Request to reverse Turkification of ancient Aramaic (Syriac) place‐names


Honorable Minister Atalay,

We appeal to you on behalf of the Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), the worldwide umbrella organization of all the national Federations of the Aramean/Syriac people (Turk.: Süryaniler).

With great enthusiasm, we have welcomed your audacious statements in the Turkish media relating to reverting the thousands of Turkish place‐names to their original languages. You were quoted as saying that this issue is currently not on your agenda, to which you added: “If there is a local demand, why not?” This demand, in fact, does exist among our people.

Ancient Aramaic place‐ and family names
Mr Minister, you may or may not be aware of the ancient history of our people in Turkey. Aramaic inscriptions as well as external evidence, such as Biblical and Assyrian sources, testify to the omnipresence of Semitic Aramean principalities (not to be confused with Indo‐ European Armenians) in southeastern Anatolia from the late second millennium BC onwards.
Modern Diyarbakır, for example, called Āmid since the earliest stages of Aramaic, was the capital of the city‐state Bēth Zammāni, which included the plateau of Mardin (an Aramaic plural form). Southeast of Āmid and currently belonging to the Mardin province, lies the region of Tur ‘Abdin, which again is Aramaic for “the mountain of the servants [of God].”
In his book on the early history of Tur ‘Abdin, Dr. Andrew Palmer observed about this area: “Not only are several of the village names still in use, even these types of farming and the same skill in metalwork are characteristic of the ancient Aramaic stock of Christians who are the hereditary inhabitants of the plateau.”
In addition to the very old tradition of Aramaic toponyms that have been preserved to date, the way Aramaic family names/surnames are styled by means of B(ē) plus a personal name, usually a prominent ancestor, demonstrates that the familial identification of the present‐ day Arameans is inextricably connected with the typical Aramean society in Antiquity.

Excluded from Lausanne Treaty and subjected to onomatocide (“name‐murder”)
As you know, in 1923 Turkey signed the Peace Treaty of Lausanne. Despite the fact that Articles 37‐45 guaranteed the (inter)national protection and rights of the non‐Muslim and non‐Turkish nationals, the Arameans were never granted formal recognition by Turkey as a “minority” as formulated in this Convention. Consequently, they have never enjoyed their basic human rights, but instead had to suffer in many ways from discrimination.
For example, in theory the Arameans should have been given “an equal right to establish, manage and control at their own expense, any charitable, religious and social institutions, any schools and other establishments for instruction and education, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their own religion freely therein” (Art. 40). In practice, however, Aramean teachers were imprisoned for teaching Aramaic. In more recent times, state officials had even attempted to permanently close down the Christian monasteries of Kurkmo/Zafaran in Mardin (1978) and Mor Gabriel in Midyat (1997) for teaching Aramaic.
In the decades following Turkey’s ratification of the Lausanne Treaty, several state policies and methods were implemented in order to Turkify all the ‘minorities’ in Turkey, irrespective of their ethno‐religious and linguistic backgrounds. A case in point concerns the Turkification of indigenous names, which had begun as early as 1915. But the most notable years are in:

  • 1934, when the “Surname Law” was adopted by the Turkish Government. This law prohibits the use of non‐Turkish sounds, letters and full names.
  • 1957, when the “Expert Commission for Name Change” was created. In the next 21 years, the names of no less than 28,000 villages were changed. Between 1983 and 2000, this committee continued its work and renamed another 200 villages. Turkey’s systematic efforts to destroy existing geographical and personal names have been described as onomatocide (“name‐murder”; Prof. Jan Sanders) and as toponymical engineering, owing to its conceptual proximity to the more familiar and similarly destructive phenomenon of demographic engineering (Dr. Kerem Öktem).

Request of the indigenous Aramean people
Among all the Aramaic‐speaking Christians in the world, SUA is the only NGO with a Special Consultative Status at the Economic and Social Council of the UN. As the recognized voice of the Aramean (Syriac) people, SUA requests that your Government not neglect the Arameans, but treats them with equality and dignity in a truly democratic Turkish Republic.




Please enter your e-mail address in order to receive the latest WCA news!