Some of the issues of Russian imperial language policy in Abkhazia and its results (part III)
01/07/2010 15:17
Gogi Maisuradze
Experts' Club

Approach of leaders of the Democratic Republic of Georgia towards Abkhazian issues in 1918-1921 and experiments that were carried out towards ethnic minorities by Soviet authorities after the democratic government immigrated from Georgia

Four days before to establishment of the Soviet authority in Georgia, on February 21st 1921 the legitimate government of the country managed to approve the first Georgian constitution according to which the Sukhumi okrug (modern Abkhazia) was given a status of autonomy. After that there was no ground left for authorities of Soviet Russia to accuse the legitimate government of violating rights of Abkhazian people. But Communists still tried to overdo the government that was forced to immigrate to Europe and completely unfoundedly created Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia that practically just had rights of autonomous republic until 1931. By forming Abkhazian ASSR heads of the Soviet country encouraged Abkhazian separatists and offended Georgian population as after that there was just one step was left before complete detachment of the region from Georgia. Apparently behind the scene there was the following plan: General Sytin advised the Kremlin to add Abkhazia to Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus which had autonomy within RSFSR (see Gamakharia, Gogia, 1997, 470-472). Very soon after this in 1931 Moscow degraded the status of the Abkhazian SSR and made it into autonomous Soviet Socialist republic. And at that time it were Abkhazians that took offense and some separatists even today think that Georgians were involved in this.

We can bring another example. In the twenties of the XX century a mass campaign for transition of those languages that had just acquired script to Latin alphabet was started in the entire Soviet Union. Reason for this was, on one hand, to abolish Arabic script (Ajami transcription) that was previously used for languages of Muslim peoples. And on the other hand, using this tactical maneuver they were trying to assure those peoples that they did not intend to Russificate them. Mass Latinization of scripts continued till 1936 after which those languages that were previously transferred to Latin alphabet were in masses transferred to Russian alphabet (Cyrillic). Process of Latinization touched Abkhazian langauge as well. In 1926 it was transferred to "analytical alphabet" that was created by Nikolas Marr and in 1928 into unified Latinized alphabet. And in 1938 when there was a mass practice of transition of languages with newly-acquired scripts from Latin alphabet to Cyrillic script Abkhazian language along with Ossetian language that was spoken in Georgia were transferred to Georgian script instead of the Russian alphabet. Naturally, in these conditions transition of Abkhazian language to Georgian alphabet would have created, and continues to create, for those not familiar with details of the matter an impression that this act was planned by Georgians and its ultimate goal was complete assimilation of Abkhazians. But It is clearly obvious for specialists that know real history of this issue that this act was planned in Moscow, in the central Soviet committee of new alphabet and it was carried out under its in Abkhazia and South Ossetian Autonomous District. This act was preceded by a special order that was passed by supreme authorities of the empire in the middle of the thirties according to which "languages of titular ethnic groups that have autonomies within Soviet Republics and languages of those ethnic groups that do not have autonomies should be transferred from Latinized script to a script that is a base for a language of a "titular nation" of the relevant republic. Given that in the entire Soviet Union only Georgian and Armenian languages had script that was different from Russian, during Russification of alphabets Abkhazian language and southern dialect of Ossetian language were transferred to Georgian script. While Kurdish language in Armenia was transferred to Armenian script (see Essays, 2007, 324-327). The main thing here is that the empire successfully managed to cause discontent of Abkhazians towards Georgians with regards to this issue.

Abkhazian separatists usually name one fact especially which, in their opinion, allegedly clearly demonstrates coercion of Georgians. Allegedly by the end of the forties Georgians closed Abkhazian schools, abolished education in Abkhazian language and children were forced to learn Georgian. While concrete historical facts confirm that it was simply impossible to close Abkhazian schools as neither during the period of existence of Abkhazian principality nor Tsiaris period and the Soviet era there was no such institution as Abkhazian school. And what is even harder to understand is that it does not exist even now - in so-called independent Abkhazia. So nobody could have abolished what never existed! The thing is that a type of school that existed before the forties of the XX century and after the fifties to current days is in reality a Russian school with elements of learning of Abkhazian language. At the first level of it (I-III grades) most of subjects were taught in Abkhazia along with intensified teaching of Russian language. And at the second and third levels (from IV grade) all arts, science and technical subjects (history, geography, Botany, zoology, physics, chemistry and so on) were taught in Russian language. Exception is only two subjects: Abkhazian language and Abkhazian literature which was taught in Abkhazian language. In 1945 teaching of Abkhazian language and Abkhazian literature was not abolished in so-called Abkhazian schools. Georgian language only took place of Russian language which was not coercion of Georgians but compliance with the decision of 1938 of the organizational committee of the central committee of the Communist party of the Soviet Union after seven-year delay. The above-mentioned decree said: "... it is necessary to carry out reorganization of special national schools by transferring them to ordinary soviet textbooks and school curriculum, by introducing education in language of relevant republic or in Russian language" (see Essays, 2007, 327). So in this case, accusations of the separatists are unfounded but the empire fulfilled its goal in this case as well. The separatists, and not only they, believe that such fact as the abolition of Abkhazian schools indeed took place.

