Explained: Why US is officially changing the spelling of 'Turkey' to 'Türkiye'

Turkish people have referred to their country as Türkiye (pronounced tur-KEE-yeh) since it was established in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Anglicised version of the country’s name has been the norm for the rest of the world for decades

The New York Times January 06, 2023 17:44:28 IST
Explained: Why US is officially changing the spelling of 'Turkey' to 'Türkiye'

US President Joe Biden gestures towards Turkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C/L) during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit at the Ifema congress centre in Madrid. AFP

Breaking with long-standing practice, the State Department will use the Turkish government’s preferred spelling, Türkiye, instead of Turkey, a spokesperson said Thursday.

The spokesperson, Ned Price, said the U.S. Board on Geographic Names had approved the new name, which the State Department will use in “most formal, diplomatic, and bilateral contexts,” and in “public communications.”

Price was asked about the change at a news conference after The Associated Press reported it Thursday. He said the decision had been made in response to a request from the Turkish Embassy, adding that other U.S. government departments and agencies had already begun using the new spelling.

Turkish people have referred to their country as Türkiye (pronounced tur-KEE-yeh) since it was established in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Anglicised version of the country’s name has been the norm for the rest of the world for decades.

The State Department’s decision came about six months after Turkey officially changed its name to Türkiye at the United Nations.

Also read: No Fowl Play: Why US presidents pardon turkeys on Thanksgiving

‘Türkiye best represented Turkish culture and history’

For several years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly opposed the use of the Anglicised spelling for his country and has pushed for the rest of the world to use its Turkish-language name. In April 2021, he signed a memorandum saying that Türkiye best represented Turkish culture and history and should be used as the country’s name in all languages. Export products should be printed with the phrase “Made in Türkiye,” not “Made in Turkey,” the memo advised.

“The phrase ‘Türkiye’ symbolises and conveys the Turkish nation’s culture, civilization, and values in the best way possible,” the memo said, adding that the spelling should replace alternative spellings used in other countries, including “Turkei” and “Turquie” as well as “Turkey.”

Last year, the state broadcaster’s English-language outlet, TRT World, promoted a video campaign called “Hello! Türkiye” to raise “global awareness” about the rebrand. One video shows people repeatedly using the country’s Turkish-language name.

Erdağ Göknar, an associate professor of Turkish and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University, said that while “Turkey” is viewed as a “holdover” from a colonial order, the use of “Türkiye” is seen as emphasising national agency and pride.

“‘Turkey’ was seen as being an outsider appellation with an imperial and colonial legacy,” Göknar said. “Not least of all, the association with the bird was accepted as a denigrating legacy of a bygone era.”

The State Department has previously adopted name changes requested by other countries, including Swaziland, which in 2018 modified its name to the Kingdom of Eswatini, or Eswatini.

As of Thursday evening, the State Department had not updated its website with Turkey’s new name.

Christine Chung, c.2023 The New York Times Company

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