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9 children who survived quakes sent to religious cult’s boarding school: report

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Nine children who lost their fathers in Turkey’s massive earthquakes of Feb. 6 have been separated from their mothers and placed in a boarding school with links to a Sunni sect based in İstanbul, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Thursday.

A 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck near the city of Gaziantep on Feb. 6 while people were sleeping, killed more than 43,000 people in the 10 southeastern provinces hardest hit by the disaster, according to the latest official figures. The quake was followed by thousands of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that shook the region later the same day.

According to DW, the children were brought from Gaziantep to Sakarya to stay at the Mekke Mescidi-Hanife Akın Quran boarding school, which is affiliated with Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) but managed by the İsmailağa community-linked Sakarya Erenler Service to Knowledge Foundation.

DW quoted the foundation’s manager, identified as Adem, as saying that they own the school building and that the children were referred to them by Sakarya Mufti Hasan Başiş because they have “no place to stay.”

Although the manager said the instructors of the Quran course are from both the foundation and the Diyanet, Başiş said the school was managed by the Diyanet and their instructors do the teaching, and the foundation’s members only take care of cooking and cleaning, according to DW.

The report comes a week after Minister of Family and Social Services Derya Yanık denied allegations that children who survived the earthquakes were being placed in religious cult dormitories.

“As the state … it is out of the question for us to hand over unaccompanied children to an association or a foundation,” the minister said.

Commenting on DW’s news report, director and comedian Şahan Gökbakar said in a tweet, “Why did you leave [these] children in the hands of this darkness? Don’t you pity them?”

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s close ties to Islamic cults that have been on the rise in Turkey in recent years have been a subject of debate in the country.

In January 2022, opposition politicians blamed the government for the death of Enes Kara, a medical faculty student at Fırat University in the eastern Turkish province of Elazığ who allegedly died by suicide after being subjected to mobbing in his dormitory, which is linked to an Islamic cult, in addition to pressure from his parents.

Religious cults in Turkey came to the public agenda again in December, when the daughter of a man affiliated with the İsmailağa community sparked outrage due to her criminal complaints filed based on the allegation that she was married off at the age of six and has been subjected to sexual abuse ever since.

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