A classic Cold War game revives: Changing street names

A classic Cold War game revives: Changing street names

Between 1996 and 2010 I worked on the fourth floor of the building that houses the Ankara bureaus of daily newspapers Milliyet and Vatan.

For 14 years I wrote down “Nevzat Tandoğan Street” whenever anyone asked for my office address. Now Ankara Metropolitan Municipality has changed the name of the street to “Olive Branch.”

My colleague, a columnist at the daily Star, Ersoy Dede interprets the move as a way of “removing Nevzat Tandoğan’s name.” I think he is right because the Metropolitan Municipality changed the name of “Tandoğan Square” to “Anadolu Square” three years ago.

It is noteworthy that all streets and avenues bearing the name “Gülen” have also been renamed to quash any associations with the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, widely believed to have been behind Turkey’s July 2016 military coup attempt.

However, the U.S. Embassy is also located on the newly minted “Olive Branch” street. “Olive branch” refers to Turkey’s ongoing military operation against the U.S.-backed “People’s Protections Units” in Syria’s Afrin northwestern district. The name represents fierce resistance to U.S. policy in Syria.

Street name warfare

In my opinion, even if the primary intention was to remove Nevzat Tandoğan’s name, renaming the street “Olive Branch” has sidelined this agenda. Why? Allow me to explain.

Last week the Russians proposed changing the street name of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to “North America Dead End.” Right-wing deputy Mikhail Degtyaryov put forward the idea. He said the Moscow City Council would consider his proposal later this month.

In the U.S. capital Washington a similar move occurred at the beginning of January. The city council changed the name of the Wisconsin Avenue block, which houses the Russian embassy, to Boris Nemtsov Plaza.

Nemtsov was a prominent figure of the opposition in Russia and was killed near the Kremlin Palace in 2015.

Although five Russians of Chechen origin have been arrested in relation to the assassination, Nemstov’s family and close circle have alleged that the real perpetrators have not been found.

These street name changes recall historical diplomatic rumblings. Allow me to give a couple of examples:

- During the Cold War era in the 1980s, the U.S. administration named the square in front of the Russian embassy in Washington after Andrei Sakharov when the Russian nuclear physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner was arrested.

- In the U.S. there were suggestions to rename the street where the Embassy of China was located after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese immediately retaliated by starting debates over whether to rename the street housing the U.S. embassy after Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who famously leaked classified U.S. documents.

- When Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) died on hunger strike on May 5 1981, the famous British politician Winston Churchill’s name was removed from the street that housed the U.K. embassy in Iran.

- The Tehran administration has also named the street where the Saudi Arabian embassy is located after Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the Shia cleric killed by the Saudi regime.

- During the Vietnam War, a street in India was named after Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader of the anti-U.S. Vietcong forces.

Turkey’s position has changed

This is an ever-lengthening list. A New York Times article titled “U.S. and Russia Revive Cold-War Game of Provocative Street Names,” published on Feb. 14, states that in Russia the names of foreign leaders who have clashed with the U.S, such as the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq, could be assigned street names. Similar steps may also be taken in other countries.

Let me put this to one side and finish with another conclusion: In the cold war Turkey stood against Moscow, siding with its NATO ally the U.S. These days the opposite is happening.

Is it not ironic that the removed name belongs to an anti-communist who once said: “Communism will only come if we bring it ourselves!”

I wonder what will happen next.

Deniz Zeyrek, hdn,