Request a high resolution copy

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

There is currently no summary available for this item.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Naqib, Talib al-
Cox, Percy
Philby, Harry St John
Eskell, Sassoon
Allenby, Edmund
Askari, Ja'far al-
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad. Feb 7 Darling Father. I have received letters from you and Mother of Jan 5, Mother's containing the delightful family poems which I read with great satisfaction. A piece of good news - I've found the other set of the precious stamps and herewith enclose them! We've had a rather stormy week owing to heated disagreement between two of the Advisors (Mr Philby and Col. Slater) over the question of how to dispose of the Arab Levies (Gendarmerie). They exited their respective ministers (Saiyid Talib and Sasun Eff) who anyway dislike each other, to such a pitch that it was a question whether Sasun wouldn't resign when the decision of the Council went against his view and the Levies were placed under the Interior instead of under Defence. The decison was a wrong one, I think, but it didn't very much matter, so long as they were placed under some Arab ministry at once, for we want them to take over in the middle Euphrates when British troops are withdrawn from there, as they will be in a fortnight or so. The trouble was that Ja'far didn't much want to have the Levies under him in Defence because they are so entirely British-run. I think if I had been Sir Percy I should have exhibited a little less forebearance, boxed all their ears, made the Levies adapt themselves to Ja'far's needs and put them under Defence. However he didn't do that and I daresay he knows best. Anyhow no serious breach has resulted because I've smoothed down my dear Sasun Eff. and got him to accept the decision. He gave me a very funny account of the discussion in the Council, the methods of which are most unbusinesslike. After prolonged argument to which most of the members scarcely listened, the Naqib had a whispered talk with Saiyid Talib which no one heard and then gave out a decision which no one had really come to - whereupon the Minister of Auqaf turned to his neighbour and said: "What are Levies?" Sasun Eff dined with me on Thursday, bringing with him Hikmat Beg, a very able and intelligent man of about 35 who has held office in the Turkish education service and has just come back from C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)]. He's the man I want to get as minister for education in our Cabinet, for Sir Percy has succeeded in shifting to Public Works the former incumbent, a soldier called Izzat Pasha who being a Mesopotamian Turk by origin (he comes from Kirkuk) can't read or write Arabic! Meantime the portfolio has been offered to a Shi'ah, but it's possible he won't accept. If he does I want to create a new Ministry, that of Health, and leave Education free for Hikmat. I had asked Capt Clayton to dine that night but he had fever and couldn't come, so I had Hikmat and Sasun alone, and perhaps it was as well. For Sasun drew out Hikmat and we had a tremendously good talk. I do love Sasun Eff; I think he is out and away the best man we've got and I am proud and pleased that he should have made friends with me. He is an old Jew, enormously tall and very thin; he talks excellent English, reads all the English papers, and is entirely devoid of any self-interest. He has no wish to take any further part in public life but he says he is convinced that the future of his country - if it is to have a future - is bound up with the British mandate and as long as we say he can help us he is ready to put himself at our service. He made a very considerable name in the Turkish Chamber where he sat as a strong Committee man. Some day I mean to make him tell me all he really thought about the Committee. One can talk to him as man to man, and exchange genuine opinions. Hikmat is a very interesting man also. He too was a strong Committee man - all the best elements in Turkey were, at one time. He has very enlightened views about education - no nonsense. He thinks - and he is quite right - that there isn't any local material for the provision of higher and secondary teachers and he wants a British-staffed secondary school in Baghdad where the sciences will be properly taught. I gave an English dinner party too this week - Major and Mrs Sinderson (he's the doctor whom you saw at Hillah [Hillah, Al], but you probably won't remember him, and she is his newly-made wife and a very nice woman) the Philbys and Major Eadie who is assistant-advisor to Ja'far, a great dear. It was quite pleasant. I like Mrs Philby very much and I'm very fond of him. As far as I'm concerned he is always admirable to work with. Now I'll tell you a story. There's a man here called Daud Beg Daghistani, a Circassian, great-nephew of the famous Shamil who fought against the Russians when they invaded the Caucasus [Bol'shoy Kavkaz] about 1840 or so. When the Russians won, the whole family cleared out and the Sultan gave Daud Beg's father property here. Daud Beg is much Belloved of British officers because he plays polo and