Geographical name changes in Turkey
Geographical name changes in Turkey have been undertaken, periodically, in bulk from 1913 to the present by successive Turkish governments. To strengthen the first official language, thousands of names within the Turkish Republic or the Ottoman Empire have lost or departed from their popular or historic alternatives in favour of recognizably Turkish names, as part of the Turkification policy. The governments have argued that such names are foreign and/or divisive against Turkish unity. Names changed were usually of Armenian, Greek, Laz, Georgian, Bulgarian, Kurdish, Assyrian, or Arabic origin.
Turkey's efforts to join the European Union in the early 21st century has led to a decrease in the incidence of such changes from local, and particularly the central government. In some cases legislation has restored the names of certain villages (primarily those housing Kurdish minorities). Place names that have formally changed frequently persist in local dialects and languages throughout the ethnically diverse country.
The policy commenced during the final years of the Ottoman Empire and continued into the Turkish Republic. Under the Kemalist oriented government, specialized governmental commissions were created for the purpose of changing names. Approximately 28,000 topographic names were changed, which included 12,211 village and town names and 4,000 mountain, river, and other topographic names. Most name changes occurred in the eastern regions of the country where minorities have historically lived. Policies at times included that of banning the use of foreign names that were considered divisive and inappropriate.
The Committee of Union and Progress took the reins of the Ottoman government through a coup d'état in 1913. At the height of World War I and during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, when the ethnic cleansing policies of non-Muslim Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian minorities were underway, Minister of War Enver Pasha issued an edict (ferman) on October 6, 1916, declaring:
It has been decided that provinces, districts, towns, villages, mountains, and rivers, which are named in languages belonging to non-Muslim nations such as Armenian, Greek or Bulgarian, will be renamed into Turkish. In order to benefit from this suitable moment, this aim should be achieved in due course.
General Directorate of State Archives of the Republic of Turkey, İstanbul Vilayet Mektupçuluğu, no. 000955, 23 Kânunuevvel 1331 (October 6, 1916) Ordinance of Enver Paşa
Enver Pasha did not change the geographical names belonging to Muslim minorities (i.e. Arabs and Kurds) due to the Ottoman government's role as a Caliphate. His decree inspired many Turkish intellectuals to write in support of such measures. One such intellectual, Hüseyin Avni Alparslan (1877–1921), a Turkish soldier and author of books about Turkish language and culture, was inspired by the efforts of Enver Pasha, writing in his book Trabzon İli Lâz mı? Türk mü? (Is the Trabzon province Laz or Turkish?) that:
If we want to be the owner of our country, then we should turn even the name of the smallest village into Turkish and not leave its Armenian, Greek or Arabic variants.
Only in this way can we paint our country with its colors.
It is not known how many geographical names were changed under the ordinance. The ultimate overarching objective behind it failed due to the collapse of the Ottoman government and trials of its leaders before Ottoman and European courts for massacres against ethnic minorities committed in 1915.
A decreased level of cultural repression has taken place in the Turkish Republic, however non-mainstream Turkic origin place names have invariably been officially renamed over the course of time.
Republic of Turkey
Turkish nationalism and secularism were two of the six founding principles of the Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the leader of the early decades of the Republic, aimed to create a nation state (Turkish: Ulus) from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire. During the first three decades of the Republic, efforts to Turkify geographical names were a recurring theme. Imported maps containing references to historical regions such as Armenia, Kurdistan, or Lazistan (the official name of the province of Rize until 1921) were prohibited (as was the case with Der Grosse Weltatlas, a map published in Leipzig).
Journalist and writer Ayşe Hür has noted that after the death of Ataturk and during the Democratic period of the Turkish Republic in the late 1940s and 50s, "ugly, humiliating, insulting or derisive names, even if they were Turkish, were subjected to changes. Village names with lexical components meaning red (kizil), bell (çan), church (kilise, e.g. Kirk Kilise) were all changed. To do away with "separatist notions", the Arabic, Persian, Armenian, Kurdish, Georgian, Tatar, Circassian, and Laz village names were also changed."
