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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Cox, Percy
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Askari, Ja'far al-
Joyce, P.C.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad May 15 Darling Father. Your letters have an almost too acute interest. The first from England, dated Ap. 12, has come, together with one from Mother dated Ap. 13. You both speak of a possible settlement, but more than a month has passed without one. It is most interesting about the Defence Force and the miners joining it. It doesn't sound as if there was much bitterness in our part of the world. I long to hear more from you. I am grieved at Hanagan's leaving, I need not tell you, but glad that he intends to live near Darlington where we can see him. Elsa and her family are remaining at Rounton I suppose. I think of all our country side at this beautiful time and wish I were there, nevertheless I'm happy in the work here and it ought to develop very soon in various directions. We haven't even yet got the amnesty out. It has been held up first by having to consult the French, then the Govt of India who raised certain objections which I hope Sir Percy will be able to override. Nor has there yet been a pronouncement about the elections, but that is because we had to find out first what parts of the Kurdish province would come in to the Arab state. I think and I hope that we shall know this week that most of them will. In one way there is a step forward. Answers are beginning to flow in from the Sharif in reply to the first telegrams sent to him, asking him to send one of his sons here. The answers are characteristically pompous and vague - I've only seen the one to Ja'far but they're all the same I believe. After a rigmarole of thanks to the senders of the requests for their recognition of his own signal merits he condescends to promise that he will "send him" without specifying what "him" he will send. It's somehow a comically bombastic parody of "my only Belloved son." However the recipients seem pleased and I hear that a number more telegrams to Mecca [Makkah] are being despatched. Naji Suwaidi and Nuri Sa'id come in pretty constantly to tell me what they are doing and planning and get a general approval. They are being very sensible, especially Naji, and I'm glad they take me into their confidence. One Muzahim Pachahji in Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] (you remember it was he who made us a speech in English when we gave a tea to the Ashraf there) is pulling the strings in Basrah and I fancy he and Naji have managed to rope in most of the important people there who have hitherto been asking for direct British control. We gave them to understand that they couldn't have that and I'm glad that they are coming to terms with my young friends. One of the leading merchants, Abdul Latif Pasha Mandil (you did not see him, but he's an old friend and a capable man) was up here last week and in a long talk before he left I gathered that he and Naji understood one another. Basrah opinion will carry a good deal of weight. They are trying to draw up a programme for the elections which will be wide enough to embrace the greatest number of opinions - I've got the draft and it seems quite good. If one leaves them alone, giving them only the sympathetic encouragement they ask, they come to an agreement with one another, and that's the best. They are still rather anxious about the attitude of the British authorities and have to be assured that the choosing of candidates and the publishing of their views are regarded by us as the necessary concomitants of an election. It's not remarkable that they should hesitate - last year (as my little Saiyid timidly indicated) it was treason to say you wanted a son of the Sharif here, and even today some of our British officers can't quite come back from the former attitude. However on the whole I'm satisfied that things are going well.
It strikes me that not many people of the upper classes are fasting this year. Even the Naqib, for the first time in his life, is not keeping the fast - for reasons of health, he would have died of it. Most of the Ministers, I fancy, have a comfortable snack when they get back from their offices in the middle of the day. I wonder how long the fast will hold Islam - like the veiling of women it might disappear, as a universal institution, pretty fast. The women who have come back from Syria or Constantinople [Istanbul] find the Baghdad social observances very trying. They have been accustomed to much greater freedom. As soon as we get our local institutions firmly established they will be bolder. They and their husbands are afraid that any steps taken now would set all the prejudiced old tongues wagging and jeopardize their future. Nevertheless these new men bring their wives to see me which is an unexpected departure from Baghdad customs, according to which a man would never go about with his wife. I welcome everything that tends in this direction but again one can do little but give sympathetic welcome to the women. They must work out their own salvation and it wouldn't help them to be actively backed by an infidel, even if the infidel were I who am permitted many things here.

