By Ethan Dinçer
In early December 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a series of communiqués that would begin to radically alter Turkey’s international image. Framed under the auspices of reforming and strengthening the Turkish brand, the policies set forth by Erdoğan would aim to shift domestic discourse on the country’s name by changing it from Turkey to Türkiye in all sectors.
Beginning with a communiqué in early December 2021, Erdoğan suggested the country use Türkiye in all its official activities, including shifting its export slogan from ‘Made in Turkey’ to ‘Made in Türkiye.’ This move was just the first step in a larger project spearheaded by the presidency to strengthen Turkey’s brand, justified by claiming that “the phrase Türkiye represents and expresses the culture, civilisation and values of the Turkish nation in the best way.” Yet, changing export branding isn’t new to Turkish producers: the Türkiye İhracatçılar Meclisi (TİM), the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, recommended all exporters begin using the ‘Made in Türkiye’ slogan in 2000. This strategy was concretized in a January 2020 decree by the Assembly that required all exports to include the ‘Made in Türkiye’ moniker.
Erdoğan’s December push catalyzed an already growing movement of support for a nation-wide name change. The same December communiqué instructed all governmental communications to adopt ‘Türkiye’ when using non-Turkish languages, including changing their websites. The popular ‘GoTurkey’ Instagram account, run by the Turkish tourism ministry, immediately changed the account to ‘GoTürkiye’, adorned with the related #OnlyinTürkiye and #SafeTourismTürkiye to promote COVID-conscious tourism.
At the beginning of the new year, Erdoğan pushed the scope of the communiqué beyond the domestic procedures of the nation and onto the international stage. In late January, Turkish officials began making official plans to register the name change at the United Nations, a move that would make the state’s internationally recognized name Türkiye. Even though no official documents have been submitted to the UN, this consideration and preparation itself signifies a deeper intent behind this push to solidify the nation’s brand.
At the time of writing, the most recent iteration of the name-change directive is the ‘Say Türkiye’ campaign launched by the Presidential Communications Directorate. The plan is the second step in the ‘Hello Türkiye’ campaign launched after the original December 2021 communiqué, and includes a letter to the Türkiye Esnaf ve Sanatkârları Konfederasyonu (TESK), the Turkish Confederation of Tradesmen and Craftsmen, to encourage all craftsmen in the nation to use Türkiye on their products. In addition to businesses and governments, all public institutions will be using Türkiye on their websites and social media accounts, with the eventual goal of reaching global media platforms to change headlines and search engine results worldwide to Türkiye. With the implementation of Türkiye into international spaces, it would be likely to see the changing of passports and identification cards in the coming years, in addition to official diplomatic documents.
Yet, what are the reasons behind this name change? Erdoğan’s government has been considered by some as neo-Ottoman and pan-Islamist, polemic descriptions of Turkey’s larger drift away from historic secular, Western orientations. Why is it now deciding to solidify the nation’s brand? While the official communiqué mentioned the strengthening of Turkey’s culture, civilization, and vision, many news outlets have expanded the governments’ central reasoning. TRT World, a state-run media outlet, names the turkey bird native to North America, usually served during holidays largely uncelebrated in Turkey as a reason for the change. TRT also identifies the mixed search results that occur when one types ‘Turkey’ into Google and other search engines. They reference the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of ‘turkey’ as “something that fails badly” or “a stupid or silly person.”
Although troubling, the name mix-ups have occurred since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. So, why now? Two reasons immediately emerge: the implementation of the name-change as a distraction-turned-morale booster for a fluctuating economy and in preparation for the 2023 elections. For the past few years, the Turkish economy has taken a free fall, hitting its lowest point in December 2021 when the lira fell to 16 to one US dollar, and national inflation reached a high of 36.1%. Many of these economic failings can be directly tied to President Erdoğan’s unorthodox policies, including ordering the central bank to deeply cut interest rates to prioritize credit and exports over currency strength and price stability, in hopes of the inflation rate naturally relaxing. While Erdoğan might believe in these actions, the Turkish people do not, especially when the currency lost 44% of its value in 2021 alone. Introducing a name change in December 2021, during Turkey’s most turbulent economic period, can be interpreted as a nationalist distraction for an otherwise tumbling national image, at a time when many throughout the country struggle to afford food and basic necessities. In conjunction, some see the set of communiques as a thinly-veiled appeal to gain support for the presidency and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) in the face of the upcoming June 2023 elections. As Erdoğan increasingly loses support even from his most loyal bases due to his economic policies, the name change might be an attempt at gaining back followers under the guise of strengthening Turkey’s national image and brand.
These are only speculations in lieu of official governmental justification. However, there is a larger significance that can be drawn. The name change process highlights the sensitivity of Turkish sovereignty. Many note how xenophobic and Islamophobic attacks often liken Turkey to the bird, undermining the nation’s reputation. Yet, the Turkish word for turkey is hindi, the root word of Hindistan, which is India in Turkish. Since India was once a source of livestock production that was routed through Ottoman Turkey, it makes sense that the name became imbricated in the Turkish language, yet the Indian state has not made a big deal about the situation. While the likeness to a bird may be a sore point for many Turks–I felt similarly growing up with a variety of offhand jokes about Thanksgiving turkeys and the country of my origin–these associations have been occurring for generations. Why didn’t Turkey do anything about this generations ago? Some see the change in terms of a move past the normative English language in international political spaces–Anna Francesca Murphy argues that “the tweak in its formal spelling is a push for the English version [Turkey] to not be the given standard without question.” To Murphy, the name change revolves around questions of diplomatic self-representation and a move away from catering to the West, something she argues has been occurring in the diplomatic community since the founding of the Turkish Republic.
