AKP, MHP vote down proposal for inquiry into cult-run dorms

Turkey's ruling AKP and MHP have voted down a parliamentary motion calling for an investigation into problems experienced in student dormitories under the control of religious cults.

Duvar English 

The debates about the medical student Enes Kara who committed suicide due to life he was forced to live in a cult-run dormitory continue. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) brought the issue to the agenda of the parliament.

The HDP submitted a proposal to investigate the problems experienced in dormitories under the control of religious cults. HDP deputy Mahmut Toğrul said, “The heads and brains of those children [living in dorms] are being washed. In fact, cult members also abuse religious beliefs. You give all kinds of support, you provide all kinds of opportunities, and what happens is happening to our young children.”

The proposal was voted down by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) votes.

Referring to the AKP as "a coalition of cults," he said the government either builds dormitories for these cults, or gives tenders, or paves the way for their staffing in the public sector, especially at universities. “While the number of cult-run dormitories was 1,723 in 2006, this number increased by 93 percent to 3,331 as of 2021, and many incidents took place in this community and cult dormitories,” he said. 

Toğrul likened the life of Enes Kara and other students who live in cult-run dorms to prison camps. He held the government responsible for Kara's death, pointing out that the government fails to build enough public dormitories as a result of which students have no option other than staying in cult-run dormitories in the face of high cost of living. 

“The duty of every social state is to create a dormitory environment for its students and youth, where they can also have a social life. Dormitories are not a place of education, they are a place of accommodation. But the cults are turning them into a non-school education, cult training area. And you care about them [cults] because you think they are your back gardens. You give every kind of support to them [cults] and provide every kind of opportunity,” he stated.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sibel Özdemir explained this is not the first incident that happened in cult-run dormitories, and that necessary audits have not been made. She asked, “What is the reason behind not taking measures against these alleged institutions after these grave events?”

In one of those incidents, a teacher was detained in 2016 because he raped a large number of children aged 9-10 who lived in the houses of the religious Ensar Foundation.

Opposition İYİ (Good) Party deputy Hüseyin Filiz compared the number of public dormitories with cult-run dormitories. “Currently, there are 769 public dormitories, while there are 3,301 dormitories belonging to cults. Housing needs of students should be met by the state itself,” he said. 

The government opposes the criticisms and claims this cannot be attributed to one specific group or belief. AKP deputy Selman Özboyacı said, “It is a very wrong point of view to make reckless comments without showing any sensitivity on such an issue as suicide, which we should refrain from encouraging, but we see that there is an effort to make a political exploitation from here or to blame it on a segment or a group of the society. I don’t believe they are sincere.”

HDP Group Deputy Chair Meral Danış Beştaş opposed the view that this is political exploitation. She also said that suicide is not the solution, and added: “It is necessary to resist and fight against it, it is necessary to choose to live in different ways and methods.”

CHP Group Deputy Chair Engin Altay said that the AKP has not learnt its lessons. Pointing out that members of the Gülen movement were raised in similar houses and dorms, he said that illegal dormitories should be closed immediately.

“Until today, we have seen harassment in these dormitories, it was kept quiet; we saw rape, it was kept quiet; we saw our daughters who died in the fire caused by negligence, it was kept silent; we saw the murder, it was kept quiet. The state cannot remain silent about suicide too. There is an illegal dormitory; there is harassment, rape, murder, suicide; the only thing missing is the state,” he said. 

In 2016, there was a fire in a similar dormitory in the southern Adana province. A total of 12 people, 11 of whom were students, died because the necessary precautions were not taken in the dormitory.

On the other hand, AKP Deputy Chair Cahit Özkan claimed that the government has been taking necessary actions for the last 20 years. He said the number of dormitories increased by 12-fold within this period. He said that Enes Kara was living in a house, not in a dormitory; and it is a pretty common thing to rent a house together with other students. 

Deputies Engin Altay and Meral Beştaş opposed this and claimed that students are placed in those houses by cults themselves.