We have had the most extraordinary weather - heavy rain and a temperature under 70 - under 60 yesterday. It must have done a certain amount of harm, though I hope not very much, and it can't do much good now, but it has been very pleasant to have summer delayed a fortnight and all the gardens beautifully washed clean. This morning, Sunday, was so enchanting after the rain that I rode out early across the desert - beyond the dairy farm through which we motored when we went to Ba'qubah - to Fahamah on the river about 15 miles above Baghdad. I paid a long call on my friend Faiq Beg who regaled me on milk and fruits in his little top-storey room looking over the river and the gardens. We had a long peaceful talk. He is a delightful man of 55, looking like a russet apple, a diligent cultivator of his date gardens. He keeps out of politics but his views are worth having. A Turk by origin - several generations back - he has a good of feeling for the old régime, though he recognizes that it was bad. He once told me he would like a Turkish prince as Amir under the British mandate. I rode back mostly along the Tigris. The path along the water's edge is on top of a high dyke skirting the orange gardens and date gardens, now glorious with white and pink oleander and hollyhock. The sky was very soft and the river like a pale opal. And as I went I considered that it wasn't odd that there should be so much pro-Turkish sympathy here with all the Turkish blood. Many of the official classes - Faiq Beg's father was an official - are of Turkish stock; still more, they have married Turkish women when they were in C'ple or elsewhere. Even among strong Nationalists it's rather a feather in your cap to have a Turkish wife - they are held to be better educated than the Arab women, and indeed up to a point they usually are. The links are strong and the Arab state ought to be in close friendship with Turkey, at any rate during this generation which got most of its schooling in C'ple. I notice among our Ministers a marked tendency to revert to Turkish practice, even when it wasn't at all good. It's what they knew.

I gave two dinner parties; to once came M. and Mme Sevian, Armenians, he was in the Turkish régie and has just come back from Smyrna [Izmir]. He was in Turkish service here before the war, a clever and interesting man. He will probably get a job here in the Ministry of Commerce. She, you remember, is the owner of the carpet. Fahmi Beg Mudarris, a strong Sharifian who came back on our ship - he had been in London with Faisal - and the Fergusons (Persian Bank) were the party. The Fergusons are a funny little middle aged couple - I rather like them. And they are useful because they speak French - a rare accomplishment here - which was the Common tongue at my party. We amused ourselves by selecting candidates for the Constituent Assembly. Yesterday I had Major Dickson, up from Hillah [Hillah, Al] for a day or two, Col. Joyce, dear creature, Nuri Sa'id, very full of his party programme, Capt. Barstow who is head of the Officers' School in the Arab Army and Major Greenhouse just down from Kermanshah [Bakhtaran] where he has been Resident during the war. It has now reverted to being a Consulate again and I rather hope he will take a job here. He is very pleasant and intelligent. Another visitor from Persia this week was Prince Muhammad Vali Mirza, son of the Farman Farma and cousin of the Shah. His father and brothers are all being held prisoner by the new Govt which is asking them to pay up an enormous sum of money to the State. They hold gigantic estates and Bellong to the class that the new people are out against. The revulsion of feeling against them was bound to come and on the whole it's healthy, if the new government can manage to win through without falling into revolution. So far they have done so; but it's not pleasant for the Farman Farma and his sons who have hitherto made the rain and the fine time - as well as a lot of money. The sons are very intelligent (one of them, Firuz Mirza, was in England last year for 6 months); they were all educated abroad and speak French like a mother tongue. Mhd Vali Mirza would have been imprisoned too but he managed to slip away from his estates and come down here. I don't know what he is going to do. They've got a tidy fortune invested abroad and I expect they can afford to pay what is being asked of them and still have enough to live on comfortably in Paris. But it looks as if their day was over. They are not so badly off as the Russians, who also come down from Tehran [(Teheran)], with nothing in the world and nowhere to go. They're a problem.

I dined with Sasun Eff and his brother and family, the nicest Jews here, and was caught in a terrific rain storm which made it very difficult to get back, for I had gone out to dinner on foot. However luckily there was a man I knew dining in the house opposite and he took me back in his motor. It rained and blew as if it were winter.

I've at last got your little clock given to Shaikh Ibrahim - vide enclosed. It was rather a fortunate moment for a gift for he has been a difficulty. He was very helpful during the war and was liberally rewarded, but he wants to maintain Zubair [Zubayr, Az] as a little autocratic state, with himself as autocrat, greatly against the wishes of most of the inhabitants, and it can't be allowed. Therefore he has to be gently turned down without hurting his feelings too much and he is not liking it. So your present made an agreeable little "addition" to his honour, as he says.

Darling, I go on writing such reams because it's so nice to gossip with you this peaceful Sunday afternoon. But I wish I could sit for an hour or two with you at Rounton and hear all your gossip.

My dear love to you and Mother J.P. I hope she will send me her play about York cathedral. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

Maurice must be having a time with his Territorials and the Defence Force bless him.

Thank you a thousand times for the pastilles - how clever of you to remember.

IIIF Manifest