Thursday, February 7, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Turkic Unity Rests on Shared Culture Not Common Alphabet

Paul Goble

Baku, February 6 – The six independent Turkic nations and Turkic communities in Russia, China, Ukraine and Moldova can unite if they continue to speak their own languages and learn international ones like English and Russian but risk being driven apart by any effort, however well-intentioned, to impose a single pan-Turkic tongue.
This call for unity in diversity is the sharpest answer yet to a call a month ago by a group to Azerbaijani parliamentarians to create a common Latin script alphabet for all the Turkic languages in the world and promote Anatolian Turkish the common language of all Turks (
Although the leader of this group, Nizami Jafarov, the chairman of the Azerbaijani parliament’s permanent commission of culture, said that the existing Turkic languages would not disappear, many have been concerned that his push for Latinization by 2010 would in fact lead to the demise of many Turkic tongues.
(At present, among the independent Turkic countries, only Azerbaijan, Turkey and Uzbekistan use a Latin script, although Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have discussed it. Among the smaller Turkic groups in Russia, China, Ukraine and Moldova, only the Crimean Tatars and Gagauz use a Latin-based alphabet.)
Now in an extensive article posted on Azerbaijan’s Media Forum portal, commentator Ismail Veliyev argues that this push for a common alphabet and a common “’all-Turkic’” language is “now the main danger on the path to Turkic consolidation.”
Instead of bringing people together, he writes, “this harmful idea” will drive the Turkic peoples apart with each thinking about how such a change would harm its national dignity. Indeed, he said, those who say they are for unity are “most of all thinking about essentially petty personal ‘glory,’” rather than the good of the Turkic world.
If people want the Turkic peoples to advance and come together, Veliyev says, then they must work to “boost the economy, develop science, improve the social-political arrangements of society, integrate into the system of international relations, strengthen communications and cultural ties, and so on.”
Those who focus on language alone, whom he calls the Turkic world’s own “hurrah patriots,” remain “prisoners of the Stalinist definition of the nation which reduces everything to the question of the unity of language,” when in fact culture, which is only enriched by diversity, is “the starting point of all-Turkic unity.”
More than that, he continues, efforts to find “a common Turkic language [are] a step backwards not forward.” Now, he says, “the world is striving to learn English, which like Latin, Arabic, and French at various points in the past, is “the worldwide instrument for the exchange of ideas.”
If the Turkic nations of the world are not to end up as a backwater, they must pursue a three-pronged language policy. First, each must “develop its own language. Then, all must learn English. And finally, many of them must “preserve the Russian language” as the lingua franca for those who lived “under the aegis of the Russian state.”
Such concerns about language, Veliyev argues, call attention to an even more important point: “Turkish brotherhood must not be thought of as the creation of some kind of new super-state. With the subordination of subjects and with someone being put under someone else. This is impossible.”
Not only do the history of the Turkic world and the current state of the international community make that “impossible,” he concludes, but “one should not forget” that Turkic groups across the world are differentiated anthropologically and in terms of religions.
To make his last point, Veliyev notes that the Tuvans are Lamaites, the Buryats Buddhists, the Sakha shamanists, the Gagauz Christians, the Karaims Jews, and most of the others Muslims, with some being primarily Shiite (Azerbaijanis) and most of the others Sunni.
Given such diversity, he says, it is important to ask why these various peoples are so drawn to each other. And he argues that the reason is that they share at a deep level a common culture even if they are different in other ways. Consequently, Veliyev argues, “the common Turkic home is a small model of universal brotherhood.”
That is not something that should be taken lightly, he says, and it is not something that anyone should risk destroying by pursuing the impossible goal of a common Turkic language or even a common Turkic alphabet.
Veliyev’s article will not be the last word on this subject, and now that this debate has been joined, it is likely to echo through the entire Turkic world, a development that could promote the very unity in diversity that Veliyev wants and that some of his opponents view as impossible or at least unsustainable.

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