On a Sunday morning at the Sünnet Sarayi (Circumcision Palace) in Istanbul, groups of 7- and 8-year-old boys are paraded around in glitzy costumes reminiscent of Ottoman sultans. Excited and nervous, they are preparing for their circumcision. The ritual is considered the first step in the passage from boyhood to manhood, and on this day each boy is a little sultan in the eyes of his admiring family.
The Sünnet Sarayi was established in 1976 by Kemal Özkan, one of Turkey’s most adored traditional figures. Özkan claims to have circumcised more than 125,000 children during his lifetime, more than half of which he did without charge for local councils and municipalities throughout Turkey.
Before the knife cuts, the children dance for their families, get entertained by a clown, and are given a ride on a football-shaped train. Parents sit at large tables around the room and cheer for their kids.
When the time comes to perform the operation, the mini sultans are seated in a large red velvet throne opposite of the late Mr. Özkan’s son and his assistant. Families gather around, looking through excited and nervous eyes. While the ceremony takes place, a religious leader recites verses from the Qur'an to add the religious element to the celebration. After the procedure, which lasts a few seconds, the boys are catapulted onto the dance floor below to celebrate with their parents.
The finer details are performed shortly afterward in a medical facility backstage, where the boys are checked over by a doctor. During the checkup they are given an iPad to entertain them. Once the checkup is finished, the surreal clash of past and present traditions is over.
Erken (left) and Yigit Huseyin (right) after their traditional circumcision in Sariyer, a town on the Bosphorus coastline north of Istanbul. The boys dress in costumes of Ottoman sultans on the day when they are seen as stepping into manhood.
Yekta Selami Ãnal (left) and Can Umut (right) after their circumcisions.
Eren Alp (left) and Umut (right) after their traditional circumcisions.
Baris Can Giçi (left) and Gencay (right) after their traditional circumcisions.