samedi 22 février 2014

To the young Iraqi Turkmens: Do you know who Gertrude Bell was?

Gertrude Bell (14 July 1868 – 12 July 1926) was an English archaeologist, writer and explorer, political officer, and spy, who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British Imperial policy-making, she spent the early 1900s travelling alone across the Middle East. 
 She is also known as:  
"El-Khatun" - 'The kingmaker' and the 'Uncrowned  Queen of Iraq'
she worked at the Arab Bureau in Egypt, with T.E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia - and archaeologist David Hogarth, helping to secure British interests in the Middle East. 
She helped to draw up the borders of the new nation of Iraq and helped choose its first ruler, King Faisal. Along with T.E. Lawrence, she helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in Jordan as well as in Iraq.

Born on 14 July 1868 in Washington New Hall, in what was then County Durham, Gertrude Bell was the daughter of a wealthy family of ironmasters.

After being home schooled, she went to London to be taught at the age of 15, before going on to become the first woman to gain a first-class degree in Modern History at Oxford.

Because of her sex, she was unable to graduate.

In 1892, after leaving Oxford, Bell travelled to Tehran, in what was then Persia, to visit her uncle Sir Frank Lascelles, who was British minister to the country.

According to Helen Berry,  professor of British History at Newcastle University,  it was on this visit that she developed a love for the Arab people as she visited archaeological sites, learnt their language and travelled deep into the desert.
A lone woman among Arab men, to many she became known as "El Khatun", the Lady of the Court.

She spoke eight languages, including French, Persian, Arabic and Turkish, and it was her knowledge of the tribes, geography and politics of the area that attracted the attention of British Intelligence.

She was the only woman among about 40 delegates invited to a 1921 conference in Cairo by the secretary of state for the colonies, Winston Churchill, where she was asked to draw up the boundaries of Mesopotamia.

She died later that year, just before her 58th birthday, of a sleeping tablet overdose. It is not known if her death was accidental or if she took her own life.

In the last years of her life, she was made Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq and founded the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, where King Faisal ordered a wing be dedicated to her.

In a letter home in 1926, Gertrude described herself as an "antiquarian at heart" as she expressed her "pride" in opening a museum.

'Only one Khatun'

In a diary entry from 1921, Bell wrote about how the locals of Baghdad reacted to her:

"As we rode back through the gardens of the Karradah suburb where all the people know me and salute me as I pass, Nuri said 'One of the reasons you stand out so is because you're a woman.

"'There are lots of political officers but there's only one Khatun...

"So for a hundred years they'll talk of the Khatun riding by.' I think they very likely will."

Gertrude's legacy lives on at the Gertrude Bell Archive after her sister Lady Richmond presented 7,000 photographs and her letters and diaries to Newcastle University.

Film about Gertrude Bell
Production has begun on a film telling the story of Gertrude Bell,
The film, "Queen of the Desert", which will see Nicole Kidman play Bell, is due to be released in 2015.

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