keeps race-horses; as a matter of fact he is a worthless vicious man who spends all his money on dancing girls. He has the most charming old mother and 9 sisters, most of them very beautiful, to whom he never gives a halfpenny though under Mohammedan law they have a right to fixed shares of his property. Ja'far Pasha, who is their foster brother, came to me and told me he had done everything he could to persuade Daud Beg to amend his ways, but without success and would I try my hand? So I went to the women, whom I know, and got all the tale from them and then I called in Daud Beg and told him what I thought of him. He alternately cringed and blustered while I became more and more furious. Finally I sent for Izzat Pasha (vide supra) who was a good friend of the old father, and had a heart to heart talk with him. Izzat Pasha said he knew all about it - it was a scandal and he would do all he could to help me. He would discuss the matter with the Naqib and at the last resort could he count on Sir Percy's support? I said he could and that if Daud Beg didn't come to reason I should see that the case was taken before the religious courts. Now I'm waiting with some interest to see what happens. Moslem women who never go out of the house and see no one are absolutely helpless in the face of their menfolk in cases like these, and there's such a feeling against interfering in a man's domestic affairs that no one does anything to help. I am in the strong position of being a woman so that I can go and see the women and take their part. But how I do hate Islam! The Council has made a number of appointments to administrative posts in the provinces - Mutasarrifs and Qaimmaqams. Most of them are pretty good, some are pretty bad, the latter emanating mainly from the Naqib himself! Sir Percy gives way when the Naqib insists. I think he is quite right. We have got to sit by and see them make mistakes. The appointments all originate in the Interior and Talib is scrupulous in coming to ask Sir Percy's advice, or more often Sir Percy's advice through me, before he puts them up to the Council. He is doing very well and I think he is gaining ground but he'll never gain enough to be chosen Amir of Mesopotamia, though he is still confident that he will. I feel fairly sure that opinion is veering round in favour of a Turkish prince. On Sunday morning I rode up to Fahamah (about 14 miles above Baghdad) to see my friend Faiq Beg, a splendid old man who cultivates his garden and hates coffee-house talk. I asked him what he thought about an Amir. He said: "Khatun, from first to last the cry for Abdullah was all lies." And on questioning him further he admitted that in his opinion a Turkish prince was the only possible choice. Sasun Eff thinks so too. It was very delicious riding out through the desert and the palm gardens. The whole world has a look of spring. I spent a charming hour sitting in Faiq Beg's sunny little room looking out on the river, eating his excellent oranges and listening to his sensible talk. He has a face like a russet apple and he is honest and simple, and he loves the earth and all that grows in it. "Khatun" he said "your officers think Mesopotamia is like England. But we're a long long way behind. You can't govern this country as you govern yours." "That's why I want to see Arabs governing" said I. "Yes" he said "but you must look after them." And that's what Hikmat Beg said when I told him I wished to stand aside and see them do the work. "Not at all" he answered "we want you to do a very great deal of work." Give them a loose rein and you'll see how they'll turn to us, but pull at them and they'll pull against you. Therefore I'm heartily glad that the Mutasarrifs and Qaimmaqams are getting into the saddle, even if some of them are very bad riders. Talking of riders Marie is learning to ride, to her immense satisfaction. The head groom in the civil stables teaches her. "Monsieur Sullivan a tant de chevaux" says she - all the civil stable, in fact. This letter is written in scraps and it's rather disjointed. Moreover I feel I'm like the fly who congratulated himself on the way he made the wheel turn round! Your affectionate daughter Gertrude Very Confidential. Our prospects are again very black. A conference is to be held either in London or Paris on Feb 21 to decide on the revision of the treaty of Sävres. The home authoirites foreshadow that in order to placate Turkey without too much annoying Greece (i.e. I take it, to make a new Treaty which shall still leave Greece in Smyrna [Izmir] in some form) the throne of Mesopotamia may be offered to a Turkish prince. Meantime Winston is not coming here but after the Conference he will probably meet Cox, Samuel and Allenby at some convenient place (Egypt?) He thinks he could get the British public to give 5 millions a year to Mesopotamia for the next year or two, but not more. My comments on this are (1) It is quite useless to attempt to placate Turkey without going back on the Smyrna decision. Economically as well as sentimentally the Turks are right in their demand for Smyrna. No other port will serve the needs of Asia Minor and to give it to the Greeks was