The Special Commission for Name Change (Ad Degistirme Ihtisas Komisyonu) was created under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior. It brought together professors, politicians, generals, linguists, and academicians throughout Turkey to take up the task of official name changing. Among the commission's participants were members of the Office of the General Staff, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Education, and history and geography professors from Ankara University. The initiative proved successful, as approximately 28, 000 topographic names were changed, including 12, 211 village and town names and 4, 000 mountain, river, and other topographic names. This figure also included names of streets, monuments, quarters, neighborhoods, and other components that make up certain municipalities. By 1927, all street and square names in Istanbul which were not of Turkish origin were changed. The campaign continued until 1978, and was reintroduced after the military coup of 1980 in 1981–83. During the heightened tension between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish government, the focus of geographical name changing in the 1980s was on Kurdish villages, towns, rivers, etc.
In 1981, the Turkish government stated in the preface of Köylerimiz, a publication dedicated to names of Turkish villages, that:
Approximately 12, 000 village names that are non-Turkish, understood to originate from non-Turkish roots, and identified as causing confusion have been examined and replaced with Turkish names, and put into effect by the Substitution Committee for Foreign Names functioning at the Directorate General for Provincial Governments in our Ministry.
At the culmination of the policy, no geographical or topographical names of non-Turkish origin remained. Some of the newer names resembled their native names, but with revised Turkish connotations (i.e. Aghtamar was changed to Akdamar).
Although geographical names have been formally changed in Turkey, their native names persist and continue in local dialects throughout the country. At times, Turkish politicians have also used the native names of cities during their speeches. In 2009, when addressing a crowd in the town of Güroymak, president Abdullah Gul used the native name Norşin. Also that year, when talking about his family origins, Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan used the native Greek name of Potamya instead of Güneysu.
Efforts at restoring the former names of geographical terms have been recently introduced in Turkey. In September 2012, legislation was introduced to restore the names of (primarily Kurdish) villages to their former native names. According to the bill, the province of Tunceli would be named Dersim, Güroymak would be named Norşin, and Aydınlar would be named Tilo.
Most of the geographical name changes occurred in the eastern provinces of the country and on the coast of the eastern Black Sea, where minority populations tend to live. Through independent study, etymologist Sevan Nisanyan estimates that, of the geographical location name changes, 4, 200 were Greek, 4, 000 Kurdish, 3, 600 Armenian, 750 Arabic, 400 Assyrian, 300 Georgian, 200 Laz, and 50 others. The official statistics of The Special Commission for Name Change (Ad Degistirme Ihtisas Komisyonu) claim that the total number of villages, towns, cities, and settlements renamed is 12, 211. The chart below lists the provinces and the number of villages or towns renamed.
Notable geographical name changes
Armenian geographic names were first changed under the reign of Sultan Abdulhamit II. In 1880, the word Armenia was banned from use in the press, schoolbooks, and governmental establishments, to be replaced with words like Anatolia or Kurdistan. Armenian name changing continued under the early Republican era up until the 21st century. It included the Turkification of last names, change of animal names, change of the names of Armenian historical figures (i.e. the name of the prominent Balyan family was concealed under the identity of a superficial Italian family called Baliani), and the change and distortion of Armenian historical events.
Most Armenian geographical names were in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman empire. Villages, settlements, or towns that contain the suffix -kert, meaning built or built by (i.e. Manavazkert (today Malazgirt), Norakert, Dikranagert, Noyakert), -shen, meaning village (i.e. Aratashen, Pemzashen, Norashen), and -van, meaning town (i.e. Charentsavan, Nakhichevan, Tatvan), signify an Armenian name. Throughout Ottoman history, Turkish and Kurdish tribesmen have settled into Armenian villages and changed the native Armenian names (i.e. the Armenian Norashen was changed to Norşin). This was especially true after the Armenian genocide, when much of eastern Turkey was depopulated of its Armenian population.
|Armenian name||Named changed to:||Notes|
|Govdun||Goydun||Armenian: "House of cows"|
|Aghtamar||Akdamar||Armenian: from the folkloric legend "Aghtamar".
