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Turkey’s Street Name Diplomacy – Hard Work for City Councils

Turkey’s Street Name Diplomacy – Hard Work for City Councils

Turkey’s rather teenage, bully-like “street name diplomacy” was invented by Melih Gökçek, the ousted mayor of Ankara…

when he proposed to rename Paris Street (where the French embassy is located) to “Algiers Street” to remind drivers and passers by of the French atrocities against Algerians during Algeria’s war of independence.

Mr Gökçek probably did not know his invention would one day make the backbone of Turkey’s powerful diplomatic machinery. First, the Ankara city council changed the name of the street where the embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is located to Fakhreddin Pasha, the historical figure at the centre of a diplomatic row in which UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan retweeted accusations that Ottoman forces led by Fakhreddin Pasha stole money and manuscripts from Medina in 1916 during World War One when the city was under Ottoman rule.

In February, the Ankara city council proposed to change the name of the street where the U.S. embassy is located to “Olive Branch” in reference to the code name of the Turkish military incursion into neighbouring Syria.

In September Istanbul’s city council voted to remove President Donald Trump’s name from the metro underpass leading to the Trump complex.

In October, at the peak of the Turkish-American diplomatic crisis, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalın, announced that the street leading to the U.S. embassy in Turkey would be re-named to “Malcolm X Road.”

It is bizarre that no one at Istanbul’s city council has yet proposed to rename the street where the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is located to “Jamal Khashoggi Street.”  It’s caution, probably, on not yet comprehending Mr Erdoğan’s policy and sentiments on the axis of the Saudi Kingdom and the Khashoggi affair.

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Mr Erdoğan clearly ruled out any link between the journalist’s murder and the House of Saud. But then, a couple of days later, Mr Erdoğan said that the order to kill Mr Khashoggi came from the “highest level of the Saudi government.” Since Mr Erdoğan firmly believes that the Saudi king and crown prince did not give the order what/who is the “highest level of the Saudi government? Could the culprit be the Minister of Civil Service? Or the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance?

Caution is always good for any Turkish official whose only directional compass is what President Erdoğan publicly (and angrily) says. For instance, the Ankara city council could have renamed of the street where the Russian Embassy is located to “Stars and Stripes Street,” in view of Mr Erdoğan’s angry address to the Russians: “You don’t even have a border with Syria. What business do you have there?” Had they done so, Ankara city officials could have had to rename the street to “Red Army Street.”

After several months of tensions, Mr Erdoğan contently announced that he had the “warmest and most positive” telephone conversation with Mr Trump. With the potential release by the U.S. authorities of the Turkish government banker Hakan Atilla and some serious cooperation between American and Turkish troops in and around Manbij, the City of Istanbul may have to rename the metro underpass “The Great Trump Road.”

About The Author

Burak Bekdil

Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based Turkish political columnist who wrote for Hurriyet Daily News [formerly Turkish Daily News] for 29 years. He has covered Turkey for the U.S. weekly Defense News since 1997. Previously, Bekdil worked as Ankara Bureau Chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He contributes to annual national defense sector reviews for anti-corruption institutions like Transparency International and Global Integrity. Bekdil is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Gatestone Institute and Middle East Quarterly. He also contributes to Perspectives, a journal of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv. James Cuno, art historian and President of the J. Paul Getty Trust, describes Bekdil as "a frequent critic of Prime Minister [now president] Recep Tayyip Erdogan." In 2001, a Heavy Crimes Court in Ankara sentenced Bekdil to a suspended, 20-month prison sentence for his column in which he satirized corruption in the judiciary. Bekdil's comments, quotes and articles have been published in international media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Los Angeles Times, The Commentator, New York Times, Kathimerini, National Review Online, Algemeiner, NPR, Washington Times, Die Presse, Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, Toronto Star, Financial Times, Al-Monitor, Le Figaro, ABC, El Pais, Stern, Al-Arabiya, Helsingin Sanomat, Racjonalista, Defence Greece, Moyen-Orient, Courier International, ISN Security Watch and Coloquio (of Congreso Judio Latinoamerico) and the Jewish Chronicle (London). (Born: Ankara, 1966; Undergraduate: Department of Economics, Middle East Technical University, Ankara; Post-graduate: Department of Economics, University of Surrey, United Kingdom)

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