Turkey is renaming the street on which the new US Embassy will be built to Malcolm X Avenue after the American civil rights leader, state media reported this week.
Authorities in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, announced Saturday that the city assembly accepted the name change unanimously, according to state-run media agency Anadolu.
But the new street signs will likely be seen by American diplomats as a symbolic and controversial move. Malcolm X is a contentious figure in US history; some view the black Muslim civil rights leader as an activist while others see him as a divisive figure who stoked racial tension, violence and anti-American sentiments.
This is not the first politically charged name change in Ankara. In February, Turkey renamed the road leading to the current US Embassy as Olive Branch Street. The name sounds peaceful on the surface but is actually a reference to Turkey’s military operation in Syria, which the United States opposes.
The latest name change comes in the wake of tensions between the two NATO allies over the Trump administration’s decision to provide weapons and equipment to Kurdish groups that are part of the Syrian opposition. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized US support of Kurdish groups, claiming they are connected to separatists such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that are attempting to overthrow the Turkish government.
Tension also surrounds Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in exile in the United States. The Erdogan administration claims Gulen orchestrated a coup against the government in July 2016 and wants him extradited. The US relationship with Turkey was further strained by Turkey’s detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was released this week after spending two years in Turkish prison.
Construction of the new American Embassy, which will sit 3 miles from the current embassy, is expected to be completed by June 2020, according to the US State Department.