Giving in to a long-standing Turkish demand, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday agreed to spell the country’s name in Turkish in its official documents.
Turkey is now referred to as “Turkiye,” officials said. And indeed, around noon, the State Department released its first press statement, which said “the United States and Türkiye” had disrupted Islamic State financial networks operating in Turkey and Syria.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the decision to change the spelling was in response to a request from the Turkish Embassy in Washington.
It was an unusual concession. The US government has always used the Anglicized spelling of country names in official documents – for example, “Spain” instead of “España” and “Germany” instead of “Deutschland”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year urged the world to stick to the spelling of the country’s Turkish name because, he said, it more accurately reflects how the country’s name is pronounced in that language.
“The term Türkiye best represents and expresses the culture, civilization and values of the Turkish nation,” Erdogan said in a decree issued at the time. It comes as Erdogan is increasingly pursuing nationalist, populist policies that critics say are undermining democracy.
The United Nations and NATO, of which Turkey is a member, adopted the new spelling last year.
But the US took its time. Price said the US government’s Board on Geographic Names has ruled that it is still permissible for officials and agencies to use the “conventional spelling” of Turkey when “to promote broader public understanding.”
However, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Turkish language spelling will appear in all formal documents, reports, communiques and so on. Officials will likely continue to call the country “Turkey.”
The US government and much of the US media change the spelling or names of countries and their cities under certain circumstances. This was the case, for example, with numerous Ukrainian cities – Kyiv is now Kyiv, Odessa is now Odessa – as this country tried to shed traces of Russian dominance.
The military in Burma changed the name of that country to Myanmar. The US government does not officially recognize the change, although most US news outlets use “Myanmar” or use both names interchangeably.
But the spelling of a country name in that country’s language is different, although it was generally accepted when several African countries changed their names after the era of colonization. Swaziland became known as Eswatini in 2018.
Turkey is an important if problematic US ally Washington is troubled by Ankara’s arms deals with Russia and the repression of dissidents and minorities. But it needs Turkey’s help to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine and allow Sweden and Finland to join NATO to fight the Islamic State and other problems.