| Analysis

Kyrgyzstan considers switch to Latin alphabet from Cyrillic

By Kanat Altynbayev


Kyrgyz honour guards stand at the ready during the celebrations marking the 28th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's independence from the Soviet Union at the Ala-Too Square in Bishkek on August 31, 2019. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz officials are discussing a potential switch from the Russian-based Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin alphabet for the Kyrgyz language.

The topic was brought up September 11 as Kanybek Isakov, a candidate for education minister, was undergoing a confirmation hearing in parliament. He has since taken up the post.

"I support changing to the Latin alphabet. We need to do the appropriate work in phases," Isakov said, when asked by member of parliament Altynbek Sulaimanov on his opinion.

"We're the holdouts among the Turkic peoples -- Kazakhstan is switching in 2025. We've already functioned with the Latin alphabet [from 1928 to 1940], so we'd be returning to it, not converting to it. It will help develop the state language," Sulaimanov said.


Stalin School No. 3 in Frunze (now Bishkek) is shown in the 1930s. The building has a sign in the Latin alphabet that Kyrgyzstan used between 1928 and 1940. [Kyrgyz Central Archive]

The confirmation sparked heated debate over the potential change.

A transition to the Latin script will help Kyrgyz become a more natural language, said Bishkek-based political analyst Almaz Tazhybai.

"We need to bring this idea to fruition. A lot of work lies ahead. It's time to get rid of [the traces of] Russian colonisation," he wrote on Facebook.

"A sovereign Kyrgyzstan is duty bound to officially codify the Latin alphabet for the entire Kyrgyz diaspora, which lives in different countries where the Latin alphabet is the main script," Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, president of the Kyrgyz History Society, posted as a comment on Facebook.

Backers of romanisation are sharing a link to a special website -- -- which contains Kyrgyz materials written in the Latin alphabet. The site is also converting Kyrgyz texts from Cyrillic to Latin script.

The move, if enacted, will reflect Central Asia's ongoing progress toward increased sovereignty and independence from lingering Russian and Soviet influence. Although the Soviet Union broke up 28 years ago, Kyrgyzstan still uses the Cyrillic script imposed by Joseph Stalin.

A slow transition

Dastan Bekeshev, a member of parliament, expressed support for switching to the Latin alphabet but warns that the transition will take time.

"This is a rather costly project, so Kyrgyzstan will need to solve its most urgent day-to-day problems first," he said in an interview.

The Kyrgyz people historically used Arabic script. Under Soviet rule, Kyrgyzstan initially retained Arabic script, switched to the 1928-1940 Latin alphabet and then adopted Cyrillic.

Since Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991, the intelligentsia and patriotic communities have repeatedly raised the issue of again romanising their language, becoming the target of furious criticism by the Russian media.

The issue again moved to the fore after neighbouring Kazakhstan, the country closest to Kyrgyzstan in terms of language, culture and historic affinity, decided last year to begin romanising its language.

Another neighbour, Uzbekistan, which also speaks a Turkic language, began using the Latin alphabet in 1993. It uses both alphabets now.

Do you like this article?

13 Comment(s)
Comment Policy
Captcha *

I'm dying! "The celebrations marking the 28th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's independence from the Soviet Union" :) What an interpretation! :))) If not for the Soviet Union, there would be nothing to celebrate in Kyrgyzstan because Kyrgyzstan wouldn't exist :))


I support this decision. Nowadays the entire basic informational world is in Latin. There's no way around it. What do we need Cyrillic for?


Cyrillic is a dead weight since the Russian civilisation is dying off and is dwindling.


Quote: 'The move, if enacted, will reflect Central Asia's ongoing progress toward increased sovereignty and independence from lingering Russian and Soviet influence.'
But in this excerpt, the author essentially calls the regress 'progress'. Astonishingly, journalism education is at the eighth-grade level, in my opinion. I think the article is simply an ad for Latin script, and of course, it will reach any goal. But the Latin language has been long dead. [We need] to switch to American, what's the use of lingering and keeping people back.


Well, Latin script and the Latin language are not the same. For instance, Cyrillic doesn't mean a 'Cyrillic language'. Russian, Ukrainian and Kyrgyz are written in Cyrillic ))


It's high time! We need natural development, not with the language imposed by this shitty Russia


Who, I wonder, forced the Latin script on you? Or is that your mother tongue?


Yep, that's it! Demolish all the buildings from the Khrushchev and Stalin eras, put up yurts and develop naturally. I believe this housing legacy greatly hinders the natural development of the Central Asian peoples :)


Well, then you need to reject these American computers and internets and go back to your huts )))


Moldova, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have already SWITCHED to Latin. Kazakhstan has started switching, so it seems to be a reasonable and natural process of Russia losing.


I am from Uzbekistan. In addition to confusion with the languages [scripts], we've ended up with an enormous waste of the people's money. And the result? We waste money to this day. [But] Russian schools are are packed. Everybody wants to go to Russia. That's what the decision looks like.


I am from Uzbekistan as well; we had problems in switching to Latin since there was neither a lot of computers nor the Internet at the time. This transition is now nearing its end.


Following Tajibay's logic, switching to Latin script will be no less than 'the end of the Russian colonisation' and 'the beginning of the Western colonisation"...