International Workshop: The Politics of Place Naming in Turkey

Naming, Erasing, Re-naming: Political Uses of Place Names in Turkey

The politics of place naming in Turkey have historically been dense and controversial. Naming and/or renaming places are political acts that affect daily lives, and often happen in conflictual terms and temporalities, through official and non-official mechanisms. This workshop brings together a multidisciplinary group of researchers and civil society actors to think the contemporary investment of the toponymical field in Turkey from a critical perspective. 

Contemporary Turkey appears to be a hotspot in terms of political investment in the linguistic and semiotic fields. In a historical perspective, the politics of place naming in Turkey can be seen as a succession of periods characterized by radical or progressive ruptures with pre-existing orders through the mobilization of founding myths, new repertoires and figures.  We are interested in historical and contemporary official top-down state orchestrated naming policies and mechanisms, as well as non-official or semi-official bottom-up practices used by individuals active in minority politics, and social and political movements. We feel the necessity to think contemporary dynamics in light of historical erasures, repetitions, attempts and failures at restitutions of older names, and/or intrusions of new forms that accompany political and economic developments in Turkey. We are interested in navigating between scales, times, and spaces; from regional district names to street names, train stations to forests, damns to bridges or airports, schools to prisons, hospitals or cemeteries.

This workshop builds on the contributions of participants in the fields of toponymy, semiotics, history, urbanism, architecture, and the political uses of patrimonial and historical references. In the context of Turkey, working on the politics of place naming, also implies to draw on works on memory, trauma, political and social activism, and art.
The first day of the workshop is open to the public (program).
The second day is reserved to invited guests, with roundtable discussions on methodological issues particular to the Turkish context, efforts to sort emerging transversal issues, and comparative perspectives relevant to larger theoretical considerations in the field of toponymy and neo-toponymy. 
Our collective work will be published in a peer-reviewed publication and aims to lead to the creation of a transnational observatory on toponymical transformations in Turkey.

Research questions in this workshop include but are not limited to the following topics:

  • Promotion and erasure of toponymical repertoires;
  • Processes of Turkification & modes of resistance;
  • Ottoman, néo-Ottoman, national and post-national historiographies;
  • Actors involved in place naming: National leaders and cults of personality, role of the bureaucracy & local administrations, private sector, civil society, political parties;
  • Gender and naming policies;
  • Geographies of trauma & archaeologies of violence in the politics of naming;
  • Methodologies and sources: archives, oral history, official and alternative cartographies;
  • Labelling, marketization, commodification;
  • Technologies of power & regime change;
  • Time scales, moments of change and transition in place naming

ractical Information

The symposium will be held in Geneva at UniBastions (room B214)
* 12.09.19, open to public
* 13.09.19, reserved to participants and guests

PROGRAMME (02.09.19, pdf)

Scientific authorities

Dr. Çağla Aykac
Prof. Frédéric Giraut

Faculté des sciences de la société, Département de géographie et environnement


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