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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
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Cooke, R.S.
Bourdillon, Bernard Henry
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Asquith, H.H.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Oct 24 Dearest Father. The air mail broke down in mid-desert and has only come in today, 10 days late. It brings your letter of Oct 3 and Mother's of the same date, both very delightful. As for you and Uncle Lyulph, you're the most remarkable people I know. I love to think of his trundling off to Perth! and I long to hear of your visit to Frankfurt. It will be most interesting. Yes, your railway negotiations are not unlike things of which I have intimate knowledge and after all human affairs seem to be much the same all the world over. I daresay you complain as we do - in fact I see you do - that your material is so damn. The fortnight has somehow been rather dull. On Friday 13, rebounding from the strain of getting the air mail off, I went and lunched with Ja'far at his farmhouse. The party was Nuri, Yasin Pasha, his very nice brother Taha, Sabih Beg (Minister of Works) and me. We played a game of bridge after. When I got in I found an urgent message from the King telling me to come to tea - he had a tennis party. I had anyhow meant to go, to thank him for his beautiful procalmation. He is always immensely appreciative of approval - in this case well deserved - and we had a most agreeable talk after the tennis was over. I was being very busy, as I told you in my last letter, trying to goad the moderate party into activity. That night I had a dinner party consisting of Saiyid Mahmud, the President of the party, Taufiq Beg, now Minister of Justice, Majid Shawi, Fakhri Jamil, and Mr Davidson to help. Saiyid Mahmud is the veriest old bag of chaff I ever encountered, but we dug a number of stilettos into Taufiq Beg with the result that the party published on the 20th a declaration thanking the King for the treaty and testifying its adherence to his policy. Meantime, in despair of getting anything done, I had summoned in Shaikh Ali Sulaiman from Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar] (with H.E.'s concurrence). He arrived in the afternoon of the 20th, came straight to me for orders and has since been stirring the party up with a vigorous spoon. He is a remarkable man and a good ally. To go back; on Sat 14th I had Yasin and Taha to dinner, with the Bourdillons and Capt Clayton. The others played bridge while Taha and I talked in the garden - I liked him very much. Yasin's manner is that of a cat which has spilt the cream. He is an enigma. I can't help liking him though I know him to be liar and self seeker. Then who should roll up but the war correspondent, Sir Perceval Phillips, come out, for I don't know what newspaper group, to write up the complete evacuation of 'Iraq. I had him to lunch, at Sir Percy's request, on Sunday 15th to meet Ja'far, Naji Suwaidi, Husain Afnan and Sabih Beg. We had a valuable talk. Sir P.P. propounded his idea that, having set up Arab Govt, we should now immediately retire to Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)]. Ja'far replied indignantly "But not till I've formed my army, at least another two years" and the others chimed in. I hear Sir P.P. (whom I liked and found very reasonable) has gone away saying that the less insistence is laid on the retirement to Basrah, the better. In fact it's impossible, as he saw. I dined with the King that night, a family party with the Amir Zaid and Sabih Beg. We played bridge - the King has quite an idea of the game. The Cabinet, at the request of the King, has appointed me honorary Director of Archaeology - there didn't seem to be any other way of keeping the place warm till we could afford a proper Director. The department, to my great satisfaction, has been placed in the Ministry of Public Works, so that I am directly under my friend Sabih Beg and shall have the help of the architect, Major J.M. Wilson, whom you remember - a pupil of Lutyens. I went over to the Ministry on Tuesday morning to have my first conference with the Minister about the Law of Excavation which I've drafted. On Thursday I had the Drowers to dinner and bridge, with a nice young man called Capt Holt, recently drafted into our office. I went as usual to the King's tea party on Friday and on Sat. to the races with Mr Davidson in order to field H.M. and 'Ali Sulaiman whom I had bidden to go. It was rather fun. I plumped 'Ali into Sir Percy's box where he sat in glory and discussed affairs of state with H.M. and H.E.; H.M. in uniform, H.E. in exquisite plain clothes, me in silks and satins and 'Ali in his dirty old Arab robes! It's a real equality, ours, respective only of merit. On Sunday I rode before breakfast, a thing I now often do on a weekday, since office begins at the winter hour of 8.30. I wrote a review for the Spectator of the new edition of Dr Wigram's Cradle of Mankind (Kurdistan) and we had our customary dinner party, Mr Davidson, Capt Clayton, Mr Cornwallis and me, at my house. Mr Cornwallis, poor dear, had been laid low for a fortnight with a sharp attack of sandfly fever. Oh and one day in the week I had Mdme Salih Beg and her darling