Languages of minorities: the fight against oblivion
Amri Sherzamonov comes from Khorog, a mountainous city in Tajikistan, and has a unique problem: his mother tongue is in danger of disappearing. The 40-year-old father belongs to the Pamiri ethnic minority, a community of just 300,000 people residing in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast of Tajikistan, Central Asia. Shughni, one of the languages spoken by the Pamiri minority, and other Pamiri languages are listed in the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. They could vanish completely if no action is taken.
Strengthen civil society networks between Germany and countries across the globe
That is the reason why Amri Sherzamonov is taking action. He has a Bachelor’s degree in linguistics and his postgraduate studies focus on international relations. His minority background has definitely defined his future career choices. To further improve his expertise, he participated in the CCP Fellowship programme funded by the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Germany’s oldest intermediary organisation for international cultural relations. With the CCP Fellowships, the CrossCulture Programme (CCP) supports around 80 professionals and committed volunteers from over 35 countries each year. The participants undergo practical training for two to three months in host organisations in Germany or other CCP partner countries.
Thanks to the financial support he received from ifa, Amri Sherzamonov was able to complete an internship at the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) in Flensburg, Germany. During his internship, he was assigned to carry out research on the legislation of Central Asian countries which targets and regulates minority issues. He also conducted analyses on constitutions, laws and normative acts, and learnt a lot of new research and methodology skills. Sherzamonov’s CCP Fellowship and his fellowship with the UN at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which he conducted later, helped him to further improve his research and his work at an NGO back in Tajikistan, where he has been volunteering since 2012. Just four people work for the organisation and their main activity is monitoring the human rights situation, especially when it comes to minority rights in the region. In Germany, Sherzamonov learnt which mechanisms are available in the UN to protect minority rights and he had the chance to attend an annual forum on minority issues. Back home, he and his colleagues successfully applied the new skills.
Creating an alphabet and printing textbooks
“When I was studying linguistics at university, I was assigned to undertake a comparative analysis of my native language, Shughni, and English. It was actually the first time I had studied my native language from an academic point of view,” recalls Sherzamonov. Thanks to that assignment, he came to understand the extent to which his mother tongue is endangered. Throughout the centuries, the Pamiri languages have been transferred verbally from generation to generation. But now there is an urgent need to create an alphabet, to start using it and to print textbooks.
“The Pamiri make up just 2.7 per cent of Tajikistan’s population of 9 million,” says Sherzamonov. “We do not even have access to primary education or general information in our native language. This is disturbing. Research shows that children who are deprived of all of this do not get good results at school.”
Although the country’s constitution grants the Pamiris the right to receive primary education in their native language, this is still not implemented, he says. He adds that within the government of Tajikistan there is no specialised entity to deal with national minorities. This means Sherzamonov cannot cooperate directly with governmental agencies but only via international organisations like the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OSCE.
An international alumni meeting in Kyiv
In October 2019, the first ifa alumni meeting with CrossCulture Programme alumni from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan was held in Kyiv, Ukraine. Around 30 alumni came together to exchange experiences and ideas. During the three days, the participants had an interesting and varied programme. It included presentations by civil society experts, panel discussions and workshops on future opportunities for joint initiatives. Working in groups, the alumni discussed key issues and questions relating to diversity and peaceful coexistence, and also shared experiences regarding youth policy, civic education and social entrepreneurship. Throughout the whole meeting, there were many opportunities for them to exchange thoughts, share best practices, analyse methods and create strategies for establishing sustainable networks and collaborations.
“I wanted to experience German work ethics at first hand”
The 2018 CCP alumnus says he did not experience any culture shock during his fellowship. He used to work for the OSCE office in Tajikistan and visited the secretariat’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, twice a year. This meant he was properly exposed to European culture.
“In our part of the world there is a positive stereotype of Germans – their punctuality, precision and the quality of the goods they produce,” says Sherzamonov. He started learning German and and now has a basic understanding of the language. “In my application to ifa, I emphasised that I wanted to experience genuine German work ethics.”
Ironically, he ended up in an organisation with a very diverse multinational team – and only two Germans. Nevertheless, the CCP Fellowship helped him a lot with his research as well as his voluntary work. “I learnt a lot during my time in Europe. Now we can monitor the situation back home more precisely as I acquired certain skills while working at the European Centre for Minority Issues and participating in the UN fellowship programme. My research skills have definitely improved.”
Do you also work in a civil society field or are you involved in minority rights? Let us know in your comments below!