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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

Reference code
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 entry, paper
Syria » Aleppo

36.2021047, 37.1342603

Friday Feb 5. [5 February 1909] Wrote letters till 11.30 when Fattuh
came and I went to his house and had an enormous lunch with
Zakiyyeh and her mother. Went down to the bazaar to see some
horses and met Mme Koch on the way. After seeing the horses we
went to see the Greek Catholic bp, Monseigneur Kadi. We found a
Jesuit and a Trappist with him. Presently Mme K and the 2 others left
and the bp and I had a long talk. First he told me that my sentence
about him in my book, giving his views, had caused great offence. M.
Ali had told him about it with a long face and said his opinions were
most heterodox. He said: there is no political question in this country;
everything turns on the religious questions, "ca prime." He is sure the
Xians will be worse off under the Const. and are worse off. Liberty
fraternity equality are empty words; the Moslem will never admit
equality with the Xian. The very idea of a Xian Vali is unthinkable.
When the movement began he welcomed it instinctively. He told all
his Xian colleagues that on the whole it must be advantageous to
them. When representatives of the Sal. Com. came here all his
colleagues consulted with him as to the advisability of visiting them.
He said "No they must come to us. We are essential to them; they
cannot do without us." In effect they came and were most friendly and
polite. A Club of Fraternity was formed and the Bps etc invited to
attend the opening ceremony. At Kadi's advice they all went. He said
they must give no cause for an accusation that they were not
favourable to the new rÈgime. When they arrived Kadi was put into
the place of honour at the right hand of the place reserved for the Vali.
The Vali did not turn up. The Moslems were furious that a Xian
should be presiding and they put an old sheikh into the Vali's place
so that a Moslem shd be in the chair. After all the expressions of
brotherhood at the beginning, Kadi was in a company of respectable
Moslems. He urged that one of the 6 members for the vilayet should
be a Xian. They replied that that was quite unnecessary; were they
not all Ottomans? As a fact all there[?] pledged not to elect a Xian.
He thinks the only reason why Moslems in Beyrout [Beyrouth (Beirut)]
voted for Bustani was that the Xian population there is in a large
majority; they were bound to have one Xian deputy and they made
the best of it. Under the old rÈgime some sort of govt. could be hoped
for from the Vali; he at any rate, if a complaint were brought to him,
could order judges and underlings to execute justice. Now the Vali
dare do nothing because he is so afraid of committing an illegal act,
and the judges etc will do nothing, there being no pressure behind
them. The result is a state of complete anarchy. Men lie in prison for
a month at a time without trial or enquiry. He knows nothing of a local
committee. It is secret; he does not know of anyone to whom to apply.
He believes that the thing will end in an anti Xian movement. Both in
Aleppo [Halab] and in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Shams, Damas)]
the anti X feeling has notably increased. Formerly in Aleppo there
was none; now men who habitually consorted with Xians will no longer
be seen with them. He sees only 2 issues: either the Const. will
succeed and its principles be put into action - which he does not
believe; or it will entirely fail, anarchy and a general murder of the
Xians will supervene and the Powers will be compelled to interfere.
He told me a tale of a Xian who desired to become Moslem. In these
cases a priest has to be present to certify the willingness of the
convert and the latter must be 15. A priest went and found a veiled
woman who refused to uncover her face and declared her age to be
40. He insisted on seeing her in private, made her unveil as he had a
legal right to do and found her to be a girl of 12 who had been in his
class and whom he had confirmed 2 years before. She said she was
unhappy at home and a Moslem wished to marry her. They returned
before the judge, she veiled, he told his tale and she again declared
she was 40. They made her unveil and the judge decided she could
not be more than 15 but might be that. Thereupon her birth certificate
was produced and it was proved that she was only 12. She was
therefore handed over to the priest to be taken home. But at the door
they were stopped by a crowd of Moslems who threatened them and
the zaptiehs with them. The priest was not allowed to take her away,
lest there shd be a row, but the judge promised that at the earliest
possible opportunity she shd be returned to her family. This
happened since the Constitution. He knows Mutram and all his family.
Mutram has no following in Syria; even one of his brothers has
dissented openly from his views. The Bp thinks that Syrian autonomy
wd without doubt be a disadvantage to the Xian community. The Xian
population in Syria is a smaller proportion of the whole of Syria than
the Xian pop. of Turkey in proportion to the whole of Turkey.
Moreover the Arab is far more fanatical than the Turk. Therefore in a
practically independent Syria the Xian wd be much more oppressed
than he is under Turkish rule. He thinks the Turks are the better rulers
partly because they are less fanatical, partly because they have a
long habit of rule behind them. He believes Mr Heard's tales of the
horrible state of the Xians E of Diarbekr [Diyarbakir (Amida)]. Many
Armenian refugees settled in Aleppo after the massacres and many
of them have property and land in their old homes. After the Const.
some went back to claim it but returned to Aleppo empty handed; the
greater number made no attempt to go back to their province. Went
on to Mme Koch. She really fears a revolution and uprising in the
Spring. Von der Goltz Pasha advised them all to go back to
Germany. She cannot leave her husband but she sent her daughters
home to Germany. She says she knows that all the people she has
nursed when they were ill, helped out of prison etc, if once the
fanatical spirit were aroused, they wd kill her. Von der Goltz told her if
there was an anti Xian movement in the Spring not one Xian wd be left
alive in Turkey. We talked carpets and Rakha ware. Then Koch
came in and a young man who is a clerk of theirs I think; Fr‰ulein
Sophie and her brother and a Herr Laubstein just arrived from Mosul
[Mawsil, Al] and Diarbekr, a charming young man.

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