Joe Frazier used to take potshots at Muhammad Ali by using Ali's former name,
"Cassius Clay." It was a sign of disrespect, Frazier's way of
saying, "I am your foe." Similarly, Turk-haters to this day still
refer to Istanbul as "Constantinople."
Joe" Frazier (right) couldn't match wits with Ali,
and his childish recourse boiled down to hitting below the
belt. Imagine that you want to be called by a certain name,
and you have to deal with those who insist on calling you
by another name.
CLICK ON PIC for sound!
The city signified
Christendom as part of the Byzantine Empire; "Byzantium" had been
changed to "Constantinople," to honor the Eastern Roman Empire's
Constantine the Great. The Western Empire fell to "barbarians," as
we are often told in western history, as though the Romans were perfect
gentlemen. Constantinople, as a result, gained even more importance as a
symbol of Christian civilization and dominance.
Sultan Mehmed II conquered the city in 1453, and changed its name to
"Istanbul." It's not very often a conquered city retains its old
name. "New Amsterdam" became "New York," after the British
took over from the Dutch. The Dutch also couldn't hold sway when their
"Batavia" (which the Dutch had renamed from a variation of Jakarta,
circa 1619) in Indonesia finally became "Jakarta" again.
No one today calls these cities/provinces by their old names. Yet because the
idea persists in the minds of Turk-haters that Turks still don't belong in
what was once such a symbolically Christian city, the only way they can show
their contempt is by insisting the city is still "Constantinople."
This is "Christian code" for "Turks don't belong here."
That is just plain rude, especially after more than half a millennium of
ownership. Cities and countries are called by the names used by their
occupants. By what stretch of the imagination would an empire known for its
Islamic foundation retain a symbolically Christian name as
"Constantinople"? It defies common sense.
Accounts of the name change have it that the city's name was
"officially" changed in March 28, 1930. (Popularized by the 1953
song, "Istanbul not Constantinople," by The Four Lads. In
case your browser did not give a taste, here's a sample.) What does
that mean? Is there a "name change registrar" that countries apply
(An online encyclopedia hijacked by tenacious pro-Armenians has a footnote for
this "fact," pointing to a [at the time, not operational] Library of
Congress link, the Federal Research Division for Country Studies. The country
(Someone in Internet-Land cited this very tainted source in response to
another who claimed the name was called "Istanbul." The message was
capped with: "I bet the Dutch and everybody else in the 17th century
told friends they were going to Constantinople, if they were going."
In other words, if Christendom called the city by its old Christian name,
thanks to spite, wishful thinking or ignorance, it shouldn't matter what the
owners of the city called their city. Mighty fine logic, there.)
I don't know exactly what transpired on March 28, 1930, where it's said
"Angora" was also "officially" changed to
"Ankara." But if the government of Ataturk made such an
announcement, it was not in terms of acknowledging the city was named
"Constantinople." What Ataturk was telling the arrogant West was,
the name of this city has been Istanbul for half a millennium, it's time to
stop behaving like "Joe Frazier," and begin to act as respectful
This page was mainly inspired by a viewing of the documentary, "The Ottoman War Machine."
Real Ottoman historians were on call for a change (not that the producers
always listened to them), and the program stated — as common sense should
tell all — that as soon as Constantinople was conquered, the name was
changed to Istanbul. (Take a listen to the passage,
preceded by Dr. Heath Lowry's comments.)
There are a number of speculative explanations for the origin of
"Istanbul," such as deriving from the Greek "Stanbulin"
("to the city"), and what religious devotees referred to as "Islambol"
(Much Islam). In coinage and some documents "Konstantiniye," a
derivation of the Christian name was used, perhaps as a gesture of goodwill
toward childish Europeans. (Mustafa III, the sultan during 1757-73) actually prohibited
the name 'Konstantiniye,' but old habits die hard.) The fact is,
however, the name of the city for the Turks was "Istanbul." This
common usage is what persuaded western travellers to call the city "Stamboul,"
in their writings.
From the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1908:
"Thus was granted the sacrilegious prayer of so
many Greeks, blinded by unreasoning hate, that henceforth, not the tiara, but
the turban should rule in the city of Constantine. Even the name of the
city was changed. The Turks call it officially (in Arabic) Der-es-Saadet,
Door of Happiness, or (chiefly on coins) Konstantinieh. Their usual name for
it is Stamboul, or rather Istamboul, a corruption of the Greek expression eis
ten polin (pronounced stimboli), perhaps under the influence of a form,
Islamboul, which could pass for 'the city of Islam'."
