Suicides throw spotlight on cults

November 22, 2002

Turkish universities are looking for signs of satanic cults spreading among students.

The religious affairs directorate is distributing a manual, written by Ahmet Guc, professor of theology at Uludag University, to all universities following a spate of suicides and attempted suicides.

At least six student deaths have been linked to cults. "I started studying cults after two women students committed suicide, leaving a note saying they had sold their souls to the devil," Professor Guc said.

He warned that the young were especially at risk: "Adolescents act emotionally and are vulnerable to peer pressure. They have an urge to become accepted and be part of a group."

Police authorities estimated that there were as many as 13 cults operating in Turkey with up to 10,000 followers. Wealthy high-performing students are the cults' main target, according to Mehmet Guc (no relation), a journalist on the magazine Aktuel . "They are elitist organisations that believe they are superior to other people and particularly interested in wealthy, intelligent students."

Mr Guc said that many of the students who joined the cults came from dysfunctional families and had often been emotionally neglected. "They want to belong to something," he said.

The cults are believed to be sophisticated organisations with contacts with groups abroad, in particular the UK.

"They use webpages and emails to maintain contact with their followers. Chatrooms are also important to them," Professor Guc said.

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