The wife of Turkey’s president has described the harem of the Ottoman era as an “educational establishment that prepared women for life,” reports say.
Emine Erdogan was speaking at an official event on Ottoman sultans in Ankara, say Turkish TV stations.
Her comments came a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a woman was “above all a mother” in a speech to mark International Women’s Day.
Family members, servants and concubines all lived in the imperial harem.
The sultans who ruled the Ottoman empire had a harem at Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace, which has been a museum since 1924.
The sultan spent his domestic life in the harem, where his wives lived, as well as female family members and concubines, who numbered into the hundreds.
Male staff were eunuchs.
Mrs Erdogan said the harem was a school for members of the Ottoman dynasty.
Traces left by harem women in the empire’s six centuries of history could be “an inspiration”, she said, according to Turkish media.
Concubines kept in the harem did receive some training and were well fed, and they were not all used for sex. However they were not free to leave the palace if they wanted to.
Some Turks were quick to criticise the first lady’s comments on social media.
“Receiving education in harem doesn’t make it a school. This is nonsense,” tweeted @GaziCaglar, saying there would have been about 400 concubines in the sultan’s harem.
“If the Ottoman harem was a scholarly institution then why were the men who worked there castrated?” asked @anlam75.
“Those who mention harem do not send their daughters to anything less than American universities,” tweeted @kizmonot, a reference to the fact that both the Erdogans’ daughters studied at Indiana University:
But some – including pro-government journalist Ceren Kenar – pointed out that Mrs Erdogan is correct to say that women were educated in the harem:
Mr Erdogan sparked anger in 2014 when he said “women and men are not equal”.
His comments on Tuesday about the role of women led to street protests in Istanbul.