Historical Toponyms, Hydronims and Geographical Name Changes in Turkish Ottoman Empire and in the Republic of Turkey
Anatolia, the Balkan Peninsula, and the surrounding territory have been a place where people of Hittite, Urartu, Lydians, Armenians, Luwians, ancient Georgian tribes, left cultural diversity, various linguistic, and political trail for centuries. With the rise of Greek colonization, a Hellenization of local toponyms had begun, lasting for two thousand years. When Turkmenian tribes populated these territories and during the whole ruling period of the Ottoman Empire the Turkization of local toponyms seemed like a natural issue, rather than political matter. First, the process was based on phonetical similarities: “Speri” – was renamed to Ispir, “Sparta” – Isparta, etc. The most well-known example is Istanbul. The “stinpoli” which means “in the city”, the Turkish people perceived as “Istanbul”.
The situation had been dramatically changed by the beginning of the 20th century. Ittihadist people were changing toponyms, spreading nationalistic policy; that matched the Balkan Wars period. During the First World War, the process was being accelerated, the Turkish nationalists targeted to rename every geographical name – cities, lowlands, mountains, forests… From the beginning of the Republic period up to nowadays, every non-Turkish name is still being changed on Turkish territory.
According to the international treaty of Lausanne, non-muslims (Greeks, Armenians…) were recognized as an ethnic minority. But the resentment against Greeks and Armenians made the Government to turn ire on non-Turkish origin Muslim population (Kurds, Georgians, Lazs). Hence Kurdish and Kartvelian toponyms were changed. For this purpose “The Name Change Council” was established in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
During the entire existence of The Ottoman Empire the nowaday Samsun region, known as Chaneti (originally Georgian name) was called Janic/Janit/Janeti. Lazistan region suffered the same fate. It was totally abolished and the districts of Rize and Artvin have been formed there instead. That caused the riot of Lazs, suppressed by the Turkish government. Since then historically Georgian toponyms were being systematically changed to Turkish namings.