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Kapitan's Last Stand? Tajik Army Sticks With Russian Terms For Now

Last year, the Tajik State Language Committee set up a working group to draft a recommended list of Tajik military terms. (file photo)

Tajikistan's state language committee has recommended that the former Soviet country's army stop using Russian military terms and replace them with pure Tajik-Persian words.

The Defense Ministry, however, is in no rush to switch from what it describes as a widely-used "international" vocabulary to a national one.

In early 2018, the language committee set up a working group -- including linguists, historians, and military specialists -- to draft a recommended list of Tajik military terms including everything from the names of army units to ranks.

The working group had to look deep into the Tajik history -- to pre-Islamic times -- to find suitable words, says Abdurahim Zulfoniyon, a high-ranking official with the state language committee.

"We wanted to avoid replacing Russian words with [those of] another foreign language, such as from Arabic or Turkic languages, that were prevalent in our more recent history," the official said.

According to Zulfoniyon, the list contains some military terms from the times of the ancient Achaemenid (aka First Persian Empire) and Sassanian (the last pre-Islamic Persian empire) empires. The list also borrows from vocabulary used during the more recent Samanid Empire (a Sunni Iranian empire) in the 9th and 10th centuries.

If approved, the renaming process would see the Tajik Army call a regiment a "hang" instead of the currently used Russian word "polk."

The rank of colonel, currently "polkovnik," would be "sarlashkar," while a deputy colonel or "podpolkovnik" would be replaced with the Tajik word "lashkaryor."

The language committee also recommends calling sergeant "dastayor" instead of the Russian "serzhant." Junior sergeant and senior sergeant would be called "dastavar" and "dastabon," respectively.

It also advices replacing "kapitan" -- Russian for captain -- with the Tajik "sadavar."

'More Convenient'

The Defense Ministry, however, notes that it is not going to introduce the new military terms anytime soon and will not "support the state language committee's initiative for the time being."

The ministry said on December 27 that Tajikistan, as a member of several Russian-led regional groupings, such as the Commonwealth of the Independent States, (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, (CSTO) should continue using "more convenient" Russian military terms.

"We don't consider the state language committee's recommendation regarding the renaming of the military ranks and units acceptable," the ministry said.

The CIS and CSTO don't object to member states using their own languages in their national armies or elsewhere, although Russian is the main language during CSTO-led joint military training exercises.

The ministry added that the name-change process and what it entails "would require an enormous amount of money" that the government currently cannot provide.

The ministry didn't rule out the initiative entirely, however, saying that "due to the financial situation of the country" it cannot "for now" support the idea of switching military terminology.

Divided Opinion

The idea of abandoning Russian words in the Tajik Army has divided opinion among the public and military personnel alike.

Some Tajik generals say they prefer to be called "general" instead of the newly recommended "solor."

Former spy chief Saidamir Zuhurov and former head of the Intelligence Council Amirqul Azimov say that some words, like "general," should be considered universal words, not foreign, and thus there is no need to replace them.

"We need to invest our time and resources to train capable military officers," retired General Azimov said. "It doesn't matter what we call them. The substance is more important than the name."

Others argue that Tajikistan, as a sovereign state, should use its own language.

"We must translate the military ranks despite certain difficulties that might arise. After all, we do have those words in our own language, so we should use them," says General Nuralisho Nazarov, the former head of the State Committee for Emergency Situations.

Tajik General Nuralisho Nazarov (file photo)
Tajik General Nuralisho Nazarov (file photo)

In recent years Tajikistan has renamed dozens of towns and villages, changing their Russian, Uzbek, or Arabic names to pure Tajik words.

It also encourages citizens to drop the Russian suffixes -ov/-ev and -ova/-eva from their last names.

In 2016, Tajikistan banned Arabic and other foreign names along with Islamic and Arabic suffixes and prefixes -- such as mullah, khalifa, and sufi -- to men's first names.

The ban is seen to have curbed a trend in the predominantly Muslim country where parents were increasingly giving newborns Islamic and Arabic names.

The state language committee has issued a special book of 4,000 recommended names for babies. The book has been distributed to Civil Registry offices across the country to help parents to choose pure Tajik names for their children.