a new, slightly adjusted, script in 2000. Azerbaijan began publishing textbooks in the Latin alphabet in 1992, followed by Turkmenistan a year later. Uzbekistan has been experimenting with Cyrillic and Latin for almost 20 years and has only recently started printing new banknotes with Latin characters.
Kazakhstan’s transition from Cyrillic to Latin could potentially help Kazakhstan become more accessible to foreigners and better integrate Kazakhs into the global information space. Moreover, the transition to the Latin script will contribute to greater development of Kazakh on the internet. Ultimately, this transition provides a great historic opportunity for Kazakhstan and all Turkic nations to unite culturally and historically.