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Official Status of Russian Language in Kyrgyz Constitution is Suggested to Be Annulled

Monday 23 March 2015

BISHKEK (24.kg news agency) – Official status of the Russian language in the Kyrgyz Constitution is suggested to be cancelled, the head of the National Commission on State Language Egemberdi Ermatov said today to reporters.

He recalled that now in the Kyrgyz Republic there is a moratorium on changes to the Basic Law till 2020. “But some scientists raised the question of the need for changes in terms of language policy. This was stated recently at a scientific and practical conference on the development of state language. Scientists propose to exclude the status of Russian as an official [language]. Such a rule was only in our country. We have to develop our own language. This requires a legislative initiative on the part of Parliament. Today, many state agencies don’t keep paperwork in Kyrgyz, referring to the rate that the Russian is the official language. Each week we check them according to our plan”, Egemberdi Ermatov said.

The official noted that within the allocated 243 mln soms, books for kindergartens, schools, universities and government agencies in state language will be issued. “Test of the Kyrgyz language is worked out. Since 2016 all state and municipal employees will pass it. This will positively affect the development of the state language. Previously, we twice adopted the national program for the development of the Kyrgyz language, but they didn’t work, as there was no finance.”

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of President Akayev’s staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for “Kyrgyzification” of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. But in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz and marking a reversal of earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia. Kyrgyz is a member of the Kyrgyz–Kipchak subgroup of the Kypchak languages, and modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kyrgyz and Kazakh.

Kyrgyz was originally written in the Turkic runes, gradually replaced by an Arabic alphabet (in use until 1928 in USSR, still in use in China). Between 1928 and 1940, the Latin-based Uniform Turkic Alphabet was used. In 1940 due to general Soviet policy, a Cyrillic alphabet eventually became common and has remained so to this day, though some Kyrgyz still use the Arabic alphabet. When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyz people to make transition to the Latin alphabet (taking in mind a version closer to the Turkish alphabet, not the original alphabet of 1928–1940), but the plan has not been implemented yet.

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