from the first contrary to all reasonable statecraft. You may remember that this is what we said in Paris two years ago. Therefore if the Allies try to patch their errors without mending them their dress will be no better for wearing than it was. As far as we can judge from the telegrams, France and Italy are ready to shed their old garments but we are not. 2. I would accept a Turkish prince, just as I would accept anything which would be for the lasting good of this country, but I think (a) that it would be very dificult - though not quite impossible - to work a British mandate under him and (b) that this country could not by any possibility be worked under a Turkish mandate. Turkey is exhausted; they are calling out infants and dotards to serve in the Anatolian Army, and not getting them at that. Mesopotamia had reached the limit of disorder compatible with civilized existence under the old order; the new Turkey could not prevent her from overstepping it, and at once. Of course the British taxpayer doesn't care whether she relapses into chaos or not, but you realize that I can't regard the matter in the same light. The one hope, and it is I fear rather a slender one, is that the Allies may really amend their ways and make such new arrangements with Turkey as will satisfy the Nationalist party and Mustafa Kamal. That would at once remove the threat on our northern frontier and stay the flood of Turkish propaganda which is coming down into this country and causing an immense amount of mental unrest. Advanced Nationalists here who don't want the Turk but are not satisfied with their present prospects use the Turkish bogey in the hope that they may turn us out with it and then themselves turn out the Turk. People of this way of thinking form a small group but a very vociferous one. Their organ is a paper called the Istiqlal, from which I send you a sheaf of the press extracts which I prepare daily. Most of the writers and their followers are people whom no Government can employ and if we went they would be out against our successors. At the same time there are grievances. The punishment dealt out to the Euphrates tribes by our troops has, I understand, been very severe. The tribes are indignant, not so much against us, as with the Baghdadi agitator who, they say, led them astray and has gone unpunished. Meantime the Baghdadi agitator makes capital out of their losses to provoke fresh agitations. Again, the Shi'ahs are sore because they are not sufficiently represented in the Cabinet, which is mainly Sunni and very determined to remain Sunni. There are a number of duds in the Council and the Cabinet - the worst being those who were selected by the Naqib himself - and there are also one or two really efficient men out of office, but they are all Sunnis and it's difficult to see how a reasonable number of Shi'ahs is compatible with a reasonable efficiency. You see the problem isn't easy! By the way the people in the provinces complain bitterly of the Istiqlal. They say it will lead to fresh disorders because it is deceiving the people as the Baghdadis did before, and they beg us to suppress it. It's a matter which is now under consideration. I'm now turning very serious attention to the press, a job I hate, but it's necessary. I've arranged with the editor of the moderate paper, the 'Iraq, to come in and see me two or three times a week so that I may give him news and supply him with ideas. He's a good little man but not very brilliant - it's a pity that the rank and file of angels can never contrive to cut so striking a figure as Lucifer! I'm also turning over schemes for getting a couple of really good men into the Cabinet, one is Hikmat Beg who dined with me this week, the other Naji Suwaidi who is on his way back from Syria. Finally I want to get the Council divided up into an advisory council - a sort of Privy Council - and a small Cabinet composed only of ministers with portfolios. If I succeed in any of these objects, I'll tell you. I've made some preliminary suggestions to Sir Percy who seems to approve. I had two hours' talk this afternoon with Sasun Effendi about the Turkish situation and things in general; incidentally I've stopped him from resigning which he was within an ace of doing because the meetings of the present unwieldy Council are so preposterous. I'll frankly confess that I think I've earned a good mark for keeping him in and I hope Sir Percy will give it me tomorrow! Incidentally we discussed the possiblity of putting in a Turkish prince and I found him to be all in favour of it, always provided that we take the mandate. Faiq Beg (see my letter) said the same thing this morning. "Even when they were shouting ''Abdullah' last year" he said "it was all lies." I think things are moving in that direction. I would have had it otherwise if I could, but I recognize that the decision does not and cannot lie with us. After all, we've got a German royal family, so have the Greeks, and Egypt has an Albanian - why shouldn't Mesopotamia have a Turkish ruling house? It's what is likely to bring the greatest stability that matters, not the pleasing idea of Arab sovereignty. GLB

IIIF Manifest