Sect-like movements are getting stronger in Türkiye. President Erdogan seems to support these extremist groups, at least passively. The danger that these Islamists will also gain a foothold in the Turkish communities in Western Europe is increasing.
An actually unbelievable event in a country that would like to become a member of the European Union, at least pro forma: A six-year-old girl was forced by her father, who is also founder and head of the Islamic Hiranur sect, to marry a 20-year-old man, who also belonged to the sect. The case itself dates back years, but has only now been made public. There are also repeated reports of sexual assaults on minors by imams and religion teachers in Islamic sects in Türkiye. President Erdogan’s government does not seem to care about this mental and physical abuse. The religious authority Diyanet, also under Erdogan’s control, is also closing both eyes.
The now 22-year-old woman had described to the public prosecutor’s office how her father forced her as a six-year-old girl to marry the then 20-year-old “brother in faith”. A few days ago, these statements were leaked to the independent Turkish newspaper Birgün, which then published them. The scandal has particularly affected the ruling Islamic AKP and its chairman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who have been massively supporting sects such as Hiranur and similar organizations for years.
At that time, the marriage was initially carried out by an imam and only officially legalized at a registry office when she was 18 years old. A little later, the young woman left the sect and applied for a divorce, which was also completed in November 2020. Immediately afterwards, she went to the prosecutor’s office and reported her ex-husband and her parents to child abuse and forced marriage, but apparently nothing happened.
The public prosecutor’s office was shrouded in silence for a long time, only the public outcry on Turkish social media forced them to position themselves. A court case has been sought through pressure and the judiciary is now demanding heavy prison sentences for the woman’s husband and parents. The ex-husband is to be behind bars for 67 years, the parents for 22.5 years each. A date for the start of the trial in May has already been set. The massive protests also forced the government and its leading party, the AKP, to take action in parliament. An investigation by the Hiranur Foundation has been announced. When a new abuse scandal becomes known, representatives of the government or the state religious authority Diyanet speak of “individual cases” and “perverts”. Although the public prosecutor’s office is at least late in investigating, nothing is known of the government’s reaction, and official controls for religious institutions have not been ordered.
After the case had been delayed for two years, “Birgün” got hold of her statements and made the scandal public. Ever since the Islamic AKP, headed by Erdogan, has ruled Türkiye, there have been repeated reports of children being forced into marriage at an early age, as well as multiple marriages that have gone unchallenged. Instead, the religious authority Diyanet and sect leaders keep spreading reports that girls are of marriageable age at the latest after the first bleeding. Officially, the minimum age for marriage for girls and boys in Türkiye is 18 years, girls are allowed to marry at 16 in exceptional cases.
However, these sects in Türkiye are not only responsible for forced marriages and child marriages of underage girls. In recent years, more and more cases of abused children have been reported in Türkiye. The accused were mostly Quran teachers of Islamic sects tolerated by the state, which actually operate illegally.
Hiranur is part of a network that is present throughout Türkiye. Again and again there have been bad scandals in the many homes and boarding schools of sects. In 2016, twelve girls burned to death in a house fire in a poorly secured private girls’ home, and 22 were seriously injured. In other sect homes, suicides and suicide attempts by desperate young people increased. More than a dozen minors are said to have been abused and raped in such a home by Quran teachers at a religious school. The children attended the boarding school of the unofficially registered Fikih-Der sect in Istanbul. After six boys and their parents contacted the police, three suspected teachers were arrested. So far, independent research by Turkish journalists has been able to prove that such dormitories are operated illegally. It has also become public that sects such as the Fiji-Der, Ensar and Hiranur have close ties to the Islamist AKP government and the family of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Despite the scandals, these sects still receive millions of Euros in lucrative government contracts for school tuition and municipal grants. Like the Erdogan family’s multimillion-dollar Tügva and Türgev foundations, Ensar inherited the Gülen movement, which was formerly allied with the head of state and then ostracized, and which built its sectarian empire on education and extracurricular care. In the meantime, even former dormitories and tutoring schools of the Gülenists have been transferred to Ensar, Tügva or Türgev after expropriation.
Security experts in EU member states have been warning for some time that such sects, supported by many Turkish Islamic associations, are also gaining ground among the communities in Europe. “We warn government agencies about these Islamist extremists. These groups pose a threat to our societies and must be monitored more closely. If we don’t manage to do this, we will open new doors for parts of political Islamism in Europe. We must avoid that,” said an intelligence agent from the Netherlands. Political Islamism does not only come from the Muslim Brotherhood alone, the Islamist government in Türkiye uses such groups in Europe to once again divide societies and bind the Turkish communities in the diaspora more closely to the AKP ideology.
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