Again, note the source. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia was not insisting on
"Constantinople," back in 1908. If they are saying the name was
changed well before 1930, then what could have been the reason for the Turkish
announcement in 1930... other than to remind the world to please be
courteous, and to recognize the reality of the situation.
To seal this deal with good, old-fashiohed logic: years ago, the American (and
probably some other English-speaking worldwide) media decided to be proper and
paid respect to whomever decreed we should alter the names of certain Asian
cities and countries, conforming to what their inhabitants called them. Note
the changes weren''t drastic, like "Istanbul" from
"Constantinople." No, whomever decided to make these changes
(perhaps they applied to the same phantom office Turkey went to in 1930) was
making the changes according to the sound of what the inhabitants
called their own cities.
Thus, "Peking" became "Beijing." Now, this was a tough
one, because "Peking" was ingrained in the American mind. (Why, what
would now become of the famous dish, Peking duck?) But the years passed, and
"Beijing" took hold. It's now actually "Peking" that
sounds strange, a relic from another age.
But good intentions go only so far. When the media used the new word,
"Kampuchea" for "Cambodia," readers had no idea what the
reference was. So, editors bowed to the necessity for comprehension to take
precedence, and now we're largely back to "Cambodia" again.
Above, you read an Ottoman sultan was so fed up with the lack of respect being
paid to the name of the capital city, he forbid the usage of the Turkish
variation for "Constantinople." That was back in the mid-to-late
18th century. But the name was so ingrained in some quarters, the usage came
back with a vengeance, even appearing in coins and some Ottoman documents.
Now, you might be saying, wouldn't such usage confirm that it was the Turks
who called their city "Constantinople"? Don't be rash; come the 19th
century, the "Sick Man" was so weakened, the Ottoman sultans were
kowtowing to the powerful west at every opportunity. Thus, the humiliating
capitulations were imposed, thus Ottoman territory would be taken with nary a
protest, thus foreigners would be excluded from Ottoman law... and thus
Ottoman sovereignty would be sacrificed with the agreement for foreign consuls
to keep an eye on Christian minorities.
If the West was going to insist on "Constantinople" and there was
nothing a weak Ottoman government could do about it (the Ottomans were like
the "Rodney Dangerfield" of the world powers; they would get
"no respect," at every opportunity), then they must have figured
(like the editors deciding upon Kampuchea-Cambodia) that comprehension must
not be sacrificed. The Turks would call their city "Istanbul" as
they have for centuries, but for the benefit of "those in charge"
(truly, during these latter years, the Ottoman Empire was more like a
glorified European colony), the Turks in charge must have concluded giving
them this wouldn't be too much skin off their nose.
But when the "Sick Man" was overthrown, and modern Turkey was
established in 1923, does anyone out there think Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- who
made a point of doing away with the subservient Ottoman attitude and in
preserving Turkish dignity -- would have, for one moment, considered calling
Istanbul by its "other name"? Certainly not. Those who insist that
Turkey made the "name change" in 1930 can now see this name was
changed long before. What happened in 1930 was not a name change. Obviously,
the West was still pulling its "Joe Frazier" act, and using
"Christian code" on cities such as Constantinople and Smyrna. What
happened in 1930 was a reminder that these names were already changed, and a
request that the arrogant West please get with the program.
Let's cover a few other sources that examine this name game.
as Istanbul even before 1453 conquest
"[The city's] name, in everyday spoken Turkish, even before the conquest, was
a corruption of the Greek phrase for `into the city', eis teen teen polin: Istanbul."
CONSTANTINOPLE : City of the World's Desire
1453-1924 Philip Mansel, New York, 1996; Chapter I. Excerpts.
ISTANBUL: AN ISLAMIC CITY
is from pp. 252-53, a book by the noted Turkish historian, Halil Inalcik. Note the
psychology behind the transformation of the city, after its conquest. (As the Sephardic
Studies page on the subject claims, "Recent research has shown that the
name 'Istanbul' was used if not during the Byzantine period, at least during the
11th century and that the Turks knew the city by this name." The name of
Istanbul existed for the Turks centuries before the city's conquest.) Here the
sultan is taking pains to turn churches into mosques and paying tribute to the
spirituality of the affair, and he was going to keep the Christian name,
"Constantinople"? Does that make any sense?
