Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father Hugh Bell, written over the course of several days from the 22th to the 24th of January, 1921.
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Baghdad Jan. 22 Darling Father. I'm beginning my weekly letter on Saturday for I've got 'Ajil Pasha to dinner tomorrow night and I'm dining with Saiyid Talib on Monday so that I shall be pretty busy the next few evenings. We have had a distracted week on account of the races. I didn't intend to go more than one day, but the first day, Thursday, Aurelia telephoned and said I must come so I went with them. There was a pretty good sprinkling of Baghdad magnates and I thought it fairly amusing, so I went again today and was very much amused. I took Marie and Zaya, and we all went in a party with the Tods. It was Cup Day, I must tell you; we didn't go till after lunch but the Coxes went in state at 11 am and stayed the whole day. Sir Percy wore a frock coat and a grey top hat to the admiration of all beholders. I may mention that I was also very smart in a Paris hat and gown - it's really quite nice to dress up for once, a thing I haven't done for months. One becomes so aboutie[?] with the daily round of the office that one forgets there's any other way of spending the time. And who do you think turned up today? No. 2! I was so glad to see him. He's up for a day or two from Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] and inquired tenderly after you. Capt. Orgill with whom you travelled home, has also just come back from leave. He is doing odd jobs in the Secretariat for the moment. Sir Percy and I seized the opportunity between races of having a talk about future plans. I told him you would much like me to come home this summer and that other things being equal I should like to get back for a couple of months if possible. We agreed that we were face to face with a crucial year but probably in a month or two we shall see more where we are; if I can get away I'll come to England, otherwise I shall have to fall back on a month with George in the middle of the hot weather. I think I can always pull strings and get a passage at the last moment. Winston Churchill will be here in March and I could make him do it for me, or you and he could bring pressure to bear on the P & O people in London. We are still in a state of suspense, for Sir Percy telegraphed an ultimatum saying he wouldn't carry on unless we were assured of the necessary support. I expect HMG will answer that he and Winston must look into the matter when the latter comes out. Meantime there's a terrific amount of Turkish propaganda which undoubtedly finds an echo here in some quarters. There's a rumour, as yet unconfirmed but probably correct, that the pro-Turk Arabs have re-occupied Dair al Zor [Dayr az Zawr]. The French had no troops there. Arab officials and a couple of French officers - the former are said to have gone over to the Turkish party and the latter to have fled. If it's true it would undoubtedly strengthen Mustafa Kamal's hand and I myself think we're pretty certain to have guerilla warfare on the Mosul [Mawsil, Al] frontier in the spring with rapscallion tribes in Turkish pay and a stiffening of a few Turkish officers perhaps Kamalists. If the country isn't in sympathy we could meet[?] them without much trouble, though the long L of C to Mosul isn't easy to defend from tribal raids from the desert. But if there's a sympathetic movement from within it's difficult to foretell what would happen. I hear rumours that the Sunnis of Baghdad are considering whether it wouldn't suit their book best to have a Turkish prince as Amir. They are afraid of being swamped by the Shi'ahs, against whom a Turk might be a better bulwark than a son of the Sharif. The present Government, which is predominantly Sunni, isn't doing anything to conciliate the Shi'ahs. They are now considering a number of administrative appointments for the provinces; almost all the names they put up are Sunnis, even for the wholly Shi'ah provinces on the Euphrates, with the exception of Karbala and Najaf [Najaf, An] where even they haven't the face to propose Sunnis. The Naqib is the worst of the lot in this particular. He hates the Shi'ahs and any Shi'ah whom Talib (as Minister of the Interior) proposes he turns down. Sir Percy will have to intervene when the names come up to him for sanction for if anything is certain it is that the Euphrates won't put up with Sunni officials. They must make up their minds that they can't have it both ways. If they want popular native institutions the Shi'ahs, who are in a large majority, must take their share. But it's an aspect of affairs which may incline the Sunnis to the Turks under whom the Shi'ahs were not allowed to play any part at all. You