Turkey's Circumcision King Savors Boom

LOS ANGELES TIMES, Los Angeles, Sunday, 19 August 1990.

[Warning: Some readers may find this story disturbing.]

A Reuters story from the LA Times
Sunday, August 19, 1990 

Turkey's Circumcision King Savors Boom 

ANKARA, Turkey 

Turkey's school summer vacations are boom time for Circumcision
King Kemal Ozkan.

"Each year about 1 million boys come of circumcision age in Turkey,"
58-year-old paramedic Ozkan said.

Up to 20 boys a day will pass through his private Istanbul clinic with
proud parents paying as much as $200 for the privilege.

"Few of them are taken to hospitals because the hospitals are full and
mostly equipped for major surgeries," he said.

Circumcision is one of the most strictly observed religious practices
in secular, though predominantly Muslim, Turkey.

Muslim families, 99% of Turkey's 55 million population, regard
circumcision as the first step to manhood. Turkish doctors consider
circumcision a hygienic and prophylactic practice.

Dr. Demokan Erol, chief urologist in an Ankara hospital, said:
"Research shows that in communities where early-age circumcision is
widely practiced, cancers of the male genitalia have a very low

"I say the best age is from 5 to 9."

Why is the operation, usually performed without anesthetic, not done
on babies at birth?

"The boys must be able to remember the occasion," said Ozkan, with
58,000 circumcisions to his credit in his 26-year-career.

And what an occasion it is for Turkish boys as families indulge their
every whim and shower them with presents before the painful but 
brief surgery.

However poor the family, all Turkish boys preparing for circumcision
wear an embroidered satin pillbox hat and sash.

Though painkillers are rarely part of the ritual, each boy is
accompanied by an adult male to give him courage as he faces the knife.

The male companion or kirve assumes lifelong obligations to
the boy, much like a Christian godfather.

The skills of Ozkan and the hygienic conditions under which he
performs are not mirrored in much of rural Turkey.

In the villages paramedics have rarely had special training in
circumcision. Often the operation is performed by handymen whose sole
claim to proficiency is inherited from their fathers.

There are abundant stories of botched circumcisions leading to severed
urethras requiring corrective surgery, infections and even deaths.

"We hear of the occasional death occurring from circumcisions made by
untrained people," Ozkan said.

"Some do not heed rules of hygiene, do not have modern instruments and
can cause serious physical or psychological damage to a child."

Though the Ministry of Health has no exact figures of deaths or
mutilations caused by amateur practitioners, complaints from around the
country have spurred government this year to launch a free, nationwide
circumcision service.

The ministry will provide surgeons, paramedics and nurses to offer
supervised health care in each of Turkey's 73 provinces during the main
circumcision season.

"Unfortunately some of the government-appointed medics are not
properly taught to circumcise, but a brief training can make them
proficient in modern methods," Ozkan said.

Will the free government circumcision service be bad for business?
Ozkan doesn't think so.


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