Kazakh postage stamp of Batyr, the talking elephant in Kazakhstan.
Michael Hancock-Parmer strikes again. When we last heard from him, he was trashing the Russian journalist who covered the Zhanaozen massacre critically in an appalling post that earned a reprimand from his former professor, who was then "disciplined" by Registan dominatrix Sarah Kendzior into apologizing and admitting she had a lot to learn about becoming a better human being (!). Some people withdraw from conflicts with Registan because the price is very high -- in academia, there is great fear of losing scarce positions, and the Registanis are horribly vindictive and will complain to people's bosses if they don't like their criticism.
I got into a side convio with H-P in email which he begged me not to publish, so I won't, but needless to say, he proved himself to be an ass.
Now this contribution from Hancock-Parmer, urging the Kazakh people not to Latinize their alphabet but to use...Arabic script.
I'm giving this the "Batyr" award, for the poor "talking elephant" that "died from an overdose of soporifics" (like reading too much Registan!). Everyone convinced themselves that the elephant could really talk because he mastered a few memes and gestures on cue and was rewarded. It was convincing!
Born on July 23, 1969 at Almaty Zoo, Batyr lived his entire life in the Karaganda Zoo in Karaganda, of ex-USSR Kazakhstan. He died in 1993 having never seen or heard another elephant. Batyr was the offspring of once-wild Indian elephants (a subspecies of the Asian elephant). Batyr's mother "Palm" and father "Dubas" had been presented to Kazakhstan's Almaty Zoo by the then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Telling people in another country what kind of script they should use in their language -- that's bad enough, and ranks right up there with Katy Pearce screaming at people on Twitter to use a certain hashtag, and if they don't use it the way she likes -- even allowing for the fact that they may be regime tools -- she tells them to "get off the Internet".
But telling them not to use Latin and instead, to use Arabic, for pseudo-scholarly reasons has got to be even worse -- and it reminds me of the Batyr story because by mimicking humans on demand, Batyr in fact was isolated from other real elephants -- and the humans were fooled.
Batyr, whose name is a Turkic word meaning Dashing Equestrian, Man of Courage or Athlete, was first alleged to speak just before New Year's Day in the winter of 1977 when he was eight years old. Zoo employees were the first to notice his "speech", but he soon delighted zoo-goers at large by appearing to ask his attendants for water and regularly praising or (infrequently) chastising himself.
Language is a natural and organic thing, and people pretty much speak it as they wish, except for the French who police anglicisms. Chastising people into speaking language a certain way -- awful!
Kazakhstan of course has a long and troubled history with the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union and has a large Russian-speaking minority. So putting their Kazakh language into Cyrrilic script made a certain amount of sense but it was obviously coerced. What would the Kazakh language be if there had never been a Russia, or a kinder, gentler Russia? Well, there wasn't, so it is what it is...
But when Kazakhstan got its independence from the Soviet Union -- or more importantly, from Russia -- it gradually began to de-Russify and began to join the rest of the world and try to modernize. I don't buy the state's own propaganda about this at all, and it's a very rocky road.
Yet I do follow Kazakhstan sufficiently, including the various independent and state tweeters, to know that if they have to chose something besides Cyrrilic, it will be Latin, not Arabic letters. That's because the language of the Internet, like it or not, is English, and a lot of the computer and Internet terms borrowed in other languages come from English. God knows, for example, why Russians talk about "follovat'" on Twitter instead of "sledit'" which has less characters, but they do because it "feels right" to them as they'll tell you.
Kazakhstan is a secular Muslim nation where the regime controls religious expression brutally, and gets its hand on the Muslim communities in particular. So that means a turn to the Arabic world might not be for them.
But more to the point, just because they are Muslim doesn't mean they feel the need to turn toward Arabic. In doing so, they would isolate themselves further from Eurasia, Europe and the Internet lingua franca and I don't see any evidence that they want to do that.
Young people simply reply naturally that they use Latin because that's what English uses and they want to learn and use English.
This kind of prudish, controlling prescriptiveness for people's language has just got to go.
Only a fussy little Registani nerd like Michael Hancock-Parmer could have "concerns" about another nation writing their alphabet as they please (!):
I’m writing this post to share some concerns about the Latinization program for Kazakhstan announced by President Nazarbaev in connection with other progressive changes to the Republic.
The Too Long; Didn’t Read analysis of what I’m about to write is simple: I am not as excited for Latinization as I used to be. I am not forecasting doom or anything like it. Nor am I saying that this is all part of some conspiracy or weird power grab on the part of Nazarbaev. No. I am rather trying to share some concerns that might interest Registan’s readers.
