Script differences complicate matters for Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan

Ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan are reportedly suffering from problems with the education system, including that Uzbekistan has switched to the Latin alphabet but Kyrgyzstan has not.

Kyrgyzstan is home to more than 766,000 ethnic Uzbeks out of an overall population of roughly 5 million, according to figures compiled by the State Statistics Committee. Although their numbers are slowly declining, Uzbeks remain the largest minority group in the country. Today, there are just 14 Uzbek language schools in Osh, compared with 21 in 1991….

A shortage of Uzbek-language textbooks and teaching materials constitutes another large obstacle. Many children in Uzbek-language schools must use textbooks that were published in Uzbekistan during the Soviet era. “The situation [became] complicated after Uzbekistan changed from using Cyrillic and started using the Latin [alphabet] in 1993,” explained Erkin Bainzarov, the editor of the Uzbek section of the Osh Shamy (“Evening Osh”) newspaper. “As a result, Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek schools were forced to stop using textbooks published by Tashkent,” and must rely on antiquated materials. Teachers in Kyrgyzstan have not adapted to the Latin alphabet.

To help, the Kyrgyz-Uzbek University, the only university in the country to provide instruction in Uzbek, established a Textbook Development Center in 1997 with the help of Batyrov’s Friendship of Peoples University in Jalalabad.

“Since Uzbekistan switched to Latin, we started developing our own [Uzbek] textbooks [written in Cyrillic],” said Tursunbai Kamilov, the director of the center. “Since 1997, we have developed a set of seven textbooks for the primary school and 20 textbooks for secondary and high schools.” Yet more is needed. Kamilov says that due to inadequate financing, Uzbek schools only have 34 percent of the textbooks they need.

Some representatives of the Uzbek community say that if current trends persist, southern Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek-language educational structure could experience a complete collapse. “We have to maintain our schools, and have our children go to Uzbek language schools to preserve our language, culture and identity,” said Khalturaev, the school principal.

source: Kyrgyzstan: Uzbeks in Southern Regions Wrestle with Cultural Dilemma, Eurasianet, October 27, 2009

further reading:

Kazakhstan backtracks on move from Cyrillic to Roman alphabet?

The president of Kazakhstan has announced that his country won’t “advance the transformation of the Kazakh alphabet from the Cyrillic to Latin one.”

That he did so in a meeting with the president of Turkey is puzzling, as this is not something likely to please the Turks.

On the other hand, not advancing is not necessarily the same thing as cancelling.

Here’s the full release from Kazakhstan’s news agency:

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev offered not to advance the transformation of the Kazakh alphabet from the Cyrillic to Latin one. The Head of the State announced about it upon the results of his talks with President of Turkey Abdullah Gul.

“For 70 years the Kazakhstanis read and wrote in Cyrillic. More than 100 nationalities live in our state. Thus we need stability and peace. We should be in no hurry in the issue of alphabet transformation”, Mr. Nazarbayev noted.

source: Kazakhstan should be in no hurry in Kazakh alphabet transformation to Latin: Nazarbayev, Kazinform, December 13, 2007

See earlier: Kazakhstan plans switch to Latin alphabet, Pinyin News, November 18, 2007

Kazakhstan plans switch to Latin alphabet

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education and Science has followed up on suggestions from President Nursultan Nazarbayev by proposing a six-step plan to switch the country from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin one. The plan is based on a similar one used in Uzbekistan.

The plan for switching to Latin will have a five-year preparatory stage, during which the practicalities will be worked out. The next step will see publications being printed using the new alphabet, alongside the existing one for the initial changeover period, and the working-age population will be trained in using the new script. Teaching materials using Latin will be introduced into the country’s school system. The final phase will be the consolidation of Latin as the Kazakh language in Cyrillic fades from public use.

The switch is projected to cost US$300 million, though some expect the cost to be higher.

With the country awash with petrodollars from its booming energy sector, financing the switch should not be a problem. It remains to be seen, however, whether officials will retain the political will to press ahead, given that the measure could cause disruption at home, and seems likely to vex one of Kazakhstan’s key allies, Russia.

Along with the usual arguments for alphabet change, in particular promoting the country’s integration into the global economy, officials have argued that a Latin alphabet could help Kazakhstan forge a more cohesive national identity, moving it out from under Russia’s shadow.

“Switching the Kazakh alphabet to Latin means for Kazakhs changing the Soviet (colonial) identity, which still largely dominates the national consciousness, to a sovereign (Kazakh) identity,” the report stated. “Among the many arguments in favor of switching the Kazakh alphabet to Latin, boosting the national identity of the Kazakh people is the main and decisive one.”

This explicit statement marks a break with Kazakhstan’s earlier, low-key approach to discussing the switch to Latin. While Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan acted quickly after the 1991 Soviet collapse to embrace Latin script, Kazakhstan took a more cautious route: it did not want to alienate its large Russian-speaking population. In addition, officials felt that with the country in the grip of economic crisis in the early 1990s, changing the alphabet at that time was not a fiscally justifiable move.

The report pulls no punches in identifying the Cyrillic alphabet as being a major barrier to developing a Kazakh national identity: “It [Cyrillic] facilitated and facilitates the orientation of the Kazakh national consciousness towards the Russian language and Russian culture. As a result, Kazakh identity as such remains largely undefined. On this level, moving to Latin will make it possible to form a clearer national identity for Kazakhs.”

Another reason for the switch is linked to the representation of the sounds of the Kazakh language. “In many cases the phonetic nature of Kazakh is not shown according to Cyrillic script,” Professor Kobey Khusayn, director of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Linguistics, told EurasiaNet in an interview. As a result, he said, certain Kazakh sounds are not properly represented and this leads to difficulties with correct pronunciation. The introduction of Cyrillic in 1940 was “imposed from above” for ideological reasons, he added, with no consideration of how this alphabet suited the Kazakh language.

Kazinform, the state news agency, already issues news in both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts.