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Politics of Romanisation in Azerbaijan (1921–1992)

  • AYÇA ERGUN (a1)

Writing systems are used as, and considered to be, important tools and symbols of political discourses of their time. This article presents a historical overview of the alphabet changes in Azerbaijan and shows how the alphabets were associated with the discourses of modernisation, nationalism and national identity construction. In the early twentieth century, the discussion on the need to shift from the Arabic alphabet to the Roman was actually an extension of the wider debate on national identity and language coupled with the will to modernise and progress. In 1940, the Soviet regime imposed the shift from the Roman alphabet to the Cyrillic in a top-down manner. This change was neither negotiated nor discussed among the intellectuals and there was almost no room for the expression of critical views. With the introduction of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s, intellectuals started to question to what extent the Cyrillic alphabet and the Russian language could represent the Azerbaijani language, civilisation, and national identity. In 1991, Azerbaijan adopted the Roman alphabet. The case of Azerbaijan shows that alphabet changes are symbolic acts to deny and/or reject the previous political and cultural heritage and its legitimacy and tools for undermining its prominence in the new processes of transformation and change.

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1 I would like to thank İlker Aytürk for his comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article and his encouragement to work on this topic. My thanks also go to Audrey L. Altstadt who generously offered her comments while I was trying to understand the dynamics behind the alphabet change in the 1920s. I appreciate the help extended by Alper Ataşer, Kamil Veli Nerimanoğlu and librarians of the Azerbaijan National Library who provided generous help and assistance during my fieldwork in Azerbaijan. I would also like to thank the Scientific Research Fund of the Middle East Technical University which provided my funding for the fieldwork and archive research for this article.

2 Nerimanoğlu K. V., Azerbaycan Dövlet Dili Siyaseti (Baku, 2006), p. 19.

3 Axundov M. F., Mirze Feteli Axundov Eserleri, Vol. 3 (Baku, 1988), p. 285.

4 Ibid., p. 286.

5 Allworth E., Nationalities of the Soviet East Publications and Writing Systems (New York and London, 1971), p. 10.

6 Şimşir B., Azerbaycan'da Türk Alfabesi Tarihçe (Ankara, 1991), p. 3.

7 M. Q. Seedyllaief, ‘Yeni Elifba Komitesi ve Onun Faaliyeti’, Yeni Yol (7 November 1927), p. 23.

8 Cited in M. Memmedov, Neriman Nerimanov ve Anadili (Baku, 1971), p. 75.

9 Ibid., p. 76.

10 Swietochowski T., Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition (New York, 1995), p. 114.

11 Nerimanoğlu, Azerbaycan Dövlet Dili Siyaseti, p. 19

12 E. Süleymanlı, Milletleşme Sürecinde Azerbaycan Türkleri (Ankara, 2006), p. 158.

13 Ağamalıoğlu S., Bizim Yolumuz Hayanadır? (Baku, 1924), p. 46.

14 S. Ağamalıoğlu, ‘Oktyabr Revolusyasının Neticelerinden: Yeni Elifba Meselesinin Azerbaycanda Fikir Tarixinden’, Yeni Yol, p. 6

15 Şimşir, Azerbaycan'da Türk Alfabesi, p. 14.

16 R. Süleyman, Ne Üçün Yeni Türk Elifbasını Kabul ettik?”, Dan Ulduzu (1924), p. 23.

17 Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p. 113.

18 Süleymanlı, Milletleşme Sürecinde Azerbaycan Türkleri, pp. 158–159.

19 Nerimanoğlu, Azerbaycan Dövlet Dili Siyaseti, p. 8.

20 H. S. Hocayev, Yeni Elifba Yollarında Duygu ve Hatıralarım (Ankara, 2006), p. 78.

21 Cited in K.V. Nerimanoğlu and E. Ağakişiyev, 1926’cı İl I. Bakü Türkoloji Qurultayı (Stenogram Materiallerı, Bibliografya ve Foto-Senedler) (Baku, 2006), p. 217.

22 Cited in ibid., p. 220.

23 Cited in ibid., p. 235.

25 H. Ş. User, Başlangıcından Günümüze Türk Yazı Sistemleri (Ankara, 2006), p. 227.

26 C. Hesenli, ‘Birinci Türkoloji Qurultaya Qısa Tarixi Baxış’, in 1926 Bakü Türkoloji Kongresinin 70. Yıl Dönümü Toplantısı (29–30 Kasım 1996) (Ankara, 1999), p. 11.