Seyh Aq Semseddin was also charged, upon the Sultan’s order with locating the tomb
of Ayyüb al-Ansari. Its discovery by the Seyh was no les miraculous and significant
than the conquest. It assured the Muslim that providence was still on their side.
Later, Mehmed built a mausoleum at the site, a mosque and a dervish convent.
Ayyüb’s tomb, which rapidly grew into a town outside the walls of the city on the
Golden Horn, became the most sacred place in Istanbul. Each day hundreds of
believers would visit with offerings and seek the saint’s help. The most famous of
the dervish convents as well as a huge cemetery clustered around the tomb. It is
also significant that each Sultan upon his accession to the throne visited the tomb
following the same route as the legend described for Ayyüb. At the site, the most
venerated Seyh of the day girded the Sultan with the sacred sword of ghaza. Thus,
the saint’s presence not only made the whole area of Istanbul a consecrated place
for Muslims, but also gave the Sultan rule over the Muslims a religious sanction.
It should be noted that every Ottoman city had its own wali or saint whose tomb,
usually located on a hill-top outside the city, combined Islamic mystic tradition
with a pre-Islamic mountain cult. Cities were regarded as persons and a prayer
formula recited each time the name of the city was mentioned.
Constantinople becomes ‘Islambol’
After the conquest, Mehmed’s first act was to convert Constantinople into an
Islamic city. The preamble of his waaf deed for his mosque reads: ‘Sultan Mehmed
conquered Kostantiniyye with the help of God. It was an abode of idols ... He
converted its churches of beautiful decoration into Islamic colleges and mosques.’
There were six churches converted into mosques and one into a college. Interestingly
enough, the monastery of Aya-Marma was given to Baba Haydari dervishes. In general
the best sites were assigned either to members of the military or to the men of
religion including the Süfi orders.
On the day following the conquest the Sultan went straight to St Sophia church and
converted it into a mosque, saying there his first prayers, an act that symbolized
the dedication of the city as an Islamic one. He also solemnly gave it the name ‘Islam-bol’
(Islam abounds), which actually reflects the centuries — long aspiration of
Muslims to convert the great city of Constantine (‘Qostantiyya al-Kubra) into a
city of Islam. The new name was hereafter strictly maintained by the ulema, though
the people at large continued to use the pre-Ottoman Turkish name Istanbul. Folk
memory of the congregational prayers after the conquest, as described by Evliya
Çelebi, records: ‘When the muezzins began to recite the verse inn’ Allaha wa
mala ’ikatahu’ in a touching tone, Aq-Semseddin, taking Sultan’s Mehmed by his
arm in great respect led him to the pulpit. Then be called out in a strong deep
voice, “Praise to God, Lord of all creatures,” and the ghazis present in the
mosque, deeply touched, broke into tears of joy.’
Islamic faith and the popular imagination combined to convert Constantinople into
Islambol. For the Ottomans it was a Muslim city from the time it held the sacred
remains of the Prophet’s companions. In Islamic tradition, a place where Muslims
had built a mosque and prayed was considered Islamic territory. The churches, Hagia
Sophia in particular, were admired as works of God which the Muslims believed He
would ultimately grant to the true religion. Legend tells us that Abü Ayyub al-Ansüri
performed his prayers there before his martyrdom. Also, while an area or a city of
non - Muslims who had submitted to a Muslim state was accepted as, administratively,
a part of Islamic territory, its ultimate Islamization remained a constant hope.
Tolerant enough to resettle the city with Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, Mehmed the
Conqueror nevertheless took measures to ensure that ‘Islambol’ had a Muslim
majority — a policy systematically applied to the major cities conquered for
(With apologies that the following footnotes do not have
placements in the text above. But for those who can put two and two together...)
16 Wittek, ‘Ayvansaray ...‘ (n. 5 above), 5234. For the walkfiyya of the complex
see Fatih Mehmed Il Vakfiyeleri (Vakiflar Umum Müdürlügü, Ankara, 1938),
17 On the ceremony of swordgirding see I. H. Uzunçarsili, Osmanli Devletinin Saray
Teski (Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 1945), 189-200. On the town of Eyüp now see Eyüp:
Dün/Bugün, 11-12 Aralik 1993, Istanbul: Tarih Vakfi, 1993, 1-23.
