You undoubtedly followed the events of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Syria last week. For days, the media blasted footage of Bashar al-Assad being blocked by a Russian commander after he wanted to walk with Putin at the Khmeimim base, and he helplessly had to accept this public humiliation. There is no doubt that this footage was deliberately leaked by the Russian army itself, which sent it to media outlets. It’s clear that Russia wanted to send the message that “Putin is the boss in Syria.”
Putin’s authoritative stance contrasted with Assad’s helplessness was so pronounced and summarized the situation in Syria so concisely that the Turkish media could not remain unresponsive to this footage. Even the newspapers that side with the Ba’ath regime and Assad on the Syria issue for ideological/denominational reasons or for their critical approach to the Turkish government’s Syrian policy were involved.
This comment was under the Assad story on the Twitter page of one of the newspapers that tirelessly criticize every step the government takes: “Now you will call him “Esed!” (Of course, the newspaper preferred to write “Bashar Esad.”) This comment is one of many examples depicting how some issues are handled and discussed with ignorance and bigotry, how some incorrect and obsessive comments are maintained for long years, and how some unintended meanings were extracted from small details and became the subject of ideological arguments.
Circles against Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party have argued the following since the start of the Syrian conflict: “They used to call him “Esad” before and started to call him “Esed” in Turkish now that they are not in good terms. According to this logic, the word “Esed” is an encryption; he was called Bashar Esad when Turkey had good relations with Syria before the Arab Spring and now he is being called “Bashar Esed.” The same mentality labels everyone who uses the name “Esed” as “people who cooperate with foreign powers to stir up Syria, destabilize Syria and support terrorists.” So those who say “Esed” are on one side and those who say “Assad” are on another. This is the mentality and perception that is imposed. It’s like the name “Esed” is a defamatory insult.
Turkey is a fascination country where even your attempt to write a person’s name stirs up controversy. As a person who followed closely how “Esad” turned to “Esed,” I will describe to you the process:
The surname of the administrative family in Syria is “Esed” in Arabic (meaning lion) and passed to our language as “Esad” from English and French sources in the 1970’s. Thus, the word that is pronounced by the West as “Assad” took root differently from its original in the language of our diplomats and media organs who did not speak Arabic. Academies and journalists wrote it as “Esad.” Politicians pronounced the name “Esad,” and so did the ordinary citizens who heard from them.
In the early 2000’s, Turkey paid more attention to the Arabic world and, more importantly, journalists who spoke Arabic started working in the Turkish media. This lead to the correct spelling of some words, and “Esad” was one of them. Journalists and editors who spoke Arabic started writing the surname of the family in their stories about Syria. Therefore the usage spread. Politicians chose the correct version used by official government news agencies. That was what was supposed to happen.
So repeating the nonsense that is “They used to call him Esad and now they call him Esed” is just blind stubbornness. This issue does not carry any ideological preference and you can see with a simple internet search that the name “Esed” was used in many texts that were written before the Arab Spring when we had good relations with Syria. (For instance, I talked about the correct spelling of the word and its justifications in the prologue of my book “Şam Kitabı” (Damascus Book) which contains my observations of Syria over several years. I used “Esed” throughout the book. There was no Arab Spring nor any political debate during that time. In fact, Turkey was slowly starting to get closer with Syria then.)
The debate of “Esed/Esad” is a sad summary of how the Turkish media approaches the Middle East and with which motives they watch the developments in our region. It is a curiosity that can only be found in Turkey to fabricate an ideological argument from a small rectification when the right thing to do is to just say “So is this the correct spelling? We didn’t know. We will correct it.” More interestingly, millions of people who are unaware of the Arabic language and the meanings of the words are ready to enlist as the voluntary soldiers of this fight that is deliberately sparked by some journalists. The fact that one letter difference between “Esed” and “Esad” can seduce the minds of masses in such a degree is concerning for our sanity as a community.