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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Azeri paper shuts for script defiance
Cyrillic script is on the way out - and that's official
By Chloe Arnold in Baku

A weekly newspaper in Azerbaijan which refused to change its script from Soviet-era Cyrillic to Latin has been forced to stop printing.

The owner of Impulse, Xan Husseyn Aliyev, was summoned to the prosecutor's office in Baku where he received an official warning.

Mr Aliyev argues that if he publishes in the new alphabet, he will lose most of his readers who are used to Cyrillic.

Baku scene
Driving through Baku could now be more risky
He is acting in the teeth of a new presidential decree ordering the switch to Latin as part of efforts to move Azerbaijan closer to the West and away from its Russian connections.

Mr Aliyev - no relation to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev - says that Impulse is an independent publication and he should be allowed to print in whatever script he chooses.

Since the government presses suspended his paper, he hopes to buy his own press to start publishing again.

Latin fails to sell

The president abolished Cyrillic, which is the alphabet of many ex-Soviet states in addition to Russia, on 1 August.

Critics say the law has created a surge in illiteracy and discriminates against Russian-speakers.

Anyone who was educated in Cyrillic Azeri - in other words anyone over the age of 26 - woke up to find the whole appearance of their visual world dramatically changed.

All business and official documents have now to be written in Latin script.

President Aliyev
Aliyev hopes to bring country closer to the West
Workers have been out switching road signs while confused drivers struggle with new directions.

The biggest complainers are the newspapers which responded to earlier alphabet moves by producing a strange mish-mash, with headlines in Latin and text in Cyrillic.

One paper - Seven Days - took the radical step of becoming a Russian-language publication instead of changing to Latin script.

By contrast, a paper which changed to Latin completely in the months before the decree - the Mirror - has found itself lying mostly unread on newspaper stands.

Alphabet soup

It is the fourth alphabet change in Azerbaijan in less than a century.

After writing for hundreds of years in the Arabic script, Azeris converted briefly to the Latin script in 1929.

Stalin then imposed Cyrillic in 1939.

The new change of alphabet has led to some bizarre situations.

While the Azeri Government set up an official web site to help simplify the switch and provide the Azerbaijani alphabet in Latin script for use on computers and keyboard layouts, the site was still operating in Russian only just before the switch.

But for most Azerbaijanis the change is felt mostly in the tiniest details of everyday life: now when a state employee such as the gasman comes to call, householders have to wait while he writes his name in Latin script.

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