I have reservations that it will adversely affect Kazakhstan’s citizens in their efforts to better understand their past and the formation of the their current situation.
I'm the first to say that Russian is still a lingua-franca more than English is in this region; it's the poor man's lingua-franca because not everyone can get a Soros grant and go to a Western course or conference and perfect their conversational English. There is that large minority as well. If anything, we should be concerned about these people being forced to leave their comfort level to use Latin -- but then, they're being asked to do that for the Kazakh language, not the Russian language.
What this terrible affectation about Kazakhs needing to "better understand their past" isn't really about "richness of literature" in the Soviet era (?!) but about the fetishization of Islam that is common among the New Realists in Washington and New York in general and the Registanis in particular. There's an entire mindset and contrived narrative they have acquired which goes like this:
o There is this "they" out there who exaggerate the threat of Islam and hate Muslims -- be they neo-cons or traditional conservatives or Blue Dog Democrats or whatever -- and "we" have to counter them;
o We are the smart people surrounded by idiots, so we will embrace the vibrancy and diversity of Islam and show "them" up to be bigots and haters
o In fact, if we don't stop this criticism of Islamic countries (which we believe to be hatred) then we are actually harming our nation's security because the US will "bomb Iran" and we will be in WWIII;
o The enemy of our enemy is our friend -- conservatives and parts of the Obama Administration we don't like are too distrustful of theocratic states, so we'll be nice to them to show how cool we are.
I find this all very unscholarly, and I find that when there is this mindset, you can't get new facts and impressions to go through -- it's like trying to get the miniature golf ball through the rotating blades of the windmill -- very hard.
Sure, Latinization is contrived, like the very capital of Astana itself and lots of Nazarbayev state-building projects. Yet if people don't want to use it and want to stick with Cyrrilic, they will, and it will be hard to stop them.
There's another project lurking under Michael Hannover-Parmer's tender ministrations here -- it's sort of like pan-Turkism. He wants to prove how close the Central Asian peoples are to each other:
In essence, “Arabic-script Kazakh” is nearly a contradiction in terms. When written in Arabic script, Kazakh, Tatar, Bashkir, and Karakalpak appear much more identical then then do in the current Cyrillic alphabets. Moreover, their close relationship with Uzbek, Uyghur, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, and Ottoman-Turkish was far more apparent. Though much ink has been spilled attacking the awkwardness of Arabic at correctly carrying Turkic language, the longevity of the alphabet must be re-considered rather than seen as a sign of backwardness or Oriental decadence. Rather, the very limitations of the Arabic script (i.e. writing of the various Turkic vowels) might be considered as its strength.
H-P tries to justify his own diktat in deciding what is "best" for a people and trying to back it up with tld;r "scholarship" by pointing out that Stalin was the one to manipulate languages and alphabets and narratives. Yes, we get all that. Yes, they are contrived. Yes, people will work their way out of it. But hardly with Arabic script. And...who says "integrationist processes" are really naturally occuring? They don't naturally occur in the EU, either...
H-P also has a touching concern for the "treasury of work written during the Soviet Union". Well, sure. No people should burn their books, even from discredited communist pasts. But, well, if there isn't a demand for them, there isn't. We don't all demand that even the classics be transcripted into the English of Beowulf or Shakespeare. Language is a dynamic and living thing, even if tyrants monkey with it.
Fortunately, nobody anywhere is likely to pay the slightest attention to this fussy fellow -- read the reply in the comments from a young man who simply points out that QWERTY is what is there to use, and that's what he is using. Oh, and there's this:
Uzbekistan moved from Arabic alphabet to Latin in 1920′s because Uzbekistan because a secular country and wanted to break with Islam. That move made most of the religious literature instantly inaccessible that helped to establish a secular society.
Whatever you want to say about Sovietization -- and I'm happy to criticize it all day long -- there's something to be said for secularism even of the Vladimir Posner/Soviet sort as compared to radical Islam. People shouldn't be cut off from their national religious literature, but there's no need to artificially crowbar it back into place, either.
But as I said, the fetishizing of Islam that this crowd indulges in brings them to this sort of untenable position.
I'd like Kazakhstan -- if it is getting all national and independent -- to a) come to a true independence which would mean independence of Nazarbayevism and even batyrism; and b) be tolerant of Russians and Russian-speakers in its own land even if it wants to distance itself from Moscow, generally a good thing. I think this process of Latinization might take so long that it is unlikely to harm the Russian population, but it bears watching.