Antakya or Hatay

It seems that certain persons believe that somebody in Turkey want to have the name of Antakya changed to Hatay and this has created some stir in certain waters. What is behind it is this: The Turkish identification cards that show the personal data of the citizen also show the province and the city where the person was born. For at Turk born in Antakya the province would be Hatay and the city Antakya.

Nevertheless, most Turkish provinces take the name of the capital of the province. Thus the province of Konya (Iconium) has Konya as its capital. In police reports and other documents where the person’s identity is described, the word Centrum [Merkez] is often used instead of the name of the provincial capital.

Now, the provincial capital of the province of Hatay is not just any city, it is Antakya, Antioch of old, the Queen of the East. To change its name to “Centrum” is to many of the locals something close to sacrilege.

In an article in the newspaper Milliyet  (August 16, 2011) İlber Oltaylı writes that the motivation behind this is not nationalism but simply inexperience or lack of good manners.

This, however, is contradicted by Emre Can Dağlıoğlu who in the newspaper Taraf of August 20, 2011, page 14 has an article with the headline “How Antakya really became Hatay.” Dağlıoğlu writes: “In short, the attempt of erasing the name of Antakya is not ‘inexperience’ as Oltalı would have it. Although the derogative term ‘so-called’ is used on the practice it is in fact ‘a nationalistic administrative measure,’ part and parcel of Turkish assimilation policy.”

Whether the observation of Dağlıoğlu is correct or not, I do not know. Both names are in fact foreign to Turkish. The word Hatay is derived from the word Hittite. When the great Hittite empire in central Anatolia collapsed a number of small Hittite principalities survived along the present border between Turkey and Syria. Today only the name Hatay survives as it was used by the Turks in the early twentieth century.  At that time the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, said that the province had been a homeland for Turks for four millenniums. This may sound strange as it is common knowledge that the Turks only made their entry into Anatolia (or Asia Minor) after the battle of Malazgirt (or Manzikert) in 1071, but as Mustafa Kemal regarded the Turks as descendants of the Hittites, he at least to some extent had a point.

Whatever the case, even if the name of Antakya administratively were changed to Hatay Centrum following the procedure applied in the case of other provincial capitals in Turkey, nobody would forget that this city is the one called Antakya, Antâkiye or Antioch. This city has got its name inscribed into history for good and for bad. It is not easily forgotten. Two thousand years ago it was the third most important city of the Roman Empire and during the time of the Byzantines it was often frequented by the emperors. Every now and then ruins and mosaics from the past are found under the streets and at other places where excavation is done.

It is with Antakya as with Istanbul or Jerusalem: You may change its name, but it will not disappear.



İlber Oltaylı, “Hatay’daki büyük görgüsüzlük,” accessed August 31, 2011,


“HATAY, the name given by the Turks to the Sanjak of Alexandretta, at the time of the crisis of 1936-9.” The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 3 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), 273

Compare Wikipedia, “Genetic origins of the Turkish people,” accessed August 31, 2011, According to the chart less that 50 % of the gene pool of Anatolia is typical for people of Central Asia.

About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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