The Disturbing Influence of Cults in the Turkish Education System

Enes Kara cults

A Turkish medical student Enes Kara (20), ended his life after posting a video in which he detailed the oppressive environment in his student dormitory run by a religious cult, Ahval News reported.

In the video, Kara, in his second year at the Medical Faculty of Fırat University in the eastern province of Elazığ, said that that the religious sect was forcing him to pray, to attend Islamic religious lessons, and to read religious books.

Kara committed suicide on January 10, 2022.

Enes Kara

Students and other residents said that the dormitory belonged to the Nur Movement, a cult named after the long deceased anti-communist and anti-secular Sunni Muslim cleric Said Nursi.

They pointed out that several students are being pushed to cult-run dormitories because of the lack state-run dormitories.

After the students’ statement, a person, who did not reveal his identity, told journalists not to ask any questions about the cult.

Meanwhile, a court in Hatay province in Turkey’s south has imposed a publication ban on news reports about medical school student Enes Kara, who ended his life after describing the oppression he experienced in a cult-run dormitory.

The court’s move came upon the request of Kara’s father, Mehmet Kara.

The suicide of a medical student has triggered a discussion about shutting down Islamic
sects in Turkey.

• Opposition Good (IYI) Party leader Meral Akşener has called for political unity following the death of medical student Enes Kara, who committed suicide after detailing the oppressive environment in his dormitory run by a religious sect. Addressing her lawmakers in parliament on January 12, 2022, Akşene said that Turkey has been losing several young people such as Kara as they are “imprisoned in hopelessness”. The IYI Party leader urged the government to take action against these deaths and said that her party is ready for any kind of support.

• The leader of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP) Erkan Baş has said that all cult-run schools and dormitories should be nationalised, and that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is responsible for these deaths.

• Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) President Ali Babacan held a meeting on January 12, 2022, at his party’s Headquarters, saying that banning these cults and their buildings is not a solution. He said that oppression and unlawful policies just deepen these problems and that this issue should be solved within the frameworks of law. Babacan however added that the state should not be in any special relations with sects.

• Great Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici said this issue should not be polarised. Destici said all inspections should be conducted and all measures should be taken.

• The Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) motion for a parliamentary investigation into Islamic sect dormitories was rejected by AKP and their coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

• Meanwhile, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has avoided making a comment with regard to Enes’ death, saying that he is not posting anything because of ethical concerns.

The ruling AKP lawmaker Mustafa Levent Karahocagil said there was an attempt to attack Islamic sects and Muslims over the suicide of a university student.

Karahocagil called it a game of foreign powers within Turkey.

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The influence of Islamic sects in the life of students in Turkey is not new.

In December 2021, an 18-year-old computer engineering student was beheaded by a cook who worked at the dorm which was run by a religious cult.

With Kara’s death, controversy over private religious community-run housing has emerged with critics calling on the ruling Justice and Development Party to abolish these dormitories altogether and turn them into public student housing.

As private institutions, there is little government regulation or oversight into these communities compared to government housing.

The ruling AKP maintains a special relationship with these communities based on a policy of ‘carrots and sticks’.

This policy is largely dominated by the ruling party making state resources available to these religious communities in an exchange for electoral support.

There are approximately 30 religious communities and sects in Turkey. These religious communities, religious sects, and cults influence Turkey’s education system, with over 400 branches and 800 Madrasas spread out across the country.

In the early stages of the Turkish Republic, laws were enacted to fully close down all religious orders across the country.

The idea behind them was a perspective on religion, which was in accordance with, or at least did not contradict, the philosophy of secularism that had emerged in the 19th century.

The “rationalists” of the time regarded the laws as a struggle between universal education and religious lodges, or as the victory of rationality over irrationality.

Yet those efforts led the rationalists to sympathise with sects that mostly relied on metaphysics, perceptions and mysticism. In fact, many of these lodges had partially lost touch with reality.

After the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Republican elites also developed relationship with religious sects when the need for it arose. However, these religious sects have flourished under the ruling AKP party.

The current Deputy Minister for education (MEB) in Turkey is the former head of the religious education department, Nazif Yilmaz.

Yilmaz was the head of religious education department since 2014.

The number of Islamic clerical-training middle schools rose from 1,036 to some 3,427 under his authority.

Over 2.5 million Turks have some kind of affiliation with these religious sects and that a third of Turkey’s 10,000 private schools have links with at least one fraternity. So do the 2,800 of the country’s 4,000 private dormitories.

The exact number of housing units operated by these groups is still unknown.

As a result, cults are said to operate thousands of dormitories in Turkey, which makes it impossible to inspect them all.

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The religious cults groups have enjoyed a “golden age” under the ruling AKP.

These dormitories operated by the religious cults also happen to be the cheapest ones.

Students from families with less financial means, who cannot find accommodation at government-run dormitories, often have no choice but to stay in religious community housing.

But the low price comes with strings.

There are specific classes residents must take, and rules and duties they must adhere to.

The families are not aware of the dangers awaiting their children in these dormitories, but are left with no option as they offer relatively cheap means of accommodation.

In the last decade, Turkey has seen a strong rise in the number of dormitories or student houses run by religious foundations.

A conservative estimate is that 17% of all dorms belong to these religious sects, but even this could be an understatement.

Recently the Turkish Foreign Ministry sent letters to all Diplomatic Missions in Turkey, asking the Missions to promote the Turkish Scholarships in their countries, to attract as many students as possible to come to Turkey to study.

However, the suicide of 19-year old Enes Kara is a grim reminder of the violence, abuse, and murder that awaits the students at religious community-run student housing in Turkey, which is promoting itself as the modern education hub.

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