little boys to tea and while the little boys played contentedly in the garden with all the birds and beasts there (dogs, partridges, grouse and pigeons!) she told me the remarkable history of her life and times. It includes (1) being thrown into prison in C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] by the Committee of Union and Progress in 1911, she being then 17, for distributing the Liberal paper, Mashrutiyah, which her father, Sharif Pasha, was publishing in Paris. She was rescued by her uncle, Sa'id Halim Pasha, then Grand Vizir, and packed off by Orient Express to join her father "without so much as a brush and comb" she observed. And (2) in 1913 confronting in their flat in Paris an Albanian of the largest size sent by the C.U.P. to murder Sharif Pasha; also seeing the Albanian killed by her cousin and husband, Salih Beg, the shots between the two being exchanged across the body. She is the great granddaughter of Muhammad 'Ali of Egypt and accepts such adventures as part of the natural course of things. An exceptionally nice and highly educated woman and a strong Turkish nationalist - once the CUP are eliminated. But I personally don't think Turkey has a chance. Mustafa Kamal, a soldier of fortune, will probably come in as military dictator with a crowd of hungry and half savage officers at his heels. Mr Cornwallis and I dined with the Salih Begs last night. Meantime we are as deeply interested as you are in the general election and can form even less of an opinion of how it will go. You will readily understand that we don't want Asquith, for we should get neither help nor sympathy from him. I'm too good a Liberal to wish for a Conservative victory which might easily mean economic disaster; so by a process of elimination I arrive at wanting Lloyd George back, but not in a coalition. Profoundly as I have disagreed with his Turkish policy, he has saved the overrunning of C'ple and Thrace by the Kamalists which would have been an unspeakable disaster. France would not have averted it. No doubt L.G.'s gesture was theatrical and unquestionably Gen. Harrington pulled the chestnuts out of the fire, but there wouldn't have been any chestnuts to rescue if L.G. hadn't put his back against the wall. Incidentally I may say that I don't believe Domnul's story of the assurance given to France that we would hand back Mosul [Mawsil, Al] to the Turks. Every indication that we have (and we're in the inside) is proof to the contrary. During the last month, by vigorous air action, we have practically cleared the Kurdish frontier of Turks (proving, by the way, that the Air can only be led from the Air) and from the King downwards we all know, and they know at home also, that the Arab state cannot exist without the northern province. Baghdad is too closely dependent on Mosul. Without Mosul the treaty is valueless. Let alone the fact that to let in the Turk would mean the wholesale massacre of the big Christian community - you remember the Christian villages we passed through on our way to Arbil [(Hawler)]? - and the final extinction of the repatriated Assyrians (see my Spectator review above mentioned) which things would be our eternal dishonour in Asia. Ismit Pasha has given us private assurance (this is deeply secret) that the Kamalists mean to make no claim on 'Iraq territory and we must keep them to it. My information is, I think, better than Domnul's. Capt. Clayton, Nuri Pasha and I hatched out at a lunch at my house the brilliant suggestion that the 'Iraq should be allowed to send representatives to the Peace Conference (also deeply secret). We proposed it to the King the same afternoon, he jumped at it and the request has gone home officially. If it's agreed to we shall preserve the integrity of the 'Iraq. Now that the treaty is signed, the King is out to defend every line of it from the slightest breath of criticism. His own proclamation and his telegram to King George accurately reflect his state of mind. The Iradah for the holding of elections has been issued; registration of electors begins this week and will last about 6 weeks - what with the somewhat cumbrous system of electoral colleges we shan't have the Constituent Assembly sitting till about January. The King is determined that it shall be an Assembly which will ratify the treaty and I think it will be. Oct 25. [25 October 1922] The news of the Cabinet appointments reached us last night - Sir Percy telephoned it to me just before dinner. I'm so enchanted to have the Duke as our Minister that I've written to tell him so. I feel sure he will respect solemn obligations and he's an honest man. I'm suddenly aware of how much I hated serving under Winston - this is also deeply confidential! He's as clever as he can be and I'm bound to say he hasn't let us down, but one never knew whether he wouldn't - I don't like doing business with rogues. Now they may be rather stupid, the new Cabinet, but they are not rogues - upon my soul I think that's what matters most. However, in that respect I suppose they're too good to be true and the general election will turn them out. I laugh to think how different you comments on them will probably be from mine! God bless your soul! Registration of primary electors began yesterday. {and will take at least 6 weeks. The King is determined