Turkey has changed its name at the United Nations, in the biggest push yet by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to get the rest of the world to call the country by its Turkish language name, Türkiye (tur-KEE-yeh).
The name isn’t new to the Turkish people, who have used it since their country was established in 1923 after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
But equally common in the country has been the Anglicized version of the name, which, for some, brings the negative connotations associated with the English language word.
The change at the United Nations was set in motion last winter by Mr. Erdogan, whose popularity has sagged since he was re-elected in 2018 and comes as his constituents grapple with soaring food prices and the plummeting value of the Turkish lira.
“It is an attempt also to show to the Turkish public at home and to Turks living in Germany and other Western European countries that Erdogan has the power to assert his will beyond the political boundaries of the country,” said Mustafa Aksakal, a professor of history at Georgetown University in Washington. “The name change may seem silly to some but it puts Erdogan in the role of protector, of safeguarding international respect for the country.”
Over the past two decades, Mr. Erdogan has pitched to voters visions of past Ottoman grandeur as he tried to widen his country’s influence with increased trade and military deployments. But he hasn’t been able to keep economic problems at bay, and ahead of elections, due before June 2023, his opposition has shown signs of strength.
Next year is also the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, for which Mr. Erdogan has long planned celebrations. Mr. Erdogan’s vision of the country, appealing to conservative Muslims, is much different than the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
At the United Nations, the change was requested in a letter from Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey that was received on Wednesday and took effect immediately, according to a spokesman for the U.N. The new official name of the country in English is the Republic of Türkiye. Historians trace the first written mention of Türkiye to the 8th Century in present-day Mongolia, Mr. Aksakal said.
Mr. Erdogan’s dislike of the Anglicized name was on display in December 2019, when he unveiled prototypes of a locally made electric car. He signaled that products should say they were “Made in Türkiye,’’ not “Made in Turkey.”
He advocated for the phrase more forcefully two years later, issuing a memorandum saying that Türkiye best represents Turkish culture and history, and that it should be used as the country’s name in all languages.
Following the memorandum, many public institutions within the country started using Türkiye. Some foreign counterparts also started using the Turkish word, according to a Turkish official.
A “Hello! Türkiye” international ad campaign was part of the push. The state broadcaster’s English language outlet, TRT World, published an article backing the move, saying when Persia changed its name to Iran, “It reflected a will for the country to take charge of its destiny.” The article also lamented the fact that in English, the country shared a name with the bird native to the Americas.
When the turkey started making its way to other parts of the world in the 16th Century, people tried to associate it with known places, Mr. Aksakal said. For instance, he said, it is known as the Indian bird in both French and Turkish.
The TRT article had another complaint: The other meaning of the English word. “Flip through the Cambridge Dictionary and ‘turkey’ is defined as ‘something that fails badly‘ or ‘a stupid or silly person,’” it said.