27 Hocayev, Yeni Elifba Yollarında, p. 79.

28 Nerimanoğlu and Ağakişiyev, 1920cı İl I. Bakü Türkoloji Qurultayı, p. 424.

29 Süleymanlı, Milletleşme Sürecinde Azerbaycan Türkleri, p. 161.

30 Hesenli, Birinci Türkoloji Qurultaya Qısa Tarixi Baxış, p. 10.

31 Gehremanlı N., Köhne-Yeni Elifba (Baku, 2002), p. 58.

32 Hesenli, Birinci Türkoloji Qurultaya Qısa Tarixi Baxış, p. 10; Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 58.

33 Smith M. G., Language and Power in the Creation of the USSR, 1917–1953 (New York, 1998), p. 125.

36 Fowkes B. and Gökay B., ‘Unholy Alliance-Muslims and Communists – An Introduction’, Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, 25 (1) (2009), p. 13.

37 D'Encausse H. Carrere, The Great Challenge, Nationalism and the Bolshevik State 1917–1930 (London, 1992), p. 188.

38 H. İmanov, ‘I. Türkoloji Qurultayı: Türkoloji Qurultayı Terefinden Çıxarılan Qerarların Neticeleri Haqqında’, in Yeni Yol (1927), p. 14.

39 T. Bağırov, ‘Itirmirik Qazanırık’, Edebiyyat ve İnce Senet (7 December 1990), 48 (2445), p. 2.

40 Anar, ‘Fereh, Ümit, Facie, Birinci Türkoloji Kurultay Hakkında Düşünceler’, Edebiyyat Gazeti (10 March 2006), pp. 1–2.

41 Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, pp. 113–114.

42 Ibid., p. 114.

43 Ibid., p. 124.

44 Altstadt A., The Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity Under the Soviet Rule (Standford, 1992), p. 132.

46 D'Encausse, The Great Challenge, p. 187.

47 Süleymanlı, Milletleşme Sürecinde Azerbaycan Türkleri, p. 162.

48 Landau J. M. and Kellner-Heinkele B., Politics of Language in the ex-Soviet Muslim States (London, 2001), p. 193.

49 Altstadt, The Azerbaijani Turks, p. 131.

50 Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p. 125.

51 Ibid., p. 127.

52 User, Başlangıcından Günümüze Türk Yazı Sistemleri, p. 231.

53 Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 66.

54 Cited in Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 70.

55 Quoted in Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p. 128.

56 Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 66.

57 Anar, ‘Reading Between the Lines: Personal Reflections on the History of Alphabet Reform in Azerbaijan’, Azerbaijan International, 8 (1) (2000), p. 54.

59 Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 70.

60 Altstadt, The Azerbaijani Turks, p. 124.

61 Ibid., p. 207.

62 Ibid., p. 208.

63 Latin Grafikalı Azerbaycan Elifbasının Berpası Hakkında Azerbaycan Respublikası Kanunu. Azerbaycan. 25 December 1991.

64 Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p. 212.

66 Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 78

67 Ibid., p. 79.

68 V. Hacılı, ‘Elifba Felaketi’, Alternativ (10–16 March 1999), p. 4

69 Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 76

70 R. Aliyev, ‘Elifba Meselesi veya Milletin Uyanması’, Azerbaycan Gençleri (11 September 1990), p. 7.

71 K. Rahimov, ‘Tale Yüklü Mesele’, Kommunist (2 March 1991), p. 4.

73 A. Axundov, ‘Ne Qazanırıq, Ne Itiririk’, Kommunist (24 October 1990), p. 3.

75 M. Cefer, ‘Latin Elifbası Lazımdır mı?’, Kommunist (16 October 1990), p. 4.

76 F. Gasımzade, ‘Latin Grafikalı Elifbamızın Berpası’, Odlar Yurdu (3 February 1991), p. 1–3.

77 A. A. Hacaloğlu, ‘Bir Daha Yeni Elifba Haqqında’, Yeni Fikir (30 May 1991), p. 5

78 Gehremanlı, Köhne-Yeni Elifba, p. 76

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
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