Turkish: White vein
|Akn||Eğin, later Kemaliye||Armenian: "Fountain"|
|Manavazkert||Malazgirt||Armenian: "City of Menua" (named after Urartian king Menua)|
|Vostan||Gevaş||Armenian: "Belongs to King"|
|Kayl Ket||Kelkit River||Armenian: "Wolf River". The village of Kelkit in the
Gümüşhane Province also gets its name from the Kelkit River.
|Norashen||Güroymak||Armenian: "New city". A proposal has been introduced to
restore its former name. The Kurdish community of Güroymak
claim it is a Kurdish native name called "Norşin".
|Zeytun||Süleymanlı||Armenian: "Olive". Turkish: named after Turkish general
Suleyman who captured the village in 1915.
|Sassoun||Sason||Armenian: from the folkloric legend "Sanasar"|
|Çermuk||Çermik||Armenian: "Hot springs"|
|Khachkar||Kaçkar||Armenian: Khachkar or cross-stone.|
|Everek||Develi||Derives from the Armenian word Averag meaning ruins.|
|Karpert||Harput, later Elâzığ||Armenian: "Rock fortress"|
|Ani||Anı||Historical capital of Bagratuni Armenia. Turkish: "Memory"|
|Sevaverag||Siverek||Armenian: "Black ruins"|
|Chabakchur (Çabakçur)||Bingöl||Armenian: "rough waters". Turkish: "Thousand lakes".
Çabakçur was used until 1944.
Kurds refer to the city as Çolig.
|Metskert||Mazgirt||Armenian: "Big city"|
|Pertak||Pertek||Armenian: "Small castle"|
Most Assyrian name changes occurred in the southeast of Turkey near the Syrian border in the Tur Abdin region. The Tur Abdin (Syriac: ܛܘܼܪ ܥܒ݂ܕܝܼܢ) is a hilly region incorporating the eastern half of Mardin Province, and Şırnak Province west of the Tigris, on the border with Syria. The name 'Tur Abdin' is from the Syriac language meaning 'mountain of the servants (of God)'. Tur Abdin is of great importance to Syriac Orthodox Christians, for whom the region used to be a monastic and cultural heartland. The Assyrian/Syriac people of Tur Abdin call themselves Suroye and Suryoye, and traditionally speak an Eastern Aramaic dialect called Turoyo.
Nişanyan estimates that 400 Assyrian geographical locations have been changed.
|Assyrian name||Named changed to:||Notes|
|Kafrô Taxtaytô||Elbeğendi||Eastern Aramaic: "Lower Village"|
|Barsomik||Tütenocak||Named after Nestorian Patriarch Bar Sawma|
|Merdô||Mardin||Eastern Aramaic: "Fortresses"|
|Iwardo||Gülgöze||Eastern Aramaric: "Fountain of flowers"|
|Arbo||Taşköy||Eastern Aramaic: "Goat"|
|Qartmîn||Yayvantepe||Eastern Aramaic: "Middle village"|
|Kfargawsô||Gercüş||Eastern Aramaic: "Sheltered village"|
|Kefshenne||Kayalı||Eastern Aramaic: "Stone of peace"|
|Beṯ Zabday||İdil||Named after Babai the Great who founded a
monastery and school in the region.
|Xisna d'Kêpha (Hisno d'Kifo)||Hasankeyf||Eastern Aramaic: "Rock fortress"|
With the establishment of the Ottoman empire, many Turkish name changes have continued to retain their Greek origins. For example, the modern name "İzmir" derives from the former Greek name Σμύρνη "Smyrna", through the first two syllables of the phrase "εις Σμύρνην" (pronounced "is Smirnin"), which means "to Smyrna" in Greek. A similar etymology also applies to other Turkish cities with former Greek names, such as İznik (from the phrase "is Nikaean", meaning "to Nicaea"), Istanbul (from the phrase "is tan Polin" or "to the City"), or even for the Greek island of Kos, called "İstanköy" in Turkish.
Nişanyan estimates that 4, 200 Greek geographical locations have been changed, the most of any ethnic minority.
|Greek name||Named changed to:||Notes|
|Potamia||Güneysu||Greek: "Wetlands". On August 12, 2009, when talking about his family
origins, Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan used the native Greek
name of Potamya instead of Güneysu.
|Kalipolis||Gelibolu||Greek: "Beautiful city". The city was founded in the 5th century B.C.|
|Makri||Fethiye||Greek: "long". Following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey,
the Greeks of Makri were sent to Greece where they founded the town of
Nea Makri (New Makri).
|Kalamaki||Kalkan||Until the early 1920s, the majority of its inhabitants were Greeks. They left
in 1923 because of the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey
after the Greco-Turkish War and emigrated to Attica, where they founded
the town of Kalamaki.
|Neopolis||Kuşadası||It was known as Neopolis (New city) during the Byzantine era and later as
Scala Nova or Scala Nuova under the Genovese and Venetians.
|Smyrna||İzmir||Following the Great Fire of Smyrna of 1922, a number of refugees from
Smyrna (İzmir) arrived and settled in the southwestern part of Athens, and
founded the district of Nea Smyrni.
|Konstantinoupolis||Istanbul||Greek: "City of Constantine". Founded by Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D.
