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Orthography, standardization and unification

Orthographically, the written Kurdish language is fragmented. The Kurmanji dialect is now written in three alphabets, Cyrillic (the USSR), Roman (the emigre press), and Arabic (in Iraq and Iran). Sorani is, however, written in the Arabic-based alphabet only.

The orthographic unity of Sorani seems to have contributed to the unfettered spread and acceptance of the standard norm developed in Iraq on the Iranian side of the border. The orthographic fragmentation of Kurmanji is, however, impeding the unification of the three varieties in Turkey, USSR and Iraq. At the all-Kurdistan level, orthography has its most negative effect on the unification of Sorani and Kurmanji.

Aware of the handicap, Kurdish intellectuals have emphasized that "orthographic unity is the beginning of our dialect unification" (Mukriyani 1972: title page). In the late 1950s, the Kurdish Students Society in Europe asked the Soviet authorities to substitute the Cyrillic alphabet with the Roman so that all Kurds could benefit from the literary and cultural achievements of Soviet Kurds (L'Afrique et L'Asie, 1959, No. 46, p. 55; Jwaideh 1960:802).

Orthographic fragmentation and unification are both inherently political issues. Fragmentation is the result of the removal of the Arabic script in Turkey and the USSR. Kurdish interest was not taken into account in Turkey whereas in the USSR there was probably a deliberate policy of insulating the Kurdish community from Kurdish nationalism. Unification of the script depends, therefore, on either the political union of all the Kurds or uninhibited linguistic and cultural freedom in and among all the different parts of Kurdistan. Under the present circumstances, the Kurds of Turkey are unable to shift to the Arabic script even if they achieve the right to use their language in writing, because the use of the Arabic script is proscribed in the country. Similarly, the Iranian Kurds are not permitted to adopt the Roman alphabet because the constitution of the Islamic Republic has made Arabic the official script of the country (cf. 5.2.0). In Iraq, too, any Arab ruling power will oppose Romanization. While some scholarly works on Kurdish language and culture was increasingly using the Roman alphabet in post-WW II years (especially in folkloric texts, lexicography, etc.), it was official policy to retain the Cyrillic alphabet in journalism, education and other domains. Any concession to the Kurds on the alphabet question would have encouraged other nations in the USSR to press for similar reforms.

Politics, or to be more exact, the absence of political freedom, further aggravates the impact of orthographic disunity. Given political freedom, books published in one script could easily be reprinted in another script. Unobstructed by political restrictions, the refugee Kurds of Turkey residing in Europe have already begun utilizing the Kurdish printed literature of the USSR. The Kurdish Academy of Iraq has also sponsored the reprint, in Arabic script, of a number of Soviet books and articles.

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