Afad Gurbanov’s Contributions to Azerbaijan’s Transition to the New Latin Alphabet

One of the integral parts of the national culture of every people is that people’s alphabet and writing system. The alphabet is a cultural weapon, the national and moral wealth of the people. The writing system implemented on the basis of a cultured and perfect alphabet plays a leading role in the creation, survival and development of the material and cultural achievements of a people and serves the development of the language, scientific relations and other necessary areas of the nation’s activity.


Unfortunately, the alphabet of the Azerbaijani people has been subject to changes several times at different periods of history for particular reasons and the last Cyrillic-based alphabet was accepted despite the fact that it did not correspond at all to the sound system of the Azerbaijani language.


The revival movement which developed in Azerbaijan in the 1980s directed Afad Gurbanov’s attention (in addition to that of many prominent representatives of the intelligentsia) towards resolving the serious problems facing our people. One of those problems was the replacement of the Cyrillic-based alphabet of the Azerbaijani people, the legalization of the Azerbaijani language as the state language, its more active use and the extension of its social and other functions.


Afad Gurbanov also played a great role in the implementation of alphabet reform in our country as the chairman of the Azerbaijani Alphabet Commission and the author of the new Latin script-alphabet. As a talented scientist and skilful organizer Afad Gurbanov devoted all his efforts and abilities to this important work which reflected the aspirations and wishes of the people – the transition of the Azerbaijani alphabet to the Latin script.


During this period the first scientist to substantiate the need for the transition to the Latin-script-based alphabet on the basis of scientific facts was in fact Afad Gurbanov. The Azerbaijani Alphabet Commission was established in 1990 on his initiative as a reformer of the alphabet, and in the light of creative work in this area Afad Gurbanov was appointed chairman of the commission.


Considerable theoretical and practical work was done in our country to prepare the new draft alphabet, and alongside linguists specialists in literature, historians, orientalists, ethnographers, writers and poets, secondary and higher educational school teachers, members of the press and publishing houses and other intellectuals were involved in resolving this issue.


The alphabet issue became the subject of extensive discussion in the republic. Discussions, which went on for 6-7 months, were held at a number of establishments, organizations and enterprises within the country, and in particular among staff from higher educational institutions there was a detailed and comprehensive exchange of opinions.


While pointing out the drawbacks of the Cyrillic-based alphabet and taking into account the significance of the development of the draft Latin script-based alphabet in accordance with the sound system of our language, Afad Gurbanov approached this issue very carefully and demanded great diligence in this work, believing that the creation of an alphabet was the most complicated and responsible of all the social, political and cultural problems of the period.  He resolutely declared: “The Cyrillic script does not meet all the subtleties and requirements of the Azerbaijani language. In the Cyrillic script-based alphabet that we are currently using there are a number of irremediable defects. Moreover, the Cyrillic script-based alphabet has only an adverse impact on unifying the national culture of our people. Azerbaijanis living in different places cannot get direct information on one another’s achievements and consequently no strong ties are established between the parts of our national culture. Therefore, a progressive and suitable alphabet is required for the unity of our people and its economic, political and cultural development. And this alphabet must be a new Latin script-based alphabet that can prove and justify itself now and in the future”.

A number of considerations and proposals related to the acceptance of the alphabet, the selection of the letters according to their structure and their arrangement in the alphabet table and other issues were put forward in the many reports made during the discussions and in the letters received from different regions of the republic and from the Azerbaijanis living in several foreign countries.


At that time different conflicting thoughts on the alphabet existed within society and the following proposals were made for the acceptance of the alphabet:


  1. Develop the ancient Turkic-Uigur or Orhon-Goyturk alphabet in accordance with the present-day requirements;
  2. Reform the Arab script-based alphabet which was used in the past;
  3. Create a totally new alphabet with no analogy anywhere in the world;
  4. Return to the Latin script-based alphabet.


In spite of the fact that at that time the supporters of the Arab script-based alphabet were in the majority, it was at the insistence of Afad Gurbanov that the fourth proposal was accepted as the most suitable. There were three opinions expressed in connection with this proposal:


  1. Adopt the Latin script-based modern Turkic alphabet as it is;
  2. Adopt the alphabet used until the 1920s without making any changes;
  3. Compile a new Latin script-based independent alphabet.


Taking the third point of view as a basis, Afad Gurbanov developed our draft modern alphabet in accordance with the sound system and other peculiarities of the Azerbaijani language and submitted it to the Commission for discussion.


Then the information on the draft alphabet was delivered to the public at large through the TV and press and it was adopted in 1992 following extensive discussions.  First of all, the apostrophe was removed from the letters in the new alphabet.


In the early nineties Afad Gurbanov also played an unprecedented role in the legalization of the Azerbaijani language and in ensuring its wide usage. He did a great deal as an active member of the commission for the preparation of the draft law on the Azerbaijani language and the other relevant state commissions.


In addition to the preparation of the new draft alphabet and the draft law on the Azerbaijani language, between 1990-1995 the eminent linguist-scientist and public figure Afad Gurbanov was engaged in wide-scale public and political activity as a deputy of the Parliament of the Azerbaijan Republic, and his work in these areas was also considerable. The main thesis of his platform as a deputy was to ensure the transition to the Latin-script-based alphabet, the active usage of the Azerbaijani language and the extension of its social and other functions.


The present alphabet, which is the wealth of the people, is the greatest gift given to the Azerbaijani people as a result of the scientific and public activity of our eminent linguist Afad Gurbanov who was a tireless person and an active citizen who loved his people deeply.