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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses the recent Iraqi election, the murder of Taufiq Beg al Khalidi and a recent visit by a delegation, sent on behalf of King Faisal, to salute King Hussein in Amman. She recounts the experiences of the delegates, who told her of the discontent they found as they travelled through Syria, Palestine, and Beirut. She specifically comments on the situation in Syria, noting that the delegates were told by Syrians and French representatives of the peoples unhappiness and the severe economic situation. She adds that Syrians who previously opposed King Faisal now regret their decision, and that anti-Zionists in Palestine wish for an Arab government, noting at the end of her letter that the Arab Question is "moving very quickly". Bell also provides an overview of her recent activities, which include various dinner parties, and mentions an upcoming trip to Ur with J.M. Wilson to "divide the spoils" of recent excavations. She adds that Sheikh Fahad Beg ibn Hadhdbal will be standing as an official candidate for the Ramadi division, noting that he visited to discuss this with Ken Cornwallis.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Naji, Haji
Dobbs, Henry
Wilson, J.M.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Askari, Ja'far al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Clayton, Iltyd
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Feb 27 Darling. I got wrong in the days of the week and forgot that tomorrow was the overland mail. And alas I'm dining out, so I shan't be able to write at my usual length unless I've energy when I come back from dinner.
The sensation of the week is the elections the results of which are coming out daily. Baghdad was declared on Monday - two rogues have got in out of 11 members, Sasun hasn't been elected, which breaks my heart (he wouldn't canvass) and Haji Naji has, which rejoices it. On the whole very good and such other reports as are in are good too. There is only one man so far who won't vote for the treaty and I rather think he'll refuse to sit. He's pro-Turk.

The other sensation - a most painful one - was the murder in the street near his house of Taufiq Beg al Khalidi. No one can guess at the reason; it must have been some private enmity. He was Minister of Interior for 3 months in 1922, played a rather silly part in the moderate party, the Hizb al Hurr, and then retired completely from politics last autumn and has been devoting himself to agriculture. I personally liked him very much - we all did. He was a merry, live man, with a rosy apple face, a charming wife, 3 daughters and a son of 10, to all of whom he was devoted. He dies deeply in debt - oh, I'm so sorry about it.

Ken telephoned the news to me on Sat. evening at 6.15 just as I was going to dress in order to dine with Nigel and go to see some amateur theatricals. It was a terrible shock to us all, nevertheless we couldn't get out of the dinner and play and in fact we did enjoy both.

The play was Home and Beauty which I had never seen, amazingly funny it is. Nigel had asked Ken and me, Iltyd Clayton and a few others to make a party to take Zaid. On Friday night Sir Henry went to see it. On Sat. morning he called me up to his office and said he really must remonstrate with me for taking Zaid to a play like that. Upon which he gave me a lurid summary of the plot and said that Zaid oughtn't to go. I replied that I didn't think Nigel ought to either but anyway I was completely innocent and washed my hands of it, like Pontius Pilate, for it was Nigel's party and Sir Henry had better remonstrate with him. Sir Henry, much entertained, proceeded to do so but then Nigel wormturned and declared it couldn't put off the party and that Zaid wouldn't understand. But he did understand; he hasn't laughed so much since father died, nor have I. I was well placed, between Ken and the Air Marshal and we all laughed ourselves into tears. The acting was admirable, almost professional.

Next morning I went to the Sarai with Ken at 11and found everyone just coming back from the funeral and very much disturbed. I had some work to do in my museum and then I went with my minister, Sabih Beg to see the Baghdad orphanage. It's a very touching place, 85 boys from 6 to about 14 whom they've picked up in the streets. And there they all are, dressed as boy scouts, clean and tidy and being taught. The subscription lists are really wonderful - the King 400 rupees a month, so and so 2, another so and so 1, or 5 - all little subscriptions and coming to Rs 3000 a month. Not money only is given - a bag of rice, a plate of cakes, people give what they can. And it's the first time it has ever occurred to anyone in Baghdad to support a public institution of this kind and not to expect that dim entity, the Govt, to do it for him. It's really good.

They made a tremendous fuss about our coming, of course.

And then I had a perfectly horrible luncheon party in honour of the dryest old dessicated stick I ever came across, Sir Thomas Ward, a consulting engineer of great distinction who has come out to examine the Habbaniyah development scheme on behalf of {his} English investors. He has one Gordon with him, almost but not quite as bad as he. And I had asked also Sabih Beg, and the Arab Concession promoter Dr Asfar, a cheerful rogue from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]. After pulling the most laborious oar with Sir Thomas at lunch, I abandoned him altogether and chattered French (which Sir T. can't do) with Asfar and Sabih. I was glad when Sir T. went and what's more he shall not come back, not to this child.

There were perturbations about my Sunday dinner party. I had asked a perfectly charming French traveller and writer namens Laurent-Vibert, a Lyonnais, and in order to add an ell to my moral stature I had asked the French consul whom I hate. The next thing was to ask someone who spoke French to meet them, so I got Ken and Iltyd Clayton. But then I found in the morning that Ken had such a terrific cold in the head that I forbade him to come and presently they telephoned to me from the Ministry of Defence that Iltyd was in bed with fever. Happily I had a brain wave and sent for Sasun. It was quite a nice party - the dinner excellent - and I must tell you that M. Vibert fell a complete victim, to me or the dinner or both. Anyway he couldn't tear himself away. At 10.15 Sasun went home, at 11 Maigret {dropped off} went to sleep and still Vibert continued the most brilliant talk. At 1.45 I, however, made a slight movement which he tactfully interpreted as one of dismissal, so we woke up Maigret and they took their departure. He is going to translate Amurath into French - so he says.

