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Circumcision Parties Are A Rite Of Passage In Turkey

Photographer Bradley Secker journeys to Istanbul to document the traditional ceremonies surrounding sünnet, or male circumcision.

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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.

Bradley Secker

Parents of participating children and entertainers help the boys to feel relaxed and excited before the circumcision takes place. The Circumcision Palace in Istanbul claims to have performed more than 100,000 operations.

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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.

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Bradley Secker

A mufti recites a religious verse while the boys, dressed as Ottoman Sultans, take a break to let the local anesthetic take effect at the Circumcision Palace in Istanbul.

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Bradley Secker

A patient uses an iPad as a distraction while he is being checked over by Dr. Levent Ozken before leaving the Circumcision Palace for his coming of age sünnet day.

Bradley Secker is a photographer based in Istanbul. To view more of his work, check out his website at http://www.bradleysecker.com/.

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