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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
Azerbaijan says it in Latin
Cyrillic script is on the way out
For the third time in a century, the people of Azerbaijan are having to cope with a fundamental change to the way they read and write.

From 1 August, the Cyrillic alphabet, which was imposed by Stalin in 1939, is being dumped in favour of Latin script, used throughout the Western world.

President Aliyev with a piece of paper
Aliyev: What does this mean?
The move was finally decreed in June by Azerbaijan's President, Heydar Aliyev, in an attempt to bring the former Soviet republic into closer contact with the West and reduce Russian influence.

It should be no problem for Azerbaijan's youngsters. Primary schools in the country have been teaching the Latin script since 1992.

But it's the older generations who will have the most headaches over the change.

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

Baku skyline
Baku: Driving there could now be more risky
All business and official documents have to be written in Latin script. Workers are out in the capital, Baku, and other towns switching road signs and hoping there won't be too many jams as confused drivers struggle with the new directions.

Advertisements, magazines and newspapers are also due to make the change. In the longer term, textbooks, dictionaries and other literature will also have to appear in the Latin script, which is a massive financial undertaking for the republic.

Critics of the switch fear it will marginalise Russian speakers, leaving them and the older generation isolated.

The biggest complainers are the newspapers. Up until this summer they were a strange mish-mash of Latin and Cyrillic scripts, with headlines in Latin script and the actual article in Cyrillic.

Azeri child
He'll have no trouble coping...
The editors thought their readers would find it too difficult to read a whole article in the Latin script.

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

Other independent newspapers welcomed the move in principle, but some editors sent a letter to the prime minister saying they feared it would probably lead to many papers closing down.

The editors think many of their readers will not be comfortable with the new script and could turn their backs on newspapers altogether.

Crowd in Azerbaijan
...but how many of them will struggle?
The fate of one paper, Ayna or Mirror, would seem to bear this out. It made the switch to Latin script several months ago and now lies mostly unread on newspaper stands.

The government is trying to provide a helping hand. It has 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 snag is it currently operates in Russian only, though an Azeri version is due to appear soon.

In the meantime, everyday life goes on. But some things will take slightly longer: when a state employee, such as the gasman, comes to call, householders will now have to wait while the official laboriously writes his name in Latin script.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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