Alders decided not to dip their toes into one well of international controversy on Monday night when they formally turned down a bid to rename a Middletown Avenue streetcorner after modern Turkey’s founding president.
The alders unanimously voted to withdraw a proposed order to designate the corner of Scarboro Street and Middletown Avenue “Ataturk Corner” in honor of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Morris Cove Alder Sal DeCola, who chairs the City Services and Environmental Policy (CSEP) Committee, said the proposed order lacks the support of any alder. He also said that CSEP could not find any personal ties between Ataturk and New Haven that would justify applying his name to a city street corner.
The order had been first proposed last year by local vegetable wholesaler and self-described “freedom fighter” Feray Gokcek, a Turkish-American New Havener who wanted the city to celebrate a man who established the Muslim nation’s first secular constitution.
Gokcek asked the city to do this at an intersection that is right across the street from a Turkish-American Muslim masjid, at a time when the current leader of the Middle Eastern country has revived Turkey’s Islamist leanings in opposition to Ataturk’s secularism.
Gokcek was able to secure 420 city resident signatures of support, far more than the 250 required to rename a city street corner. But by the time of CSEP’s public hearing on the proposal in June, he failed to secure the support of any one of the 30 members of the Board of Alders, which is required for a streetcorner renaming. He also failed to convince alders that Ataturk had any sort of personal connection to New Haven, beyond inspiring a subset of its Turkish-American community.
At the time of the hearing, East Rock Alder Anna Festa, whose ward includes Middletown Avenue and Scarboro Street, said she had received feedback from constituents expressing concern about renaming a street corner after someone who played such a central role in the Armenian and Greek genocides of the first quarter of the 20th century.
“The order does not have a sponsor as required by City Ordinance Article 1, Section 18-2,” DeCola said during Monday night’s meeting. “Also, the committee cannot find where former Turkish President Ataturk had any personal ties with New Haven. Therefore, this order has been granted leave to withdraw.”