Next day we dined with the King. It was one of his very cheerful small parties - Ken and I, Col and Mrs Tainsh (Rlys, I love old Tainsh and she is a nice woman) the Air Marshal, Air Commodore Hearson (I sat between him and H.M.) Iltyd, Ja'far and the usual tag of chamberlains and ADCs. HM was in high spirits over the Baghdad elections. After dinner the Minister of Finance, Haji Muhsin Shalash, dropped in and said he had just come from Diwaniyah [Diwaniyah, Ad] where the Mutasarrif was an ass and the elections weren't being held properly and he was ready to go back next day at dawn and set matters right. However, Ja'far regarded it with nonchalance, as Ja'far always does and Ken suggested that Haji Muhsin should come and see him at 9 a.m., or better 10, and that a telegram from the Minister of Interior would settle the business. But I hear that he did go down and that the Mutasarrif is much to blame and finally that H.M. has written to Ja'far demanding his instant dismissal. This entertains us highly for we've always known that Mutasarrif to be a blighter and Ken has been struggling to get him turned out for the last month.

After that we sat down to Vingt et Un and I lost 6 rupees. I never win, which is doubtless partly what prevents me from becoming a gambler.

On Tuesday Ken dined with me - we had a mass of business to talk over and now I've just come in from a pleasant dinner with the Morgans - he is J.M. Wilson's second in command.

On Friday J.M. and I are going to Ur to divide the spoils.

Now there's one other thing I must tell you - no matter that it's 11.15 pm. Perhaps you saw in the papers that Faisal sent a delegation to 'Amman to salute King Husain - the principal people were Nuri and Safwat Pashas. They are back and Nuri spent an hour with me on Monday, telling his tale. First, as they drove through Damascus, in covered cars, the people in the bazaars caught sight of Arab uniforms and with one accord they rose up and cried "Welcome! welcome! save us!" When they got to the hotel they found themselves under the surveillance of the police. A policeman was posted at the door of each room and they were told they mightn't go out, unless accompanied by a French officer. This is all true; we heard it independently from the British Consul. Safwat is a Damascene and he felt ashamed of walking his native streets with a policeman at his elbow, so he sat in the hotel, but Nuri, as Nuri would, went out to see his friends, a French Intelligence Officer with him. As they stepped forth, the Frenchman said "The position here is perfectly awful. We don't know what to do with these people and the economic situation is terrible. (The Syrian currency is falling with the franc) What do you think we could do?" Nuri replied "Why don't you try a different system of administration, more like that of 'Iraq." "What" said his interlocutor, "do you think our administration is bad?" "Well," said Nuri, sweetly, "you've just told me that the position is perfectly awful."

The people he called on were all men who in 1920 had been anti Faisal. One and all said, in front of the French officer, "We are eating our own flesh; if this goes on, next year we shall be dead."

As they came back, Nuri said to his janitor "I can't help thinking that it was a mistake on your part to turn out Faisal." "Of course it was!" he replied, "But what can we do now?"

The deputation went to 'Amman where they heard everyone complaining of 'Abdullah and begging that he might be removed; they returned by Palestine where the anti-Zionists said "We want an Arab Govt, but for heaven's sake don't put up 'Abdullah"; and finally they motored from Haifa to Beyrout [Beyrouth (Beirut)] where they found the French police officers waiting to march them to the hotel. Said Nuri "I should like to pay my respects to General Weygand." They telephoned and Weygand invited him to tea. As soon as he got in, Weygand burst out: "What can we do with these people? You in the 'Iraq are men; here in Syria they do nothing but blankly oppose us." Nuri replied: "Don't think that the people of the 'Iraq are easy to govern; Syrians are sheep compared to them. (That's true.) It's the system that is at fault." Weygand continued: "What's to be done? there's no trade, there's nothing. We are spending millions without return." "It's a pity" said Nuri, "that you turned out Faisal." "Do you think" said Weygand "that I don't know that? it was a cardinal error. But I'm not responsible for it; it was before my time. What do you think about 'Ali?" 'Ali is Faisal's eldest brother and he has about the capacity of a rabbit, but it wasn't Nuri's business to enlighten Weygand. 'Ali is no good and the French are no good, but they are seriously thinking of installing 'Ali as Amir of Syria.

Now read this in the light of what I told you last week of French stupidity and ignorance, and form your own judgement. But there's one thing I wish to add: you may break the laws of God Almighty with impunity - at any rate in this world and most likely there isn't another. But you can't break the laws of economics without suffering at once, and that's what the French are doing. Syria is merely a passage for the trade of Western Asia and they and the Turks have blocked all the doors.

But, mark my words darling Father, the Arab Question is moving very quickly and within an hour or two you will witness interesting developments. Thank God and thank me (for I've counted not a little) we here have taken the right road.

Now I must go to bed - it's midnight - and I'll only observe how much I enjoyed your letter of Feb 13.

Oh no, there's one other thing. Fahad Beg, the great Beduin shaikh of the Syrian desert and my dearest friend, is an official candidate for Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar] division. He came in to discuss it with Ken. Said Fahad "I don't mind standing, for your sake; but it's understood that I must be President of the Assembly." Said Ken, with great diplomacy: "I think you would find that rather tiresome. You see the Assembly has to debate the organic law and the President must be ready to explain it. You wouldn't wish to do that, would you?" Said Fahad: "My Katib (secretary) would do that." His Katib is an Arab boy with long rumpled hair, who can barely write.

However in the end Ken succeeded in persuading him that it wasn't really the thing for a beduin shaikh to be President of the Constituent Assembly - not consonant with his sharaf, his honour. Aren't they delicious people?

Fahad spent an hour with me this morning and explained that he waved his obvious right to the presidency of the Assembly. Your loving daughter Gertrude

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