Kazakhstan’s referendum concerning the adoption of the Latin alphabet will conclude today.
Despite gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Cyrillic’s usage to define the Turkic Kazakh tongue has persisted since 1940. Curiously, Kazakhstan—as part of the Soviet Union—had utilized the Latin alphabet between 1929-1940 and the Arabic script prior to 1929. Although there have been previous attempts to convert the Kazakh alphabet, today’s result will conclusively declare the official status of the Kazakh language.
Kazakhstan’s alphabet conversion demonstrates Nur Sultan’s shift away from Moscow’s sphere of influence and the ‘Russian World’, moving instead towards a multi-vector foreign policy. Therefore, expect Russia to pressure Kazakhstan through the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) to avoid the alphabet shift. Russia will likely attempt to restore tariff-free policies within the EAEU’s Customs Union, which could limit Kazakhstan’s access to the union’s integrated market.
Turkey will see the alphabet shift as Kazakhstan entering its pan-Turkic sphere of influence, duly so as the Kazakh Latin script bears resemblance to the Turkish Latin script. Kazakhstan’s move may also signal a sign of a broader shift in the Turkic world and further galvanize more former Soviet states—like Uzbekistan—to take similar action.
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Can is a Publisher and Analyst with Foreign Brief and currently pursuing his PhD in the Department of History at Bighampton University. His research there primarily focuses on the 19th-century Balkan independence movements.