Even names have come under fire following the July 2016 coup attempt

Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs and tens of thousand faced prosecution and jail, following a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016.

There are some who have had to deal with a completely different type of social ostracism since the failed putsch because of their first names or surnames.

The Turkish government accuses Gülen movement; a religious group led by the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, of orchestrating the failed putsch. In the aftermath of the 15 July coup attempt, the group was declared a terrorist organisation and any indication linking one to the group has had social consequences.

The post-coup environment has affected men named Fethullah and women named Gülen, who, in fact, had been praised for their names in the past, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen movement were allies. Things changed quickly for them after July 15, 2016.

Many, who have no connection to the movement, had to respond to suspicions because of their names. Some had to apply to the courts for a name change due to the social pressure they felt. 

Yavuz Selim Toraman is one of those people who could only find peace after officially changing his birth name of Fethullah, an Arabic name which means the conquest of Allah.

“My relatives and friends called me Fethullah. Those who did not know me were glaring at me. They looked at me as if they wanted to beat me,” he said. “I had to change my name because of Gülen. Now I can avoid all those negative reactions.”

Berkay, a 27-year old man was named Fethullah by his religious father, who named his son after his own father. But even his father pressured Berkay to change his name after the failed putsch.

Berkay remembers that when he was younger and in university, some people appreciated his name, complimented its religious meaning. Some of this people later disappointed him with their attitudes after the coup attempt, Berkay said.

“After July 15, I was threated as though I was a supporter of the coup because of my name. Even my girlfriend told me to change my name,” he said. “After July 15, everyone named Fethullah were declared traitors. They wanted to see us as supporters of Gülen. Why? Because calling people traitors is the easiest thing in this country.”

Berkay said that today many named their children Tayyip after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“I mean the names have their own fates. If you do not have the correct name at the correct time, you can find yourself in trouble,” he said.

Rêbîn (Fethullah), is a Kurdish man from the southeastern town of Midyat, who was named after his late brother, who was in turn named after a religious figure in his family’s hometown. 

He says police officers, who praised his name during security checks before the July 15 coup attempt, totally changed their behaviour afterwards.

“They started telling me ‘What kind of name this is? Why don’t you change it’,” Rêbîn said.

He did not officially change his name but started using Rêbîn, a Kurdish name.

“At least nobody behaves strangely when they hear Rêbîn, I find myself free of Fethullah Gülen jokes and commentary, to some extent,” he said.

Gülen, a woman who comes from an Alevi family, is also overwhelmed because of reactions to her first name. Names starting with Gül (rose) are quite popular among Alevis.

“I am tired of being subject to jokes since my childhood. Some used to like my name, however, after July 15, they started disliking it,” she said.

Name changes have also become common among those who shared the same surname with Fethullah Gülen.

One well-known example is a former athlete of Turkey’s national Paralympic team, who has been officially using the surname Erdoğan since 2017.

He said his family was uncomfortable with their surnames and his children had kept asking whether they were terrorists, prompting them to make the change.

“After the court made its decision and we got our new identity cards with the surname Erdoğan, all of us as a family were very happy. We made a celebration at home. I feel like I have been reborn,” he said. “We are proud of sharing the same surname with our patriot President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”