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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses the activities of the Frontier Commission and ongoing negotiations in relation to the 'Mosul question' and the Treaty of Ankara.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Dobbs, Henry
Cooke, R.S.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Feisal, Ghazi bin al-
Clayton, Iltyd
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Jan. 21. Dearest Father. This is going to be a very scrappy letter I fear, for I have too much to say and too little time to say it in. It's the Commission which is running us all to death. They arrived on Friday. The day before we had had a telegram from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] giving us the names of 3 Turkish "experts" who had been quite gratuitously attached by the Turks - I think I told you. The moment I saw their names I recognized two of our local outlaws who had fled to Turkey to escape the results of having been caught out plotting reBellion. Sir Henry at first almost refused to believe, but the moment they arrived the Italian Secretary, Roddolo, told him that he had found out that these were 'Iraqi reBells and that he thought it a monstrous trick on the part of the Turks. So it is, but whether H.M.G. will protest, I don't know. Roddolo, who is on the staff of the League, brought me a letter of introduction from Tiger and keeps me informed of all the inner machinations - it's very useful.
On Saturday Sir Henry sent for me, told me all his impressions - namely that the Commission had been very well done at Angora [Ankara (Ancyra)] and were inclined to take the Turkish point of view. He sent me straight up to the King to advise him as to points to include in his address to the Commissioners when H.E. took them up to introduce them. I found H.M. in the charming domed room he uses as an office, sitting in full Arab dress before a blazing fire (it's still very cold) evidently feeling the emotion of the moment. So I gave my message to which he listened attentively and then he carried me off to the big saloon to arrange the details of the reception. By this time the P.M. had joined us and presently Ken came in so I left them after begging H.M. to have in the Amir Ghazi as a sentimental touch! He did.

As I motored back I found the Kotah bridge cut and stood in the crowd to watch the big launch pass up with Sir Henry and the Commission.

I met them all at lunch; they had had rather a difficult discussion when they returned from the Palace on the matter of the Turkish "experts", on which Sir Henry raised a protest. It's still a very thorny business.

I had Roddolo to lunch on Sunday and he talked for two hours - such interesting revelations that I made a précis of them for Sir Henry which has been sent home with his despatch. When Roddolo left, Ken and I went out shooting in the gardens above the town and consulted together. He and Iltyd came to dinner to meet the 3 Commissioners. The President is Mr de Wirsen, a Swede, honest, fat and unintelligent. The live wire is Count Teleki, a Hungarian - he is also the danger. The third is Col. Paulis, a Bellgian, half way between the two others in intelligence and well meaning. We had an extremely interesting evening. We kept far away from 'Iraq questions - we talked of archaeology, geography, anything you pleased - Teleki, who is a professor of some sort, taking eager part. Presently, after dinner, de Wirsen and Paulis began putting us questions, quite honest questions which we could answer very easily and were glad to answer. Ken and Iltyd played up beautifully. But Teleki, as soon as the talk turned on the 'Iraq, lost all interest. He never questioned, he never commented; it was as if he didn't want to know anything. It was very striking we all felt.

On Monday, after lunching at the Residency, I took Mrs Higgins, wife of the A.V.M. to see the Queen. It was a successful visit. Mrs Higgins was very nice and friendly, the girls chattered in Arabic and I translated. The Queen had her second reception last Thursday - it went better that the first - and was to have had another tomorrow but it's put off because her father has suddenly died. I wished no ill to the Sharif Nasir, but I confess I feel releaved [sic] not to have to occupy myself so busily with the Queen's parties just at this moment.

I dined at the Residency - a biggish party and a tail - all English. The Dobbses really are being admirable. They have this huge party in the house and they are always cheerful and apparently amused, and all their arrangements go beautifully. They had an enormous reception on Saturday afternoon for the Baghdadis to meet the Commission. Ken and I and a few others went to help with the introductions and we got in a great deal of good work. The Baghdadis are standing to their guns. Ministers, officials of all sorts, notables, all of them, are testifying to the indivisibility of the 'Iraq. Men of all parties have dropped their differences - I think they feel that they have their backs to the wall and it is doing them good. The vernacular press is excellent; I send voluminous translations up to the Commission daily.

Yesterday Mr Cooke and I took them to see some of the old buildings in the town, after which they went off for a private talk with the King. I came home and had Count Pourtalès to tea - he is the other secretary, Swiss and a distant relation of Countess Harrach. He is charming, absolutely straight and honest, and wanting to learn. We had a very useful talk.

I think Baghdad is giving them pause. They hadn't an idea that they were going to find an Arab Govt in full swing and they all say that they are impressed by what they have seen - schools and law courts as well as Ministers. Mosul [Mawsil, Al] is the crucial point. If Mosul gets up and speaks as Baghdad has spoken we ought to be all right. At any rate the Commission has realized that it's a struggle for life on the part of the 'Iraq, not an effort on the part of the British Govt to expand its dominions.

It's Teleki I doubt - we all do, including the Arabs. (This is very secret.) We know that Hungary looks to large development in Turkey and we think that he has made up his mind that whatever happens he will not offend the Turks. He is able and astute, just the man for the game. The old Turk who is Assessor, Jawad Pasha, is harmless.

There's an immense dinner at the Palace tonight - all men; I go on Sir Henry's staff. I've spent hours with H.M.'s A.D.C. settling how people are to sit, besides having been called over by the P.M. to hear about all he said to the Commission, and trying to do my own work. It has been such a rush that I haven't been able to give you more than a rather muddled impression of it all.

Your letter of Jan 7 - I note your ship and date. I'm so sorry about Aunt Maisie - I'll write to her. I'll look after your French friend, be sure. What a pity Zaid could not come - a pity for him! And please thank Mother for her delightful further account of your Xmas doings. Ever dearest your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

Jan. 22. [22 January 1925] We were 58 at dinner last night! All the 'Iraqis appeared without a fez, the first time I had ever seen many of them bareheaded. It was a protest against the Turkish headdress - I wonder if they now intend to abandon it altogether.

IIIF Manifest