Turkey renames US embassy street amid row over Syria operation

A municipality worker changes a street sign to Zeytindali (Olive branch) in front of the US Embassy in Ankara, Turkey 19 February 2018. [Tumay Berkin/EPA/EFE]

The street in Ankara where the US embassy is located was renamed after Turkey’s offensive against a Kurdish militia yesterday (19 February), just days after the two sides agreed on the need to normalise relations.

Already tense ties were strained further when Ankara started a ground and air offensive dubbed “Olive Branch” last month against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in its enclave of Afrin in western Syria.

Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgency in Turkey which is listed as a terror organisation by the US and the European Union.

But in Syria, Washington has been providing arms to the YPG against the Islamic State group, much to Ankara’s chagrin in a dispute that has ignited the biggest crisis in bilateral ties since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

The US has previously called on Ankara for restraint and said operation “Olive Branch” risked becoming a distraction from the fight against jihadists in Syria.

The renaming of the street follows a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Ankara last week when he met Turkish officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the two sides agreed to cooperate in Syria.

“We are not going to act alone any longer, not US doing one thing, Turkey doing another,” Tillerson said after talks with Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

The two sides said they would set up working groups to solve key issues affecting relations.

Ankara mayor Mustafa Tuna mooted the plan to change the name from Nevzat Tandogan (a former Ankara governor) to Olive Branch avenue before Tillerson arrived on Thursday.

City workers switched the actual signs on Monday.

Although the American embassy is located on what is now Olive Branch avenue, the mission’s official address is given as the street behind the building, which is named after Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic.

Renaming streets has become a favoured diplomacy tool for Ankara.

Tensions with the UAE flared last month when the emirate’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan retweeted a post on Twitter critical of the former Ottoman rulers of the region.

In response Ankara renamed the street where the UAE embassy is located after the Ottoman governor of the time.

In the US, the city of Washington has renamed the street outside the Russian embassy Boris Nemtsov Plaza, honouring the memory of the slain opposition leader.

In reply, a Russian lawmaker proposed that the street of the US embassy in Moscow be renamed “North American Dead End”.

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