The law regarding dervish lodge closures was introduced on 30 November 1925. Since then, however, many cults and religious sects have continued to operate in Turkey.
Cults do not have any legal status in Turkey, so state control over them is technically, or “officially”, not possible. As a result, the relations between religious cults and political parties have always been a topic of heated debate.
After the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, which was mostly believed to have been organised by the Gülen movement (a religious cult in Turkey), the relations between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and religious cults has once again become a talking point.
The attempted coup, and the events that followed, made it clear that the Gülen movement has been infiltrating state organisations for decades. Today, cults that are close to the AKP are trying to enter the same state institutions that have become available since the purge of Gülen followers after the failed coup attempt.
A network of closed relations
These cults mostly establish a network of closed relationships with introverted ways of living. They operate in almost every city in Turkey; they are often divided and competing against each other; and they act through associations and foundations which they establish. Some of them can even be considered conglomerates.
Some of these cults have very close ties to politics while some are not interested in it at all. Regardless of their political affiliations, cults have a substantial impact on everyday life and relations in Turkey.
Education politics specialist Prof. Dr. Esergül Balcı prepared a report in 2018 with the title “The truth about cults in education in Turkey: one million children are under the control of cults”.
According to the report, more than 2.6 million people are involved with a cult in Turkey. The number of people who are members of a cult or regularly attending events organised by a cult is 1.1 million. The number of people who went to an event at least once and claimed they would go again is 1.5 million.
One of the methods used by these cults to recruit followers is opening educational institutions. According to data from the Ministry of Education, the number of private educational institutions is 10,000. One third of them are under the control of cults, according to Balcı’s report.
The number of students going to these types of schools is 200,000, while 224,000 students are staying in dormitories that belong to cults.
In order to understand how cults operate in Turkey, the second part of our article series will look at one of the most powerful cults in the country, the İskenderpaşa Jamia.