Spring 2000 (8.1)

Marina Kulakova
Office Administration

I really wasn't surprised when I heard about the alphabet change from Cyrillic to Latin. I'm not sure why, but I remember that I accepted the news as a matter of fact. Perhaps, it was because, being a Russian speaker, I didn't use Azeri that much and didn't think it would affect me. I knew that Russian would still continue to be one of the main languages in Baku for quite some time.

However, when I first started having to read it, I found it somewhat difficult. It took some time to get used to it, despite the fact that I had studied German in school and was, therefore, already familiar with the Latin alphabet.

We were so accustomed to Cyrillic. We could see it everywhere. But now Latin has replaced it. I think that only when people feel that it's really necessary to learn the new alphabet will they actually master it. Of course, that necessity exists now, but it's mostly the youth who feel it. Older people tend to think that they don't need to learn it because they can get by without it.

Granted, it's not as difficult for young people to learn a new alphabet, but most of the older people have trouble. It doesn't matter if they're Azerbaijani or Russian.

Photos: "My birthday at McDonald's restaurant..." The new McDonald's in Baku posts notices in both Azeri Latin (left) and Russian Cyrillic (right).

My father is 60 years old and he speaks Azeri perfectly well. He can read and write Azeri - but only in Cyrillic. It's difficult for him to learn Latin. Sometimes he complains about not being able to read posters or store names because they're in Azeri Latin now.

Let me give you an example. One day my mother asked him to go to one of the Ministries to check about their pensions. My father started complaining, "What's the use of going there? All the signs and all the application forms are in Azeri Latin. I won't be able to read them and I'll return with nothing."

In the end, I was the one who had to go with him just to read the signs. It's pity that he can't read things written in Azeri Latin, especially since he knows Azeri as well as Azerbaijanis do.

But young people have a different attitude. My brother, 19, is in the military in the Tovuz region in northwestern Azerbaijan. He knew very little Azeri before he went into the army. But now he calls us and starts speaking Azeri to us. I can even detect an Azeri accent. I think he understands the necessity of knowing Azeri these days. Azerbaijan is now an independent country with its own state language, and I think people of other nationalities who live here should also know Azeri.

I used to work in one of Azerbaijan's government offices. All of our documentation was in the Russian language. But after Azerbaijan gained its independence, we started to write everything in Azeri Cyrillic. Now we write in Latin. Our director hired an instructor to teach the Latin alphabet to the staff. I remember quite well - we started learning letters from scratch. We had charts with the new alphabet and old alphabet printed side by side. After learning the alphabet, we started to write dictation. It felt like we were first graders again.

Despite all these changes, the Russian language is not dying out. Perhaps the younger generation tends to know Azeri better now, but the people who spoke Russian before independence - regardless of their nationality - continue to speak it now, much like in the past.

Russian Still Strong
Let's take TV. When foreign movies are shown on Azerbaijani channels, most of them are in Russian, not Azeri. All of the movies at the new Azerbaijan Cinema are either in Russian or in English. Another case - if I walk into any store and ask for something in Russian, the sales assistant will still answer me in Russian.

My mother speaks Azeri on a very elementary level. She is now employed as a babysitter for an Azerbaijani family. The parents specifically hired a native-speaking Russian so that their child could learn Russian.

Regional use of Russian
I don't think Russian should be regarded as the language of an Empire that no longer exists. Let it be the language of communication between the Republics of the former Soviet Union. Recently, when President Kuchma of the Ukraine visited Baku, he and President Aliyev spoke to each other in Russian. They didn't need an interpreter. Whereas English is the common language in Europe, Russian could still serve the same function for the peoples of the former Soviet republics.

At the same time, I think that more attention should be paid to Azeri. I have a niece who studies in the Russian track at school. Her classes for learning the Azeri language are taught very poorly. This is wrong. Azeri classes should be given more time and attention in Russian-track schools.

Some people say that we should get rid of Russian entirely. But if we get rid of Russian for patriotic reasons, what do we do? Do we learn English instead? Many Russian speakers are choosing to learn English instead of Azeri. However, in my family, which is Russian, nobody speaks English. I'm proud to say that everyone with the exception of my mother is able to speak Azeri fluently. We have always respected this language because it is the language of the country in which we were born. I think it's only natural that we should be able to speak it.

Marina Kulakova (born 1969) grew up speaking Russian at home. She also knows Azeri. She attended kindergarten in the Azeri track but then switched to the Russian track for the rest of her schooling and university studies.

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

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