‘Turkish sect leader married off his six-year-old daughter’

‘Turkish sect leader married off his six-year-old daughter’
‘Turkish sect leader married off his six-year-old daughter’

A child abuse scandal in the Ismailaga Cemaat, an Islamic sect closely affiliated with President Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP), has sparked shock in Turkey. The daughter of a cult leader says she was married off at the age of six and then sexually assaulted by her husband every day.

Islamic sects have been discredited more often in recent years because of child abuse. Yet the government gives them a lot of space to run student dormitories, schools, Quran courses and summer camps with the aim of creating a pious generation.

The scandal within the Ismailaga Cemaat was exposed by the leftist newspaper BirGun, who got hold of the victim’s complaint against her husband and her parents. The woman, who is only referred to by her initials HKG in the Turkish press, is the daughter of Yusuf Ziya Gümüsel, the founder of the sect’s Hiranur Foundation. The foundation has a large complex in the Sancaktepe district of Istanbul, where hundreds of children live. This year, the local AKP in Sancaktepe made the illegally built complex legal with a zoning change.

Bone examination

After the news came out on Saturday, the Hiranur Foundation removed founder Gümüsel’s name from its website, and also deleted the history page. In addition, many photos were taken from the website showing Gümüsel with AKP politicians and Mahmut Ustaosmanoglu, the sheikh of Ismailaga Cemaat, who passed away last summer. The sect is distinguished from other Muslim brotherhoods in Turkey by its religio-political mission and dress style. Men wear long beards, white robes and turbans. Women are dressed in black chadors.

HKG was born in this closed environment in Istanbul. When she was six years old, she was married off by her father to a 29-year-old follower. It was not a legal marriage – Turks are not allowed to marry until they are eighteen – but an Islamic marriage performed by an imam. HKG was dressed in a white dress for the occasion. Then the abuse started. Her mother was initially against it, but gave in to pressure from the father.

The police first learned of the abuse in 2012. HKG was now fourteen. It came to light after her mother took her to the hospital because she had menstrual problems. The doctor immediately understood that the child had been abused and alerted the police. However, he did not ask for the girl’s birth certificate, as is customary, but decided to do bone research to determine her age. That gave the sect a chance to make preparations. Instead of the girl, they subjected a 21-year-old woman to the bone test. The police then closed the investigation.

Read also: Müge Anlı doesn’t let anyone get away with outdated ideas about women in her Turkish crime program

Past abuse scandals

As HKG grew older, she began to realize that her situation was not normal. She heard about child marriage on the radio and realized that she had been badly damaged by years of abuse. She tried to run away from home, but her father prevented her. She started using social media covertly and came into contact with a woman who urged her to record conversations with her husband. With these recordings and other evidence, she filed a complaint in 2020. That has not yet led to any arrests or a trial.

Previous abuse scandals did result in criminal prosecution of the perpetrators. Such as the rape of 45 boys by a teacher in a student dormitory of the Ensar Foundation, which BirGün brought to light in 2016. The perpetrator was sentenced to 508 years in prison. In the indictment, the public prosecutor’s office also called for a broader investigation into the foundation. But the government dismissed the case as an incident. “This is no reason to tarnish a valued institution that is at the forefront of its services,” said Family and Social Affairs Minister Sema Ramazanoglu.

This time, however, it is not about a simple simple teacher who assaults young boys, but about one of the leaders of the sect who gives his own child in marriage. This is more common in conservative-religious circles. Some sects have tried in recent years to use their growing political influence to lower the age of marriage. But the government has not yet succumbed to that. In 2016, the AKP introduced a bill to give men who had abused minors the chance to marry their victims. That was not passed by parliament.

A version of this article also appeared in the December 5, 2022 newspaper

The article is in Dutch

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