When narrating the interwar period, scholars in Soviet Studies, Turkish Studies, and Jewish Studies have often positioned Bolshevism, Kemalism, and Zionism as mutually contradictory movements. However, all three attempted to (re)constitute nations by combining the militant demarcation of national lands with the resource-intensive planning of modern national languages. Political and literary historians have gathered mounting evidence that pairs within this trio are interconnected. I extend these interventions to posit that the Turkish term “dil devrimi,” or “language revolution,” can usefully describe many national movements in Eurasia during the 1920s and 1930s. The translocal potency of this term crystallizes for me through a Soviet literacy textbook in Juhuri, the language of the Jewish communities rooted in the Eastern Caucasus.
The two-volume literary anthology Xrestomatijəj Literaturi əri Syfdəi Şkola (A Literary Chrestomathy for Elementary Schools) was issued in 1937 to third- and fourth-grade students. Its publication in Baku amid intense Azerbaijani influence on Turkic language reforms, its mission of reshaping supposedly outmoded Jewish lifeways, and its contributions to state socialism make this chrestomathy an axis around which Modern Turkish, Modern Hebrew, and Soviet language revolutions can be read as an interrelated set. My reading proceeds by tracing the anthology’s structural features through the literacy campaigns that underlay these various language-building projects. Namely, Xrestomatijəj Literaturi participated in the Latinate alphabetization of Juhuri, replacing a previous chrestomathy in the Hebrew alphabet; its texts and its implementation positioned literacy education as a tool of agricultural settlement; and its table of contents consolidated a cohort of modern Juhuri writers alongside a new canon of world literature in translation, framing a national project as a humanist one. Not all of these features came to full expression in both Modern Turkish and Modern Hebrew, let alone in all Soviet languages. For example, calls to Romanize Modern Hebrew as a matter of national policy proved unsuccessful. However, by demonstrating that the proposals evident in Xrestomatijəj Literaturi traveled widely and traveled together, from debates in the kibbutz movement to elite Istanbul high schools, I hypothesize that dil devrimleri marked an early twentieth-century shift in how coloniality works. These ideologically disjunct transformations constituted a loose network of language revolutions that were uncomfortably positioned between their desire for autonomy from Western colonial powers and their own dispossession of communities excluded from their Western-inspired projects of national purification.
former Soviet Union