Back in the days of the fabled Silk Road, Samarkand was a byword for cross-cultural exchange. For hundreds of years, Tajik served as a lingua franca in this flourishing center of Persian civilization, situated in present-day Uzbekistan. But now, Uzbek authorities seem intent on ripping up the city’s Tajik roots.
Ulan Djumashev dropped another sugar cube into his tea and looked around the café, a popular meeting spot for Bishkek’s educated elite.
“See everyone here? I’d say 95 percent of them are Kyrgyz,” he said, looking out at the mod clientele seated in plush armchairs, tapping at laptops and tucking into hamburgers. “And what language are they speaking? Russian.”
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has staked his political reputation largely on his ability to foster domestic stability amid regional turbulence. That sense of tranquility is coming under growing pressure in Kazakhstan, with the latest challenge generated by an impassioned debate over language policy.
President Mikheil Saakashvili has described Georgia as the cultural crossroads of the Caucasus, a place where various ethnicities can easily mix. But a look at attempts at language integration for the country’s minority ethnic Azeri and Armenian populations suggests that sizable obstacles must be overcome if the government is to make Saakashvili’s depiction a reality.
A push to assert the predominance of the Kyrgyz language in Kyrgyzstan is gaining traction. But the trend is angering Russian-speakers, who complain that efforts to promote Kyrgyz are coming at the expense of their constitutional rights.