Probably it would be worthwhile to remind our Abkhazian and Ossetian opponents about large rallies that took place on April 14th 1978 in Tbilisi and the entire Georgia and that were organized by patriotic forces of Georgian intelligentsia and students to save Georgian language. At that time best sons of the Abkhazian and Ossetian people were fervently supporting their brother Georgians. Given the above if not that zeal then we can easily imagine what fate awaited the Georgian language. But we also should maniton here that now Georgians as ethnic group and their language are suffering extreme persecution and harassment in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region from both Russian occupants and leaders of the separatist authorities. And against this background participation of certain part of Abkhazian and Ossetian intelligentsia in these criminal actions are especially hurting. And soon or later everybody will answer for this...

Now I think we will just try to answer the main question: What are the results of linguistic politics carried out by Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union for Abkhazian people?

We should first name positive ones:

a) Despite the fact that it was politically motivated, still creation of script language for Abkhazians was undoubtedly important;
b) Publication of the first original literary works in Abkhazian language in 1912 and thus founding Abkhazian literature was very significant. Although we should mention that Russian authorities had no part in this;
c) Undoubtedly good fact was that immediately after establishment of the Soviet authority suitable conditions and opportunities were created for mass school education of Abkhazian population; Creation and publication of textbooks and later opening of Abkhazian sector of the philological faculty of the Sukhumi Pedagogical Institute;
d) Positively should be assessed state-funded publication of newspapers, magazines and various kinds of original or translated literature in Abkhazian language;
e) One of the most significant events in life of Abkhazian people was establishment of Abkhazian theatre, Abkhazian editions of radio and television and so on.

Much more and more grave are those negative results that were brought on Abkhazian people by almost 200-year imperial linguistic politics.

a) Abkhazian language, culture and identity were almost completely detached from Georgian language, culture and identity which have never threatened Abkhazian people as no Georgian ever intended to assimilate Abkhazians. On the other hand, Abkhazian language, culture and identity became a target of premeditated and scrupulously planned aggression of Russian language, culture and identity. If this continues it will endanger the very existence of Abkhazian people ( remembering of fate of Ubikhs that were exiled by Russian tsarist authorities to Turkey in the XIX century would suffice);
b) This so-called Abkhazian school that in reality was Russian and at that a powerful tool of Russification, got many generations of Abkhazians used to Russian world-view and detached them from their national roots. Majority of modern Abkhazians do not read newspapers and magazines in their own language and, do not listen to radio pragrams and do not watch Abkhazian-language TV programs. They mock specific characteristics their own mother tongue and cannot discuss scientific, technical and juridical questions in Abkhazian language. They prefer to write, read and discuss everyday issues in Russian language...;
c) As a result of grave economic situation in Georgia and among others in Abkhazia that followed the 1992-1993 war that was ordered by the Yeltsin government, instigated by Russian security services and carried out by criminal circles of Shevardnadze and Ardzinba there are just around 50 000 Abkhazians in Abkhazia today. And this also endangers the very future of Abkhazian people itself, their language and culture.
d) Despite the fact that since 1925 Abkahzian language has a status of official state language neither it nor Georgian language ever entertained functions that were given to them. Up till today Abkhazian language is considered as non-prestigious language and its usage is limited to only very narrow mono-ethnic group. The most alarming fact is that Abkhazian youth does neither study nor speak Abkhazian language. Even young people in countryside where, as a rule, purity of the language is preserved the most, do not know Abkhazian language properly and speak in Russian-Abkhazian mixture.
e) This quasi-state imaginary independence of which was provocatively recognized by Russia of Putin and Medvedev, practically does not concern itself with extending an area of usage of Abkhazian language and increasing of prestige of Abkhazian language in eyes of Abkhazian population. Pseudo-government of Bagapsh cannot dare to decide to carry out serious works on these issues. And they will not dare to do this in the future either as Moscow will not allow this. Otherwise then all two century-long efforts of linguistic politics of Moscow will be put down the drain. Besides processes that are happening now in the North Caucasus clearly indicate that in the near future they together with other issues will raise a question of protection of their native languages before authorities of the Russian police state.

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