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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
Lawrence, T.E.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Aug 14 Darling Father. We have had rather an uneventful week. The referendum is finished and we are only waiting for the last of the signed papers to come in from the provinces, after which Faisal will be proclaimed King without delay. With one exception he has been elected unanimously but in a great number of cases - more than half the country I should say - the people have added a ryder [sic] of their own, saying that they agree to his being king as long as he maintains friendly relations with the British Govt, or as long as he accepts {the} British protection. The additions are differently worded but they all come to the same thing. The one exception is Kirkuk. There, as you know, the town population is Turcoman and the village population Kurd. Neither want Arab rule and among the Turks there has been a good deal of Turkish, anti-British propaganda. Two of the quarters of Kirkuk town have asked for a Turkish ruler. The Kurds are not anti-British; they want a Kurdish independent state under our protection, but what they mean by that neither they nor anyone else knows. For they emphatically refuse to be connected in any way with the Kurdish province of Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] which before the coming of Faisal had already voted itself out of the 'Iraq state. So much for Kurdish nationalism of which you may possibly hear a lot of tosh talked in the next few months, unless indeed Sir Percy succeeds in inducing Kirkuk to listen to reason. Arbil [(Hawler)] and all the Kurdish districts round Mosul [Mawsil, Al] have come in, realizing that their political and economic welfare is bound up with Mosul. They have bargained for and will obtain certain privileges, such as Kurdish officials. Some ask that all the teaching in the schools should be in Kurdish, a reasonable request if it weren't for the fact that Kurdish can barely be called a written language and that there aren't any Kurdish teachers and those can only be trained in Arabic, for there are no Kurdish books at all.
Dunya! it's an odd world.

The difficulty this week has been the climate. Not that it has been so very hot - never over 119 I think - but it has been quite still with a lightly clouded sky. When you get up in the morning and see a cloud your heart sinks, for it means a close oppressive day like the half hour before a thunderstorm carried to the Nth. There were a couple of days at the beginning of the week when I seriously considered whether I could bear it. Now it's better.

It was partly the climate and partly its own misdemeanours which made me fall foul of one of the local newspapers. The Dijlah is edited by a young ass who is agin [sic] everybody, no matter whom. And the idiot public of the coffee shops, seeing him to be in universal opposition read his rag eagerly in the hope that they will find him in opposition to us. He is by way of being the pure, high-minded Arab patriot and he demonstrates this by publishing all the news of Turkish successes which happened 6 weeks ago without dreaming of giving a date. Finally the clouds and the fact that on one and the same day he announced that the Greeks were escaping in ships from Ismir [Izmir (Smyrna)] while the Reuters in another Arab paper related that the Turks were evacuating Angora [Ankara (Ancyra)], were more than I could bear. You understand the public here hates the Greek successes and applauds anyone who talks of Turkish victories; moreover they buy his paper. In principle I feel the same. I don't the least want to see the Greeks in Asia Minor; there's no settlement that way. But my business now is to set up an Arab state in Mesopotamia and the only visible enemy is the Kamalists allied with the Bolshevists. They have at this moment occupied with a force of 60 men a bit of our mountain country north of Arbil and set up Turkish Govt there. The thing is a pure farce, but we haven't troops to send up into those mountains; we can only operate by air which isn't enough; so we have to let it alone, with the result that every miscreant along the frontier begins to sit up and take notice. Ja'far sent in to say that while the Dijlah was publishing telegrams announcing Turkish victories he could get no recruits for the Arab army. Peoples' minds were disturbed and they began to talk of the possibility of the Turks coming back! That's what they are like in the East - don't I know it.

Well, then I had to do something, clouds or no clouds. The editor of the Dijlah is a close friend of another young ass, the son of 'Abdul Majid Shawi. The good old 'Abdul Majid worships his son but he bitterly deplores his silly obstinate ways which he can do nothing to amend. I sent for 'Abdul Majid, pointed out that this was past a joke and dictated a paragraph in which I stated the actual position of Turks and Greeks, taken from the latest Intelligence cable from our military authorities in Constantinople [Istanbul]. Next day it wasn't in, but instead an entrefilet saying that all news about hostilities in Anatolia had been taken verbatim from English, Indian, Egyptian and other papers. I had just read this, in a passion which words fail me to describe, when who should come in but the luckless editor of the Dijlah. I thanked God for a fair command of Arabic. Mentioning to him among other matters, that he was carrion I informed him that unless my paragraph were in next day's paper he would find himself in gaol. It was; together with a leader entitled: A Liberal attacked by Bastards, which was probably intended for me, though it naturally didn't say so. That leaves me perfectly cold, however. The main thing is that that young man will have some difficulty in reconciling what I've made him publish with any stale news he may get from elsewhere.

Lord! they do talk tosh. One of the subjects that even the best of them are fond of expatiating upon is the crying need for Democracy in 'Iraq - al damokratiyah, you find it on every page. I let them run on, knowing full well that Faisal intends to be king in fact, not merely in name; and he is quite right. But the other day a young gentleman from Mosul who designs to start a paper there asked me to draw him up some directions for the guidance of the press. I did, with a will, and produced a minor masterpiece - with the more pleasure because I sent a copy to Faisal, who was delighted. I mentioned incidentally that in my opinion it would be easy to exaggerate the value of al damakratiyah in this country; I didn't think that the shaikhs of the Shibi, the Ghazalat and other Mesopotamian tribes whose names would occur to my young friend had thoroughly mastered democratic principles. Until they had, etc etc.

That's about all my news, except that yesterday I swam the Tigris - not much of a feat you'll rightly observe, but the current is very stong in places. Bathing is nice - it's the only nice thing in this weather. Sorry to say there are sharks in the Tigris; they haven't yet been reported higher than the mouth of the Diyalah [Diyala (Sirwan)] where one bit an Arab boy this week.

Oh, you should see Lady Cox playing at leapfrog in the water! - a game we indulge in.

Father, do you think you could scrape up enough money to send me some more paper like this? It's so very nice to write on and so thin. I write you such long letters that I'm nearing the end of the stock you gave me.

I have your letter of July 13 with the account of the Richmond ceremony which must have been very touching; also the delightful correspondence between you and Frederic Harrison. He is a remarkable old thing, is not he? for that matter, though not so old, so are you, bless you.

Oh Father I am so sick of Rosita Forbes! and the thing that makes me sickest is that she scarcely ever alludes to that capital boy, Hasanain, who was with her, an Egyptian, without whom she couldn't have done anything. She doesn't know a word of Arabic. Well as I say, Dunya!

The little artist man, Mr Lawrence's friend in Cairo, writes me a characteristic letter of 8 lines, the last of which runs: "We don't hear much of you, nor little of Rosita Forbes." Thank heaven for the first part.

I have very despondent letters from Milly - have you seen anything of her lately? Your very devoted daughter Gertrude

IIIF Manifest