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What's in a name? In global affairs, street signs can be political irritants

Olive Branch Street in Ankara, Turkey. Boris Nemtsov Plaza in Washington, DC. Bobby Sands Street in Tehran, Iran.

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Laura Koran
(CNN) — Olive Branch Street in Ankara, Turkey. Boris Nemtsov Plaza in Washington, DC. Bobby Sands Street in Tehran, Iran.

What do these far removed roads have in common? They are all home to important foreign embassies, and their names were all designed to shame their residents.

Modern history is rich with examples of symbolically renamed embassy sites. Here are a few telling examples from around the globe:

Olive Branch Street, Ankara, Turkey

On Monday, the road that leads to the US Embassy in Ankara was officially changed to Olive Branch Street, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT. While the moniker might, at first glance, seem like an effort to repair the strained relationship between the United States and Turkey, it actually pays tribute to the latter country's ongoing military effort in Syria -- Operation Olive Branch -- which the United States opposes.

At a news briefing in Washington last week, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert shrugged off the name change, even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was preparing for a visit to the Turkish capital.

"If a city decides it wants to rename a street something, especially in Turkey or Russia, where we support freedom of speech, they can call it whatever they want," Nauert said. "As long as it's in accordance with their own law, we're fine with that."

Turkish officials made a similar move last month to needle the United Arab Emirates, renaming the street where that country's embassy sits after an Ottoman military commander disparaged by the UAE's foreign minister, according to the BBC.

Boris Nemtsov Plaza, Washington, DC

Last month, Washington's city council unanimously passed a measure to symbolically rename the stretch of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov, a pro-democracy activist and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was shot and killed in 2015.

The move reflected growing tensions between the United States and Russia following allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and a host of other international disagreements.

In 1987, that same stretch of road was designated Andrei Sakharov Plaza, after a Soviet human rights activist who had been placed under internal exile.

Russian lawmaker Mikhail Degtyaryov reportedly responded to the designation of Boris Nemtsov Plaza by proposing that Moscow assign the US Embassy the address of North American Dead End, 1.

Bobby Sands Street, Tehran, Iran

Iranian leaders have changed many street names in their capital city since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but perhaps the most pointed change targeted the British government.

The city decided to name the street outside the British Embassy -- previously Winston Churchill Boulevard -- after Bobby Sands, an Irish Republican Army member and activist who died from a hunger strike in 1981, sparking protests across Northern Ireland.

Ho Chi Minh Street, Kolkata, India

During the Vietnam War, the street that houses the US consulate in Kolkata, India, was renamed Ho Chi Minh Street in honor of the communist leader.

The West Bengal state has historically embraced communism, and the road carries the name to this day.

Proposed: Liu Xiaobo Plaza, Washington DC

Since 2014, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has been pushing legislation to rename the street outside the Chinese Embassy after Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights campaigner who died in 2017 while on medical parole.

The Senate passed a bill to effect the name change in 2016, but the House of Representatives abandoned the effort after a veto threat from the Obama administration.

"We view this kind of legislative action as something that only complicates our efforts," deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at the time, "so we oppose this approach."

Andrey Karlov Street, Ankara, Turkey

Not all name changes are meant to shame foreign governments. In fact, some can be true olive branches.

Take Andrey Karlov Street in Ankara, for example. The road was renamed last year to honor the late Russian ambassador, who was killed while speaking at a photo exhibition in 2016. The move recognized Karlov's contributions to Russian-Turkish relations and reflected a warming of ties between the two countries -- even as ties have frayed between Turkey and the United States.

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