Turkey’s first lady, Emine Erdogan, called the Ottoman harem an “education establishment that prepared women for life.” This was the latest of many sympathetic comments to the Ottoman Empire and its ethos, but was also meant to underscore her husband’s claim, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that women are primarily mothers.
President Erdogan drew significant criticism on International Women’s Day (March 8) by stating that the woman is “above all a mother” and noted that “you cannot free women while destroying the notion of a family.” In the past, the President of Turkey has called birth control “a treason.”
The harem is an institution that is extinct since 1923 as it was associated with the Ottoman dynasty that ended with the foundation of the Turkish Republic. While the institution has captured western imagination for decades, it is trues that it is only known in the west through stereotypes that may not be entirely accurate or fit various sexual fantacies. However, there is no known historian that would call the Harem “a school” or a liberating institution. Belonging to a Harem entailed strict control over women’s lives and bodies.
The social media reactions in Turkey were not overall positive and there were inevitably personal references, recalling for instance that two of President Erdogan’s daughters studied in the University of Indiana rather than a Harem. There were also sizable demonstrations in the streets of Istanbul.
(BBC, The Guardian, DW)