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Kazakh Nationalists Want Bigger Role For Kazakh Language

Қазақ тілін қолдау акциясы
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WATCH: Activists demonstrate in Almaty in support of the Kazakh language.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Hundreds of members of Kazakhstan's nationalist State Language movement have held a gathering in Almaty to demand that the Kazakh language be used more widely instead of Russian, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The gathering on October 2 was organized by political opposition leaders and activists. Former Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Mukhtar Shakhanov, who is a well-known Kazakh poet, told participants that "those who do not respect the Kazakh language justify their usage of Russian solely on the grounds that the constitution designates Russian an official language. That has to be changed."

Kazakh linguist Tursynbek Kakishev said the change in the approach to using the Kazakh language must begin with President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

"Nazarbaev begins his speeches in parliament and elsewhere with a greeting in Kazakh, and then conducts the whole speech in Russian. Then at the end he just says 'good-bye' in Kazakh. That should be stopped, he should give all his speeches exclusively in Kazakh," Kakishev said.

Prominent Kazakh writer Qabdesh Zhumadilov said Kazakhs are the masters of the country called Kazakhstan and they, not someone else, should decide what language to use and what language their descendants should speak.

Opposition Social Democratic Azat (Free) Party co-chairman Bolat Abilov said the president, the Kazakh authorities, the parliament, and the presidential Nur-Otan party are responsible for the way language use has evolved over the past 20 years.

According to the Kazakh Constitution, Kazakh is Kazakhstan's state language, while Russian, which is used in cities and large towns by both Kazakhs and non-Kazakhs, is an official language.

The protest participants adopted a resolution that was read out by Dauren Babamurat, leader of the Almaty-based Bolashaq (Future) youth movement. They demand that all government agencies should use only Kazakh, and all paperwork be written in Kazakh.

In addition, they want the article of the constitution that designates Russian an official language to be replaced by one giving Russian the status of a language used for interethnic and international communication.