Spring 2000 (8.1)

Leyla Gafurova

I'm the Director of the National Library in Baku, which holds 4.5 million books; I've worked here for more than 40 years. So what do you expect my reaction would be concerning our alphabet change? I'm not against any particular alphabet, but I am concerned about our readers. I want them to be able to read everything that our library contains. But, unfortunately, the books that we are reading today will be inaccessible to future generations and this worries me.

Why have we changed our alphabet so often? Why don't you find other nations changing their alphabets? The alphabet should not have been changed as it creates so many problems. And what guarantee do we have that our alphabet won't be changed again in another 50 to 60 years?

Many of our literary scholars can't even read our own beloved poets Fuzuli and Nizami in the original simply because they don't know the Arabic script. Sometimes I think it might have been better for us after we gained our independence in 1991 to go back to Arabic, instead of Latin. In the past our great thinkers wrote in Arabic. So why not learn the Arabic script and become familiar with their works? What about our libraries?

Likewise, many important works were written during the 70 years that we used the Cyrillic alphabet. Do we just forget everything that was written during those decades? What a pity that most readers will not be able to use those books in the future. I'm concerned that books written in the past will be forgotten.

Photo: Akhundov Library (also known as the National Library) houses the largest collection of books in Azerbaijan.

What will happen to our libraries? There are millions of titles in our catalogs. What will happen when readers are not even able to read the card catalogs? The catalogs can't be translated, since the books are arranged according to the script in which they were published. How can we write the titles of the books in Latin if they were originally published in Cyrillic?

Alphabets change, but the contents and substance of books will always remain. No matter which script was used to publish these books, they are national treasures for us. We must not cut ourselves off from this literary and intellectual wealth just because of alphabet transitions.

It's good that Azerbaijan has not had an abrupt change from Cyrillic to Latin. It's been a gradual transition. For some time, both alphabets must exist together so that the new alphabet will be able to penetrate in a profound way.

Photo: Students peruse the mostly-Cyrillic script card catalog at the Akhundov Library. The library is not yet computerized.

On the Streets Around Us
In the past, street posters, public notices and store names used to be mostly in Russian. It was an unspoken obligation. But what do you see today? English and foreign languages! Why should we give English names to our stores? Let's write in Azeri. Not everybody knows English. Those who come here from other countries should learn to read Azeri titles, but instead, it looks like we are having to learn English. This reflects our attitude toward the Azeri language. Let foreigners learn Azeri. Let them learn Azeri to communicate with us. Azerbaijani is a beautiful language. It's so melodic. So why shouldn't they learn it?

Documentation in Latin
I'll have to admit that I find it encouraging these days that we are preparing all of our documents in Azeri. All of our meetings used to be conducted in Russian despite the fact that sometimes we couldn't even understand each other.

Now we speak Azeri. We conduct our meetings and sessions in Azeri. Documentation in the library is done in the Latin script. If books are published in Latin, they are catalogued in Latin. All of our invoices and forms are in Azeri Latin, not in Russian as before.

To me the best thing about Latin is that it is widely accepted throughout the world, and it gives us tremendous access to Web sites. Nevertheless, I don't think anything can replace a real physical book: not the Internet nor any other electronic format. Books must be held in your hands to be truly appreciated.
These days, I sense a positive attitude developing towards the Azeri language. We used to speak Russian all the time. Now the situation has changed considerably. For example, years ago I enrolled my own kids in the Russian track at school because Russian was the prestigious language. But now the times have changed. People like Azeri. They're speaking it at home and we're beginning to hear it everywhere.

Leyla Gafurova (born 1937) is the Director of the Akhundov National Library, the largest library in Azerbaijan. Her mother tongue is Azeri. At home, she mostly speaks Azeri with her family. She knows Azeri, Russian and some Turkish. She reads and writes the Latin script well but admits she is faster in Cyrillic. She followed the Azeri track at Baku State University during her studies at the Faculty of Library Science.

Azerbaijan International (8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

Back to On the Street: Alphabet Viewpoints Index

Home | About Azeri | Learn Azeri | Contact us