to get a Constituent Assembly which will ratify the treaty and with his} The King's approval orders have been issued from the Interior to all provincial advisers - deeply confidential - that they must impress upon their Mutasarrifs the fundamental importance of securing the nomination of candidates of the right way of thinking. H.M. is much disgusted (and I don't wonder) at the inactivity of the moderates and is planning the formation of a new party which shall embrace moderate nationalists and nationalist moderates. These he fondly hopes will step out into the open and support the treaty without reservations. He talked of it to Sir Percy, putting Naji Suwaidi in the forefront of the organization, but I (being the confidant of Nuri Pasha) know that the man they rely on is still Yasin Pasha. But what I don't know (neither do they) is whether Yasin doesn't secretly think that he could get better value out of the Turk. As for Naji Suwaidi, he came to me the other day and said it was quite obvious that the upholders of the treaty must bestir themselves. I said cheerfully that that was quite easy for they had only to back the King's proclamation. No, said Naji, that wasn't the way he would set about it. He would begin by stirring up nationalist feeling and pointing out that what was wanted was a wholly independent 'Iraq Govt. Next he would ask the public to consider how they were going to attain that end and lastly suggest that they had best have recourse to English help and the treaty. And I, knowing full well that the result of the first part of the process would be to set all the nationalists off at a tangent, demanding no foreign interference at all, said I thought he was putting the cart before the horse and advised him to go and seek counsel with Mr Cornwallis. Never do their torturous minds go straight to the point. They are always considering whom they may offend, or possibly conciliate, with the result that they offend everyone in turn. If only they would stand up and say publicly what they think! The King is unique in having done so. Yesterday the Bourdillons and Mr Cooke and I went to tea with Fakhri who has taken a house at Karradah Bellow Baghdad. I went on purpose to see the children of my old friend Abdul Rahman who died in 1919, Fakhri's cousin - you remember you sent me a silver bowl to give to his posthumous son. That son, Nur al Din, is now a delicious creature of three years old, and there are also 2 girls of 9 and 8. The eldest of these two is exquisite; dainty, lovely, high bred - I never saw a more perfect product of ancient aristocracy. We ferried over to the island in midstream, uncovered by the low ebb of the Tigris, and I watched her walking with a childish dignity through the sandy melon beds and thought how presently she would be imprisoned in the courtyard, as all the Jamil women are. What unspeakable brutality is committed in the name of propriety! When I got in at 6 o'clock I found an urgent message from the King bidding me to dinner. Ja'far, Nuri and Zaid were the party. We had a very merry dinner, during the course of which H.M. described the glories of Chatsworth, and played a game of bridge afterwards, I teaching the Amir Zaid. He is an extremely nice boy, I like him more and more - and I never met anyone with such exquisite manners. Incidentally I was wearing a new gold and white gown with which the King was enraptured! So I had a modest triumph too! Nuri brought me home and confided to me the secrets of the King's inner circle. The King told me something about them after dinner. I've had a terribly busy day. I was out, as usual, at 6, riding (I come in past the 'Iraq Army parade ground and I receive the salute of the units which happen to be drilling there!) and when I got into office at 8.15 I found Sir Percy champing for a draft of a telegram he wanted to send home, pointing out the disastrous effects that would result from the recession of Mosul [Mawsil, Al] to the Turks. So I proceeded to write it for him while he was at breakfast. I've no doubt he'll improve it in detail but the general lines were, if I may so so, masterly and admirably calculated to stir the new Cabinet to a sense of its duties. Having got that done, I had to write the report for the Secretary of State which goes fortnightly by air mail - all the fantastic story of Shaikh Mahmud and Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] (incidentally they've exhausted the 4´ lakhs of rupees we left in the treasury and are not collecting a penny of taxes) Our successes against the Turks on the Kurdish frontier, the reception of the Treaty and the King's plans with an interval for lunch, it took me till 4 o'clock, when I walked home with Mr Davidson (now Judicial Adviser to H.E.) and at once addressed myself to letters for the mail. The last is to you, and now I'm done and must go to bed. Goodnight darling Father - I'm your most devoted daughter Gertrude. I won't say I'm as active as you, but still I do take my part in the affairs of the world, don't I? Did I thank you for George's history? I'm reading it now - it's a wonderful book. How wise and sane he is and how brilliantly he presents the picture. The first chapters on England of the 18th century are entrancing.

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