The name of the city was officially changed to its present name of Istanbul in
1930, but the name has been in use since even before the 1453 Ottoman
|Sinasos||Mustafapaşa||In 1924, during the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey,
the Greeks of the town left to Greece and founded Nea Sinasos, a town in the
northern part of the island of Euboea.
|The Prince Islands
|During the Byzantine period, princes and other royalty were exiled on the
islands, and later members of the Ottoman sultan's family were exiled there
as well, giving the islands their present name.
The Kurdish geographical name changes were exempt under the Ottoman Empire due to the Islamic religious orientation of Kurds. During the Republican era and especially after the Dersim massacre, Kurdish geographical name changes became more common. During the Turkish Republican era, the words Kurdistan and Kurds were banned. The Turkish government had disguised the presence of the Kurds statistically by categorizing them as Mountain Turks. This classification was changed to the new euphemism of Eastern Turk in 1980.
Also included in the category of Kurdish geographical name changes are Zazaki, which is considered among Kurdish group, along with Kurmanci. Nişanyan estimates that 4, 000 Kurdish geographical locations have been changed.
|Kurdish name||Named changed to:||Notes|
|Dersîm||Tunceli province||In September 2012, legislation was
promulgated to restore the name
of the province of Tunceli to Dersim.
|Qoser||Kızıltepe||Kurdish: "Red mountain"|
|Şax||Çatak||Kurdish: "Tree branch" or "Mountain"|
|Pîran||Dicle||Kurdish: "Wise men"|
|Dara Hênî||Genç||Dar: Tree, Hênî: Spring|
|Ginc (Genc)||Kaleköy, Solhan||Inhabited by Kurds of Zaza. The name
comes from Middle Persian گنج "genc", which means
treasure. This city should not be confused
with the modern day city of Genç.
Genc was the center of Bingöl Province between
1924-1927. In 1936 the city was moved to
Dara Hênî where the Dara Hênî's name
was ultimately changed to Genç.
|Çolig||Bingöl||The meaning of the name is interpreted as
somewhere that is in a deep valley.
|Şemrex||Mazıdağı||Kurdish: "Road to Damascus (Şam)"|
|Norgeh||Pazaryolu||Kurdish: "Place of light"|
|Amed||Diyarbakir||Armenians also refer to the city as
Dikranagerd (Armenian: built by King Tigran).
|Colemêrg||Hakkari||Hakkari was known as Çölemerik in
accordance with government records in 1928.
Armenians refer to the city as Gghmar which
was noted in Tovma Artsruni's History of
the House of Artsrunik written in the 10th
|Serêkaniyê||Ceylanpinar||Kurdish: "Head of spring (a natural fountain)"|
|Riha||Şanlıurfa||The city was referred to as Edessa in a
4th century Greek text. It was also referred
to as El-Ruha in a 7th-century Arabic text.
The city was changed to Urfa. In 1984 the
Turkish National Assembly changed its
name to Şanlıurfa meaning Glorious Urfa
in honor of the city's dedication to the
Turkish War of Independence.
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- Geographical regions of Turkey
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- Surname Law (Turkey)
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An East Aramaic dialect, Turoyo (sometimes called 'modern Assyrian' or 'Neo-Syriac') is spoken by Christian communities of the Syrian Orthodox Church whose traditional homes are on the Tur Abdin plateau in Turkey.
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Facing persecution and discrimination, Turkey's Assyrian population, once numbering more than 130,000, has been reduced to about 5,000.
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The town grew considerably at the end of the 19thC, and until the exchange of Graeco-Turkish populations in 1923 it had a large Greek population. Its name at that time was Makri in modern Greek.
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During the 1930s and 1940s, the government had disguised the presence of the Kurds statistically by categorizing them as "Mountain Turks."
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