wouldn't think that this argument would appeal to Shi'ahs and in fact there are a number of leading Shi'ahs on the Euphrates who would prefer British administration (which they can't have) to an Arab Sunni administration or a Turkish Sunni. But when it comes to the point the Moslem never dares to raise his voice against the Moslems, even if it's a kind of Moslem he hates. I believe if we could put up a son of the Sharif at once he might yet sweep the board; if we hesitate, wait for Cabinet decisions and consultations with the French the tide of public opinion may turn overwhelmingly to the Turks. Which leads me to reflect what asses we were not to accept the nomination of 'Abdullah last March when everyone would have welcomed him. He would have been bound to rely on our support - he couldn't have done without it, and by following the wish of the nation, as it then stood, we should have got exactly what we want, an Arab Govt backed by the people and the British mandate as necessary corollary. To say nothing of the fact that we should have avoided the tribal rising and that we should not have driven into the arms of the Turks a number of genuine Arab nationalists who now see no hope for themselves under a British mandate. And it's very difficult to persuade them they're wrong after all the war and anger and violence that has passed between us - difficult for us to take them back (though we shall ultimately do it) and difficult for them to come back. A number of the people who took a leading part in the tribal rising and subsequently surrendered have been tried by military courts and condemned to death. The death sentence is naturally out of the question but my own belief is that Sir Percy should let them off very lightly and turn over the page. Already he has consented to the return of most of the men who during the course of the summer were exiled to Henjam [Henqam] in the Persian Gulf. Many of them were rogues, several of them were fools, some were neither, but all suffered nominally in the cause of Arab nationalism and an Arab national Govt is bound to bring them back, as Sir Percy has realized. I had an interesting dinner party composed of Capt Cooke, whom I think you met (he's in the Waqf Dept., has been on leave and has just come back, a knowledgeable Scotchman talking excellent Arabic) Shakir Beg who is nominated Qaimmaqam of Daltawah (on the Diyalah [Diyala (Sirwan)]) and Yusuf Beg, his brother in law, who is in the Education Dept - has been in it for a long time. Shakir Beg is an ex-Turkish colonel. He's an Arab of Baghdad but the real Turkish military type, a bit of a Hun. He says, and in a way he's right, that the Diyalah tribes only need firm handling and that after he has been at Daltawah a month or two they'll have learnt their place. He has always been in favour of a British mandate and took no part in the commotions of the summer. Nevertheless he was looked on with considerable suspicion by the British authorities, wrongly as I thought. He knows the country pretty well having filled a good many posts in Turkish times, and he knows that no Arab Govt can exist unless it has British force behind it. Yusuf Beg is perhaps a more earnest Nationalist. He has served as well but he would rather serve an Asiatic overlord. He asked me whether I felt sure the Turks wouldn't give the Arabs independence. I said I did feel pretty sure they wouldn't and if they wanted to they couldn't, for they haven't the men or the money to do it with. This argument told; he admitted that the Turks couldn't have changed much in 3 years and that they must still be as incompetent as they were before. I'm very fond of Shakir Beg's wife, who is Yusuf Beg's sister, and when they are at Daltawah I shall go out and see them. Next night I had to dinner Mr Moore, Times correspondent from Tehran [(Teheran)] who has come down here to write some articles about Mesopotamia (a nice clever man) Major Longrigge from Kirkuk (we stayed with him you remember) and Mr Hicks Gower - you won't remember him but he is one of Col. Nalder's staff at Mosul. Major Longrigge who is, I consider, quite one of the ablest of our younger men, was very interesting about his Kurds. He thinks the Kurds on our Mesopotamian borders will come in quite willingly under an Arab Govt if they are properly handled and I know Col. Nalder thinks the same. Sulaimaniyah [Sulaymaniyah, As] is a more difficult problem, chiefly, I think, because the P.O., Major Soane, turns down all idea of native institutions and can't be got to understand that British administration must come to an end. Some sort of local Kurdish govt we must have, preferably connected with Mesopotamia, for the advantage of all concerned; the only alternative is to move out and leave it to chaos. But A.Tism [i.e. Wilson, A.T.