18 On the dervish convents built on a hill outside the Ottoman towns see Semavi
Eyice, ‘Zaviyeler ve Zaviyeli Camiler’, Istanbul Universitesi liktisat
Fakültesi Mecmuasi, xxiii (1962-3), 23, 29; F. Hasluck, Christianity and Islam
under the Sultans (ed. Margaret M. Hasluck Oxford, 1929), i, 324-5; 0. E. von
Grunebaum, ‘The Sacred Character of Islamic Cities’, A. Badawi, ed., Mcüanges
Taha Husajn (1962) 25-37.
19 Conqueror’s waqfiyya in Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, (see n. 11), 30-31.
20 Mentioned in the Ottoman survey of Istanbul made in 1455. The survey, preserved
at 21 the Topkapi Palace Archives, Istanbul, is being prepared for publication. See
H. Inalcik, ‘Istanbul’, El iv, 224,
22 Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, 111.
23 The Qur’an, 2: 30-34.
24 Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, i, 76.
25 H. Inalcik, ‘Istanbul’, (n. 21), 238. H. Inalcik, ‘Ottoman Methods of
Conquest’, Studia Islamica, 11, (1954), 122-9. For the Balkans see Structure
sociale et developpement culturel des villes sud-est europeennes et adriatiques
(Bucharest, 1975); N. Todorov, La ville balkanique aux XV-XIX siecles, developpement
socioeconomique et demographique
(Thanks to Sukru Aya.)
This book by Edwin A. Grosvenor, professor of Latin and Greek in Istanbul at Robert
College, was apparently begun in the 1870s but printed in 1895, in a two-volume set; below
are pp. 48-9. National Geographic Magazine was started by Grosvenor's son.
At noon Sultan Muhammed II, the Conqueror, made his triumphal entry, and proceeded slowly
through the city by the later Triumphal Way to Sancta Sophia. The cymbals and gongs
resounded without cessation along the route; their every note was proclamation that the
Second Epoch of Constantinople had ended, and that the Third Epoch was begun.
THE THIRD EPOCH
If the transition of Byzantium to the Second Epoch had been enormous, that of
Constantinople to the Third was greater still. The moment the last Cacar’s fall left her
without an empire and head, she became the capital of the Sultans. Even in the new name
by which hereafter she was commonly to be called — in the name Stamboul or Istamboul ,
fashioned in Turkish derivation from Constantinople — lingered the tale of her lofty
origin. Another name, Constantinieh, the most frequent on Turkish coins and of
constant use Arabs, Persians, and Ottomans, preserved the memory of her emperors. Save in
these two respects, — municipal rank and source of name, — all else was absolutely
changed, not only in outward form, but in individual essence.
The Romans and the Greeks had been of kindred blood, tracing their languages to a cognate
source. In the childhood of their race they had worshipped at the altars of common pagan
gods, and in their fuller manhood together abjured paganism for a higher and a diviner
faith. Their civilization had flowed from neighboring fountains, whose waters mingled
inter in a common stream. Eventuality at Constantinople the Roman element had disappeared,
had been absorbed, costume, language, contour of brow, color of hair and eye, tint of
skin, natural disposition even, into the entity of the Greeks. Yet it was not all
forgotten, for the name survived in the appellation of their language, Romaic, the
medieval Greek, and in the title by which they call themselves even to-day, the Romaioi.
But between the Ottomans and the Greeks there was not a link in common save a common
humanity. The host that appalled the ravished city with its frenetic shouts had come in a
slow march of the hundred and fifty years from beyond the Caspian, beyond the Great Salt
Desert, from the wide wastes of Khorassan. The robes they wore; the steeds they bestrode,
the arms they used so well, told of the distant East. The palaces they summoned into
existence for sultan and pasha, in structure and appearance recalled the patriarchal tent
and the nomad life of the plain.
1 One derivation often given for Stamboul is from … (ees teen poleen),
“to the city.” It is supposed that the Ottoman often overheard this phrase on the lips
of the Greeks, and that from it they formed the word Stamboul. This derivation is
untenable, The Ottomans often retained foreign name of places they had captured. In case
the name was long, they dropped the first syllable, and contracted or abridged the last
syllables. Thus from Thessalonica they made Selanik; from Constantinople, Stamboul.
(Thanks to Sukru Aya.)