A Sultan for a day.

On a Sunday morning at the Sünnet Sarayı (Circumcision Palace) in Istanbul, groups of seven and eight year old boys are paraded around, en mass, 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 Sarayı was established in the 1976 by Kemal Özkan, one of Turkey’s most loved and 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 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 Quran to add the religious element to the celebration. After a procedure that 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 check up they are given iPad’s to entertain them. Once the check up is finished, the surreal clash of past and present traditions is over.

While the boys who undergo the procedure at Sünnet Sarayı are generally above the age of six, performing circumcisions on older boys is becoming less common in Turkey. Increasingly, the practice is carried out in the first few months after birth, as private hospitals look to encourage parents to do it at a time when it will be forgotten. That being said, many parents prefer to do it at around the age of seven, which Levent Özkan, a doctor at the Sünnet Sarayı, says is to ensure “that parents can explain to their sons what is happening.” Özkan goes onto explain that Turkish law declares it illegal to perform the operation between the ages of two and six, to prevent psychological trauma. “If the children don’t understand why it’s happening,” he explains, “they just remember the pain.”

Portraits in this series were shot in Sarıyer, Istanbul after a large circumcision ceremony carried out by the local council. 

Istanbul, Turkey. 2016

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