Kazakhstan Will Not Change Constitution’s Language Principles

• Category: Kazakhstan
ASTANA (Interfax) – The Kazakh authorities do not plan to amend articles of the constitution regulating the country’s language policy, Senate Speaker Kairat Mami told journalists in Astana on Thursday.
Kazakh ID card

Kazakh ID card
Written in both Kazakh and Russian.

“Parliament has not proposed introducing appropriate amendments to the constitution either this year or next year. This option is ruled out,” he said. “The language issue is a question of society’s consolidation. I think that any artificial steps to trigger a debate on this topic negatively impact the state of stability in society,” Mami said.

“The Kazakh language has always been the main language in our state. But we also need to remember that one of the central achievements of our independence is inter-ethnic accord, which is based on many Kazakh citizens’ possibility and right to speak Russian,” he said.

In an open letter, Kazakh public and political figures, writers and people of culture asked the president and the speakers of parliament’s chambers to cancel a constitutional principle permitting the use of the Russian language on a par with the state Kazakh language.

Kazakh language is a Turkic language and has its speakers (mainly Kazakhs) spread over a vast territory from the Tian Shan mountains to the Ural mountains. Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, in which nearly 16 million speakers are reported to live. More than a million speakers reside in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The 2002 Russian Census reported 560,000 Kazakh speakers in Russia. Other sizable populations of Kazakh speakers live in Mongolia (fewer than 200,000). Today, Kazakh is written in the Cyrillic alphabet in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, while the more than one million Kazakh-speakers in China use an Arabic-derived script similar to that used to write Uyghur.

In October 2006, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh in Kazakhstan. A Kazakh government study released in September 2007 said that Kazakhstan could feasibly switch to a Latin script over a 10- to 12-year period, for a cost of US $300 million. On December 13, 2007, however, President Nazarbayev announced a decision not to advance the transformation to a Latin alphabet:

For 70 years the Kazakhstanis read and wrote in Cyrillic. More than 100 nationalities live in our state. Thus we need stability and peace. We should be in no hurry in the issue of alphabet transformation.

The constitution of Kazakhstan defines the Kazakh language as the state language, but state controlled organizations and local administrations officially use the Russian language on a par with the Kazakh language.