Azerbaijani language through history's ordeal: How Heydar Aliyev saved it from being perished?
"What happened to the Kyrgyz language in Kyrgyzstan bypassed the Azerbaijani language. Now, like the Kyrgyz language, Azerbaijani is not exposed to death," said great Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aytmatov with grief.
Although the Azerbaijani language is rich with an ancient history, it was condemned to assimilation like other colonial languages after the Russian occupation.
In 1878, in Europe where nationalist and pan-nationalist currents were raging, the state language was included in the Norwegian constitution for the first time in the world. These movements affected Azerbaijani intellectuals through Russia, and the debates about ethnic identity and national language circulated among them.
In the second half of the 19th century and the beginning 20th century, since the empires dominated the world, pan-nationalistic movements were more popular. However, after WWI national states began to replace empires and thus nationalistic movement won over pan-nationalism gradually.
Unfortunately, being short-sighted, Azerbaijani leaders named Turkic as a state language, when they founded Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in 1918. The lifespan of the newly-founded state was short and it was invaded by Soviet Russia (SR) after two years. Azerbaijan became part of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
The status of the state language in the USSR was vague. Actually, not declaring any language as an official language, the USSR continued the empire politics relating to languages, but at the same time tried to relate it with democracy and the left ideology. All countries ruled by the leftist blocs and the union republics in the 20th century, including Soviet Russia, did not have an official language, except Soviet Georgia and Soviet Armenia. Russian cornered all languages and eliminated them one by one.
In the 1950s, a very sad situation arose for the Azerbaijani language. Russian forced out Azerbaijani of the state institutions, and even the post offices did not use to accept telegrams written in the Azerbaijani language, and applications written in the Azerbaijani language used to be rejected.
After Stalin’s death, then-Azerbaijani leaders took initiative and included the article of the state language in the constitution in 1956. As per the requirement of time, not Turkic but Azerbaijani was called the state language of Soviet Azerbaijan.
Moscow was not satisfied with this and after three years all initiatives in the direction of the Azerbaijani language were halted. The initiators, the First Secretary Imam Mustafayev and the Head of Supreme Soviet Mirza Ibrahimov fired from their positions, they were repressed and humiliated in front of the public. Russia started to dominate again. Fortunately, Moscow did not remove the Azerbaijani language from Soviet Azerbaijan’s constitution.
In 1969, fortune started to favor Azerbaijan, with Heydar Aliyev's becoming the first secretary of the Azerbaijan Soviet. In all spheres, including the official language commenced nationalization. However, in 1977, Moscow presented the draft of the new Soviet constitution and the article of official language was removed.
Heydar Aliyev, who was a far-sighted and skilled politician, considered it necessary to keep the article on the state language in the constitution and was very determined about it. He had foreseen this issue since the first day and had formed a public opinion about the Azerbaijani language.
During the discussion of the draft constitution, public opinion formation measures were further strengthened. All humanitarian-oriented organizations, creative unions, and newspaper-magazine editors are instructed to include the request of the state language in the minutes of the meetings (MoM). The commission drafting the new constitution soon received hundreds of such MoMs.
Thanks to the courage and leadership of Heydar Aliyev, Moscow took a step back and the state language was not removed from the new constitution. Azerbaijan was one of three republics among the former 15 soviet republics which in the constitution it was noted as the state language. In addition, Heydar Aliyev constantly monitored the use of the Azerbaijani language in all state circles when he was in power.
However, it should be noted with regret that no matter how contradictory it sounds, in the first years of Azerbaijan’s independence dark clouds arose over the Azerbaijani language once again. In 1992, after Azerbaijani National Front (ANF) usurping power, the name of the state language was illegally changed to Turkic again. In addition, ANF tried to form a public opinion on the removal of several sounds from the Azerbaijani language under the motto of creating a common Turkic. This meant the assimilation of Azerbaijani as a language in the near future. Fortunate ANF government, still stuck in the pan-nationalist concept of the end of the 19th century, could not stay in power for a long time.
Heydar Aliyev's return to power in 1993 played the role of a kind of new breath for the Azerbaijani language. When the first constitution of independent Azerbaijan was being prepared, the Great Leader gave a lot of space to the language issue, and the State TV channel broadcast alive the state language discussion.
The discussion revealed that most Azerbaijani intelligentsia, more precisely linguists and historians, were out of date and were stuck in the 19th century. Despite not being a linguist, president Heydar Aliyev had more precise and detailed knowledge of linguistics than them. As a result of Heydar Aliyev's efforts and persuasiveness, the Azerbaijani language was able to maintain the status it deserves in the first constitution of independent Azerbaijan.
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