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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
Cox, Percy
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Churchill, Winston
Askari, Ja'far al-
Bowman, Humphrey
Joyce, P.C.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

May 29. Baghdad Belloved Father. I have letters both from you and Mother dated Ap. 27. Now that the railway is working again we get our letters well under the month which is blessed. I'm so glad the King will be patron of the York play - I wish I were going to see it. I read with absorbed interest all you write about the coal strike, so don't think it's a subject which I find tedious - at least not from you. The letters in the papers seem pretty jejune. But your observations about the relative prices of Bellgian and Cleveland iron are not encouraging. We seem to have such a big leeway to make up and so little inclination to make it. The terms of the German treaty are throwing everything askew aren't they? Or so I gather from my Liberal weekly papers. I've a letter from Lord Robert in which he deprecates having Welshmen as premiers. Why so do we all but isn't it our own fault in that we can't put up a better man?
Our news this week is chiefly Persian. Saiyid Zia al Din's fall will throw Persia into the melting pot and I fear that the resulting liquid may be highly explosive. He was overturned by the O.C. Cossacks, a certain Riza Khan who is an ignorant soldier quite incapable of administration and anxious to establish a dictatorship. Once our troops were gone all the effective force in the country was in his hands. He alarmed the Shah by telling him that Saiyid Zia was in league with the Bolshevists to overturn him, and he had the backing of all the vested interests, to say nothing of the riff raff, with whom Saiyid Zia ...... - he was in fact making Persian soil infertile for Bolshevism by removing the grievances which would have given Bolshevism a hold. It's not unlikely that the new Bolshevist minister egged Riza Khan on, for he was perturbed to find how closely Saiyid Zia was going hand in hand with his British military and financial advisors. The position of our friend Armitage Smith is I should think, to say the least of it, delicate though Riza Khan protests his desire to keep to former arrangements, probably because he thinks they may spell British financial support. It's too soon for a forecast but probably this turn of the wheel will mean that North Persia will fall once more under Russian domination - under the new Russia whose foreign policy differs not a whit from that of the old. They may try to Bolshevise the country in which case there will be disorder and even chaos, with powerful tribes grabbing at what they can get and the cities at their mercy. Or they may be content to leave Persia languishing in the old way, from which Saiyid Zia was trying to save her.

From Anatolia also the news is not good. The extremists have got the upper hand at Angora [Ankara (Ancyra)], they will accept no compromise over Smyrna [Izmir] or Thrace; they are in for a prolonged struggle with the Greeks during the whole of which they will be bitterly anti-European. Our chief hope there is that if we get Faisal he may come to some settlement with them on our northern frontier.

The amnesty is out tomorrow, Heaven be praised. It will set free the hands of our Nationalists and they will get to work in earnest. Mr Churchill's statement to the House ought to clear the air further, for he must, I take it, say something about Faisal's being a candidate acceptable to H.M.G. which will be widely regarded as indicating that he is the most acceptable. There has been a slight tension this week over the formation of the Arab army. Col. Joyce brought before the Council of Ministers the scheme for sending parties of Arab recruiting officers through the country and it met with passive opposition. The Council, of whom Ja'far is perhaps the only ardent Nationalist, feels pretty certain that the army will be a hotbed of Nationalism and that the recruiting officers will carry Nationalist propaganda through the country. This is doubtless correct and as far as we are concerned it isn't to be regretted, for you can't set up National institutions - which we are after doing - without Nationalists' sentiments in the minds of the people. The Council raised objections - to create delays mainly - talked of the Levies being enough for the present (they are paid for by H.M.G!) and ended by bitter criticisms on the Iraqi officers who served in Syria. 'Abdul Majid Shawi came in next morning to tell me how the land lay and ask my advice as to how he should vote when the postponed discussion came on again. I saw Col. Joyce in the evening and next morning, by chance, the Naqib - I had been going to see him for some days past and he happened to appoint that day. He opened out almost at once about the army, said he feared what had happened in Syria would happen here; that the violence of the military had brought a National Government to ruin and the same men would be active here. I said there was no parallel, that in Syria they were fighting their Mandatory Power which wasn't the case with us, and that it was not the officers who had urged Syria against the French - that sentiment dated from long before the war. In the afternoon I saw Fakhri Jamil - the man who sent you his photograph. He is also on the Council. I went to call on his women folk and children - his small nephew is the child to whom I gave the silver porrage [sic] bowl - and as I expected Fakhri dropped in. So I talked a little sense to him. I told Sir Percy what was in the air, Col. Joyce gave him more details and he wrote a letter to the Council in his best manner, telling them that their first and most urgent business was to get on with the army. He also wrote a masterpiece to the Naqib, a private letter, saying that he was concerned to hear that a prejudice against officers who had served with the Allies in Syria existed in the minds of some people, that the Arab army would find in them its best material and that the consequences of not using them would be disastrous as they would be driven into opposition. Result: next day the Recruiting proposals passed through the Council like butter!

Capt Smith, Major Bowman's successor, who has been away in India for a month, has come back. He is a very nice creature, son of A.L. Smith of Oxford. He dined with me last week to meet Sasun, Husain Afnan and a man called Hikmat Beg whom I like very much and hope to see Minister for Education some day. We had a pleasant and profitable eveing which resulted in Hikmat Beg having a long talk with Capt Smith next day, about education. They were greatly pleased with one another. Hikmat Beg wants to marry a very charming Circassian girl whom I know here. Her brother, a worthless fellow, opposes the match and Hikmat comes to confide his troubles to me. Occasionally I go and see the girl also - she is a foster sister of Ja'far's - but I can't do anything except hope that the brother will ultimately come round. He thinks Hikmat is not well enough born - that's what he says, but I expect the real truth is that Hikmat is not well enough off to make it worth Daud Beg's while to give him his sister.

The Normal School gave a party to welcome Capt Smith on his return and I went too. It lasted from 9 p.m. till 12 and consisted of speeches, songs and boy scouts. I was dropping with fatigue before the end, for I begin life at 6 a.m. - nevertheless I liked it because it was so pleasant and cordial.

Mr Tod is back too, Aurelia and the children having got off safely. He came in this Sunday morning for a talk and I was very glad to see him.

I'm thinking of going to Sulaimaniyah [Sulaymaniyah, As] at the end of the week for a few days - to Kirkuk for a couple of nights and go on by motor. Sulaimaniyah has refused, on a plebicite, to come in under the Arab Govt and is going for the present to be a little Kurdish enclave administered directly under Sir Percy. We hope it will eventually drop in to Iraq but it's no good trying to force matters. The population is wholly Kurdish and they say they don't want to be part of an Arab state. I've never been there and as we shall hear a good deal about it in the High Commissioner's office I should like to get the colour and sentiment of it at first hand. So I spend my evenings rubbing up my rusty Persian.

Marie fell off her pony last week when she was riding and strained a muscle in her leg. Since it's no worse I'm really quite glad that her enthusiasm for riding should be a little cooled! She was so frequently out when I wanted her. She is limping about on a stick, poor thing. Ever dearest parents your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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