Last November, a fire broke out in a girls’ dormitory and claimed lives of 11 schoolgirls and one 18-year-old tutor in the town of Aladağ of Adana in Turkey. After the investigation, it turned out the dormitory, belonging to members of the Süleymaniye Sufi tarikat, was not inspected frequently enough because it was “namahrem” to do so.
This term describes a person who is not allowed to enter the living place of female members of a family, a custom commonly held in the Ottoman period which has apparently persisted in certain parts of Turkey to this day.
The engineers Bekir Metin Demir and Turgut Cilgaoğlu presented their expert report on the fire to an investigative committee of the Turkish parliament, according to Selda Güneysu’s report from Cumhuriyet.
The expert report stated that curtains which had been placed by the fire exits completely burned, causing the flames to spread rapidly throughout the dorm. The report also pointed out the lack of inspections on the girls’ dormitory. “There is one more thing which is very interesting here. For example, we asked members of executive board of the dormitory why they didn’t inspect the dormitory. They told us that it was the girls’ dormitory, and that’s why they didn’t go there that much”. Experts have pointed out that this highly informal style of inspections is not unusual in small cities, where interpersonal relationships may be considered more important than official rules.
“They can’t lift the fire extinguishers”
The presentation indicated that the children were between the age of 12-23 and were unable to use the heavy fire extinguishers in the dormitory. The children lost consciousness after inhaling poisonous fumes from the fire.
“People at the cafeteria could escape easily”
“There were two people in the cafeteria. They were up late eating fruit. They smelled something and shouted to the inexperienced tutors, who then directed the children to go upstairs. Actually, they were able to escape very easily because there was a back door at the cafeteria where the fire hadn’t become too large.”
The presentation also stated that officials of the dormitory didn’t let the fire department know about the children who were on the second floor. It was reported that one child who jumped from the second floor and landed on a garbage bin, breaking her leg. She miraculously survived.