WASHINGTON — Ceding to a long-standing Turkish demand, the State Department on Thursday agreed to begin spelling the country's name in Turkish in its official documents.
Turkey will now be referred to as "Türkiye," officials said. And indeed, around midday, the State Department released its first press announcement saying "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 U.S. government has always generally used the anglicized spelling of countries' names in official documents — for example, using "Spain," not "España" and "Germany," not "Deutschland."
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year asked the world to adhere to the spelling in Turkish of the country's name because, he said, it more correctly reflects how the country's name is pronounced in that language.
"The phrase Türkiye represents and expresses the culture, civilization and values of the Turkish nation in the best way," Erdogan said in a decree issued at the time. It comes as Erdogan has increasingly engaged in nationalistic, populist policies that critics say impinge on democracy.
The United Nations and NATO, of which Turkey is a member, adopted the new spelling last year.
But the U.S. took its time. Price said the U.S. government's Board on Geographic Names ruled that it was still permissible to use the "conventional spelling" of Turkey by officials and agencies when "in the furtherance of broader public understanding."
At the State Department, however, the Turkish-language spelling will appear in all formal documents, reports, communiques and so forth. Officials are likely to continue calling the country "Turkey."
The U.S. government, and much of U.S. media, changes the spellings or names of countries and their cities in certain circumstances. Such was the case with numerous Ukrainian cities — Kiev is now Kyiv, Odessa is now Odesa, for instance — as that country sought to shed vestiges of Russian domination.
The military in Burma changed the name of that country to Myanmar. The U.S. government does not formally recognize the change, although most U.S. news outlets use "Myanmar," or use both names interchangeably.
But spelling a country's name in that country's language is different, though it was universally 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, ally for the U.S. Washington has been troubled by Ankara's arms deals with Russia and repression of dissidents and minorities. But it needs Turkey's help in persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine, and in allowing Sweden and Finland to join NATO, fighting Islamic State and other issues.
©2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.