While the name change may, at some abstract level, be reworking and reclaiming sovereign identities in international spaces, many states throughout the world have different names, such as Turkey’s immediate neighbor, Greece, which calls itself Hellas. There remains a variety of interpretations over this seemingly sudden decision for a national rebranding, many of which seem persuasive. However, during a time where Turkish domestic and foreign policy revolves around strengthening their national image–from greater involvement in Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and North African diplomatic affairs, including in Libya and Afghanistan, to a policy position that leans away from Western orientations–a separation from the anglicized spelling of the country aligns itself with the overall project of Erdoğan’s presidency. The economic argument is also salient, and the timing of the name change as a distraction from an increasingly unaffordable economy could likely be a part of Erdoğan’s nationalist rhetoric leading up to the 2023 elections. These two interpretations are complementary to each other, and it is reasonable to conclude that Erdoğan is pushing this change to save and strengthen his own image rather than the country’s brand. As his government continues to pressure a rebranding of Turkey, it is imperative to critique the state’s reliance on themes of sovereignty and nationalism and instead examine the AKP’s own failing policies and desperate actions to regain support.
 “Turkey to use ‘Türkiye’ in all activities to strengthen its brand.” TRT World, Dec. 4, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkey-to-use-t%C3%BCrkiye-in-all-activities-to-strengthen-its-brand-52307
 “Turkey to use ‘Türkiye’ in all activities to strengthen its brand.”
 Clausing, Jeri. “What’s in a Name? Why Turkey Is Now Türkiye.” Afar, Jan. 11, 2022. https://www.afar.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye
 “Why Turkey is now ‘Turkiye’, and why that matters.” TRT World, Dec. 13, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye-and-why-that-matters-52602
 Soylu, Ragip. “Turkey to register its new name Türkiye to UN in coming weeks.” Middle East Eye, Jan. 17, 2022. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-turkiye-new-name-register-un-weeks
 “‘Say Türkiye’ campaign to promote changing country’s int’l name starts.” Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 17, 2022. https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/say-turkiye-campaign-to-promote-changing-countrys-intl-name-starts-171561
 “‘Say Türkiye’ campaign to promote changing country’s int’l name starts.”
 See Maziad, Marwa and Sotiriadis, Jake. “Turkey’s Dangerous New Exports: Pan-Islamist, Neo-Ottoman Visions and Regional Instability.” Middle East Institute, April 21, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/turkeys-dangerous-new-exports-pan-islamist-neo-ottoman-visions-and-regional for a broader understanding of Erdogan’s alleged Neo-Ottomanism, a largely Western critique that gained popularity during the crackdowns post-2016 coup d’etat attempt and the various political-military engagements in Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan.
 “Why Turkey is now ‘Turkiye’, and why that matters.”
 Kissel, Thomas. “Turkey No More: Erdogan Changes Country’s Name to ‘Turkiye’”. Greek Reporter, Jan. 19, 2022. https://greekreporter.com/2022/01/19/turkey-name-change-turkiye-erdogan/
Clausing, Jeri. “What’s in a Name? Why Turkey Is Now Türkiye.” Afar, Jan. 11, 2022. https://www.afar.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye
Cupolo, Diego. “Turkey gambles on economic turnaround as cost of living skyrockets.” Politico, Dec. 22, 2021. https://www.politico.eu/article/turkey-gamble-economic-turnaround-cost-living-recep-tayyip-erdogan/
Kissel, Thomas. “Turkey No More: Erdogan Changes Country’s Name to ‘Turkiye’”. Greek Reporter, Jan. 19, 2022. https://greekreporter.com/2022/01/19/turkey-name-change-turkiye-erdogan/
Maziad, Marwa and Sotiriadis, Jake. “Turkey’s Dangerous New Exports: Pan-Islamist, Neo-Ottoman Visions and Regional Instability.” Middle East Institute, April 21, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/turkeys-dangerous-new-exports-pan-islamist-neo-ottoman-visions-and-regional
Murphy, Anna Francesca. “Turkey’s name change to ‘Türkiye’ shows that the world is no longer trying to appease Britain.” I News, Jan. 21, 2022. https://inews.co.uk/opinion/turkey-name-change-turkiye-world-appease-uk-britain-1407716
“‘Say Türkiye’ campaign to promote changing country’s int’l name starts.” Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 17, 2022. https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/say-turkiye-campaign-to-promote-changing-countrys-intl-name-starts-171561
Soylu, Ragip. “Turkey to register its new name Türkiye to UN in coming weeks.” Middle East Eye, Jan. 17, 2022. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-turkiye-new-name-register-un-weeks
“Turkey to use ‘Türkiye’ in all activities to strengthen its brand.” TRT World, Dec. 4, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkey-to-use-t%C3%BCrkiye-in-all-activities-to-strengthen-its-brand-52307
“Why Turkey is now ‘Turkiye’, and why that matters.” TRT World, Dec. 13, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye-and-why-that-matters-52602