While Turkish Islamists celebrate the conversion of Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque, their ambition to erase Asia Minor's non-Islamic past is paralleled by calls to "Turkify" proper names borrowed from other languages, especially Greek.
In July, former Turkish admiral Cihat Yaycı proposed that the name of the Aegean Sea (Ege Denizi in Turkish) be changed because the Turkish word "Ege" comes from the Greek "Aegeo." He suggested that the Aegean should be called the "Sea of Islands" or "Northern Mediterranean Sea."
If the admiral's proposal to Turkify geographical names should be accepted, it will need to be applied to hundreds of locations in the country. It is already unacceptable in Turkey to refer to Istanbul as "Konstantinoupolis," its original Greek name. But few Turks know that the "Turkish" name of the city is in fact a cognate of the Greek "Eis tin Polin," meaning "to the city."
Atatürk was born in Thessaloniki (in today's Greece), which is "Selanik" in Turkish. Turkey's capital, Ankara, comes from the Greek "Ancyra." President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is from Potamia ("rivers" in Greek) in "Rize," (the Greek "Rhizos"). His predecessor, Abdullah Gül, is from Kayseri (the Greek "Caesarea"). Before Gül, the three Turkish presidents came from, chronologically, Afyon (the Greek "Akroenos"), Isparta (the Greek "Sparta"), and Malatya (the Arabic "Maldiye").
Turkey owes its independence largely to its military success at "Gelibolu" (the Greek "Gallipoli"). Turkey's third-biggest city is Izmir (the "Greek "Smyrni"). Other big cities include Antalya (the Greek "Attalios"), Bursa (the Greek "Prousa"), Trabzon (the Greek "Trapezounda"), and Amasya (the Greek "Amaseia").
If the Turkification extends to human names, more than half the Turkish population will be nameless. The admiral apparently does not know that 42.9% of female names in Turkey are Arabic versus only 22.7% that are Turkish, and 49.7% of male names are Arabic with only 35.8% of them Turkish. Even the president's name, Tayyip, is Arabic ("Tayeb"). The name of the founder of Turkey was Arabic (Mustafa Kemal).
Symbolism is a colossal part of Turkish ideology. It often reflects the overall level of education of the country (on average, Turks are educated up to school year 6.5). But ideological symbolism is not limited to those who lack an education. The admiral who wants to give a Turkish name to the Aegean Sea is not a seventh grade dropout.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.